I watched King of Monsters the other day as part of a larger kaiju-based binge, specifically the new Kong films too, as we’re only a few months away from the big showdown. Godzilla versus Kong has been teased since the first of the new Godzilla films way back in ’14, was made official in ’17 with Skull Island, and we’re far too close to a release date now for there not to exist a cut of the film, probably not a finished cut, but there’s got to be something by now, right?
Well, here’s what I’m thinking, I’m going to do a quick (spoiler-ish) review of King of Monsters, then I’ll tell you why I think Godzilla and Kong could bear the weight of a new cinematic universe.
Long Live the King
I can actually understand why this film got a raw deal from critics. I’ll give it credit for continuing with some reoccurring characters and themes, and I’ll admit to being mildly curious about the various activities and political conflicts of the titan research group “Monarch”, but we’re still pretty light on rich and interesting characters, and yet those characters still feel like they take up a lot of screen time compared to the real stars of the show. But critics would complain if we had nothing but monsters, and they’d complain if the characters drew too much attention away from the monsters, there’s not really a right answer here.
And it’s not exactly easy to try and slide aliens, Atlantis, and the hollow earth theory into a film about giant monsters fighting each other, and to be honest probably not a great idea either, but they managed it all without it being too ridiculous. These days you can’t just roll out the likes of King Ghidorah without some kind of explanatory power, even if it’s a tenuous explanation, and it’s not like twelve thousand years of human civilization and mythology haven’t left us with some groundwork for giant monsters.
But if you like watching giant monsters get into fights then it’s a great film. It’s actually a really good film, I think I enjoyed it almost as much as Pacific Rim. As well as bringing in all the big classic monsters like Ghidorah, Rodan, and Mothra, it also managed to introduce some background players with very little effort, and I find that I’m really interested to see more of the MUTO, Methuselah, Scylla, and Behemoth, as well as the other titans listed in the wiki,*.
We have a Thanos-like villain, a group whose motives I can get behind 100%, and not just because they’re headed by Charles Dance. This time the method is to awaken the titans and have them topple human civilization and put an end to the holocene extinction, destructive harvest of natural resources and extermination of non-human life. Interesting to note that the counter-argument given by the so-called good guys is “No, don’t stop, that’s… very bad.”
Biggest highlights of the film for me, Godzilla’s case of nuclear diarroea, Rodan’s “Starscream” moment, and the closing credits… which sounds like an insult, but they used the song “Go Go Godzilla” and so help me it made me smile. Right, to the point:
The King Is Dead
Pretty sure at this point Marvel’s done. I don’t know what the next four films are, I don’t even know what the next film is, the excitement bubble seems to have burst pretty hard in the jagged edges of the Sony vs Disney debacle. And with every studio clawing and scratching at the market, desperate to be the ones to raise the next big thing, I think Time Warner might actually be in control of the right horse and they just aren’t betting on it.
So far as material content, as I already mentioned they have a glut of titans to play with, and with repeated mentions of the Hollow Earth theory in King of Monsters and Skull Island, I suspect a tie-in with Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and it’s been more than ten years since the Brendan Frasier version. There’s scope for a couple of dozen films, and the fifth is already well under way as we speak… although we’re not speaking, I’m doing the- never mind. Besides, Godzilla is every bit the media darling now that comic books were for decades before the MCU, and with the rise of anime fandom in the west, and the likes of Pacific Rim opening the way, now could be the time of the Kaiju.
We know the basic conflicts of narrative, Man versus Man, Man vs Self, Man vs Supernatural, Man vs Society, Man vs Technology, and Man vs Nature, and it’s that last one that I think is most topical. The last decade or two have been governed by “Man vs Man”, all of the comic villains being dark reflections of the hero, often villains of their own creation, but there’s a new growing narrative, something that could become a dominant talking point, with the escalating arguments over the environmental crisis, could Godzilla and Kong be poster-children for natural order in the 2020s?
Maybe. For certain the age of comic book films has come to a close, or if it hasn’t, if the Joker foolishly reignited that flame, then it needs to go back to sleep soon, like a huge, ancient monster returning to its resting place, deep underground. The new titan of schlocky box office dominators could be, and should be, Godzilla and friends.
*Seriously though, just click that link, there’s some interesting names listed in there.
Ah it’s the Halloween season, which means that we’re going to get the popcorn on. Let’s turn on a movie and… Oh no. Oh dear, oh my. These horror villains are so scary! No, not because they’re shocking, murderous and altogether evil beings. No, they’re so scary because even the most psychopathic of villains succumb to the most terrible of horror tropes, which is what we’re investigating in today’s Top 10!
A Spoiler Warning is in effect throughout this whole article, I want to do a deep-dive as best as I can, and it can’t be done without discussing some huge plot points.
Todd Phillips’ Joker stars Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill man trying to be happy in the 1980’s at a time when the world doesn’t care about him or anyone like him. He’s beaten down just far enough, that during the events of the film we get to watch him break. Combining elements of the Killing Joke with a subtle hint of the Court of Owls (like, a tiny hint, really small) and creating a version of the Joker that we can really empathise with… a little too much. (more…)
Stephen King never really goes out of style in the film industry, he waxes and wanes like the moon, his work is prolific, and readily adapted for film, although it can be a little variable in quality. Certainly with IT Chapter 2 forefront in everyone’s mind, now is definitely the time to adapt some of his lesser known work, and here we have In The Tall Grass popping up on Netflix, and while I’m watching, I can’t help but be reminded of another film with a concurrent theme. And then I think, hey, haven’t done a film-versus in a while. (more…)
It’s October, and there’s things I have found on Netflix and simply not talked about. Actually a lot of my watch list and to-watch list is horror films, and while I’ll get round to From Beyond, Troll Hunters, and maybe even Errementari at some point, there’s also a few new favourites.
Time to get into the mood for some serious fear, here’s a collection of quick-fire reviews of some of Netflix’s selection of horror films.
Let’s kick off with a horror anthology which – aptly – tells three stories of hauntings and fear, but the truth is that the framing device is the film. An investigator dedicated to debunking psychics is summoned to the hiding place of an old hero, a man who faked his own death decades ago, who leaves him with a handful of case studies that he believes prove the existence of an afterlife that he’d been dedicated to debunking. A night watchman, a nervous teenager, and a boisterous landowner, beset by stories that have traumatised them to their core, each barely capable of talking through their experiences, each forces our investigator to confront something about himself.
I’m a big fan of anthologies, not that I think one can accurately call this an anthology as such. Meeting the protagonist of each story helps build some of the tension ahead of time, seeing how deeply each player is impacted by their part. This is also a parade of British talent at its best, Andy Nyman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther, and Martin Freeman are tentpoles of the cast. At times Ghost Stories get’s a little reliant on jump scares, and yes they’re often exaggerated by cheesy musical stings, but it uses them to solid effect, and supports it with magnificently built tension, a little well-placed humour, and subverts the format of the anthology by turning it wholly on the main character for the finale.
“Why is it always the last key that unlocks everything?”
The Descent Parts 1&2
Ok, this is cheating, only part 2 is on Netflix right now, and I’d seen them both anyway. Let me clarify as well that I sincerely think that the two are inextricable and that we should not offer one without the other, so do not watch it on Netflix, find some other means. Actually distribution of these films when they were created may not have done it many favours, release dates four years apart (’05 and ’09) when in fact they tell a single, unified story, but that may be about the only criticism I have. A claustrophobic tale of potholers, cavedivers, and thrillseekers who go deep underground in the Appalachian mountains and discover that something has been down there for quite some time.
Use of pure red lighting is very du-jour for the mid-00’s but it’s used to great effect as personal tensions in the group build, and spot some of the camera work and set building that really betrays the decade. But they do a great job of creating a fear of the hidden places below ground, create a genuinely horrifying monster, and mix them with a horror that lurks above ground. It’s very Lurking Fear in it’s inspirations, and is easier to appreciate if you’ve read/listened to the book, but The Descent takes a slant on the idea of subterranean humanoids and makes monsters of some of its main cast at the same time.
For some reason Dan Stevens is not listed as being famous for Legion on imdb? What the hell is Downton Abbey?
Anyway, he and Michael Sheen headline a Wicker Man-esque horror that delves a little more directly into the supernatural while still keeping the focus on the horrors brought about by humanity’s own bad habits, our tendency to abuse a resource, mysticize what we can’t understand, and lean towards totalitarianism in the pursuit of freedom. It also fits most solidly within the modern horror oeuvre of mounting tension above overt fear, and manages to insert a rather complete thriller amongst the more terrifying elements.
A girl is held to ransom by a charismatic cult leader in a bid for money to keep his flock alive, all while maintaining a facade of normalcy. From the perspective of the mysterious stranger come to rescue his sister, normalcy is highly strange practices of bloodletting, strange scriptures, and unmerciful practices, along with visions of a strange figure that roams abroad. A cunning trick played by the soundtrack includes the sound of dripping liquid into glass, or very similar, to drive home the sanguine nature of the fear.
I’d say the ending takes a turn for the aesthetically wonderful, but starts to detract from the fear so wonderfully conjured by the first and second acts, but don’t take that as too harsh a criticism. Apostle is still a great film, just one that coasts through its finale, rather than rises through it.
Shh, do you hear that? It sounds like the trees rustled over this way, quickly, hide in the underbrush. Now, careful, for today we’ve got to keep on the low-down, lest we become prey for them. Whether you’re a vampire, a beast, or even just an ordinary human, today we’re going to check out the Top 10 Hunters across all pop culture. Video games, Film, TV, Literature, you name it, we’ve got it covered. (more…)
Hey, it looks like we’re on a roll. Whilst you may be rocking away, things are going to get a little cold, a little stone cold! Ahh, I crack myself up, so whilst we boulder towards this week’s list, let’s get some ground rules out of the way with. This list must at least feature the rocks, stones, boulders or otherwise in a fashion that they stand out. That’s about it, so let’s get ready to rock and roll!
I think I watched the original Jim Henson production a couple of years ago, a double bill with Labyrinth which – to be entirely honest – I never remember watching as a child. But Dark Crystal, the original Dark Crystal, I most certainly saw many years before. One of my earliest experiences of pure fantasy, and it is pure fantasy, free of human protagonists, devoid of anything familiar upon which to hang a sense of reality, comprised only of the complex and wondrous puppetry with which the Henson name is synonymous.
It remains firmly in the cult classic category, a lesser known kids film that connects and resonates with adults who loved it then and revere it now, and – like many a resurrected passion project – the prequel series saw a lot of fans emerging from the woodwork to support it. (more…)
These characters know how to show off their unique personalities. This list is to celebrate characters who hair is literally an extension of themselves and their personalities. It’s also for if they can use their hair as weapons, or just general talking points. Whether it’s a cultural thing or if it’s just how they roll, we’re going to celebrate hair in all of its ridiculousness. Yes, this list is only for Characters with Crazy Hair.
A quick soapbox moment, August has been a busy month and what little bit of time I have had for myself should not be spent watching mediocre films.
So that Netflix had something to suggest when people looked for A Quiet Place, they produced The Silence. The shameless similarities are well documented, it’s practically an Asylum film*, a piggyback on the popularity of a blockbuster to parasitically gain a sliver of notoriety, so I won’t go too deeply into the similarities, but here’s the brief synopsis:
The world has become overrun with monsters that have some hypersensitivity to sound, and they hunt and kill anything that makes a lot of it, they appear to be blind, so anyone capable of living in silence has a chance to survive. One member of the family we follow is deaf, so sign language becomes an essential part of day to day life, and little mistakes cause death, plain and simple. One film is most definitely better than the other, and I won’t start on why, but The Silence raised one hell of a bugbear for me.
So many films are simply bad at designing monsters, and in many cases it’s because drama defies logic. I remember years ago hearing someone remark that dinosaurs would never have roared at random during a hunt because it’s simply bad stealth, announcing your intent to kill someone is the business of certain serial killers who enjoy the fear and dominance of predation, not something that depends on killing to eat. That’s shoddy dinosaur behaviour, but it’s only a narrow leap of logic away from the truth; The Silence’s subterranean bats on the other hand, require some tremendous feats of thought.
Creatures wholly dependant on sound and echolocation make only sounds that support their hunting efforts, and they are adapted to make sounds at a pitch and frequency that make echolocation incredibly effective. We – humans – understand very little about our surroundings by screaming at them. For a start echolocation requires short sounds that are over by the time the echoes return to us, rather than a drawn out howl that drown out the feedback. Of those humans that have mastered echolocation as best as a human can, they make small clicks and pulses, incredibly quiet, but shockingly effective.
The creatures in The Silence shriek, and they shriek constantly. When they move they make a loud fluttering, they scream at each other, they attack anything in the way with a loud clattering sound. These are not echolocation sounds, these are not hunting sounds, these are horror film sounds, and the dimmest understanding of the logic is enough to make such monsters unwatchable and boring no matter how good an actor Stanley Tucci is. A prime example: in an early film moment when the bat-things are attacking a car, and somehow one of them hears activity nearby that the others don’t, and hears it over the sounds of senseless screeching and battering.
And yet later on loud noises are enough to drive them insane?
Let us also briefly touch upon the notion of horror movie predators that delight in leaving corpses for people to find, still with plenty of edible flesh on them. For a creature that appears to have survived centuries below ground, that’s some profoundly wasteful eating habits for a creature that requires a vast amount of calories to both fly and keep screaming like that.
Anyway, rant over. Feel free to discuss other examples of illogical creature design with me, this particular irritation doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, not as long as we continue to sacrifice the basics of logic in the name of a good story. A plot hole or two is fine, but I will not climb down into that particular crater.
*Actually the screenwriter, Shane Van Dyke, has worked on Asylum mockbusters before! There’s interesting. Dude does not understand how deafness works.