Monday, June 03, 2019

Review: Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)


If you’ve been following my blog even a little, you know I’m a pretty big Godzilla fan. It’s been that way since I was a wee lad watching movies on rainy Saturday afternoons on WPIX and the Thanksgiving marathons on WWOR. There was just something so powerful about the imagery used as this gigantic monster blazed a trail of destruction through the city. The giant battles against colorful foes didn’t hurt either.

While the first American attempt at a Godzilla movie didn’t go over well, the second one in 2014 was a masterful kaiju movie that really brought home the size and scale of the creatures involved and featured some great designs. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is the sequel to that second film and builds upon a world that has discovered monsters and is honestly a blast.

Five years after the events of the first film, Godzilla is nowhere to be seen and humanity is still recovering from discovering that they now live in a world where they are the ants. Monarch, a secret scientific organization, has been searching for and cataloguing the locations of more of these monsters, which they have called Titans. One scientist in particular, Dr. Emma Russell (played by Vera Farmiga) is working on a device that uses the bioacoustics of the monsters to tame them or enrage them. She and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), witness the device’s effectiveness first-hand when the Titan egg they are studying hatches a giant caterpillar named Mothra and manages to placate it when after it attacks the soldiers around her in self-defense.

 Just as they are celebrating that the device, ORCA, works, a group of eco-terrorists breaks into the lab and kidnaps Emma and Madison. Monarch, looking to find them and recover their missing employee and the ORCA, brings in Mark, Emma’s ex-husband and co-creator of the ORCA to track them down before the terrorists can fulfill their plan of waking up all of the Titans around the world and ushering in an age of monsters. Unfortunately for all, one of the monsters they awaken isn’t from Earth, and it is going to take the combined powers of humanity and Godzilla to defeat it.

Whereas the first movie limited the amount of exposure we got to Godzilla and the battles he has with the monsters in that film, G: KOTM jumps right in with the kaiju combat as we see Godzilla, the firebird Rodan and even Mothra  as they try to fight the invading Monster Zero, aka King Ghidorah, a golden three-headed hydra from space. These fights are all-out brawls, harkening back to those we saw on Saturday mornings with the Showa era films, but this time it isn’t men is rubber suits but gorgeously rendered 3d models that claw and bite and blast their way across the screen. Each action set piece is bigger and better than the last, culminating in a multiple monster fight unlike any ever seen in the series.

In between the moments of spectacle, we follow the human portion of the cast as they try to stop terrorist and monster alike. Whereas in the first film this portion seemed reactionary more than anything, in the sequel, they are much more proactive in dealing with the monster threat and are constantly working to try and stay ahead of their foes. The cast is great and bring a lot of heart to the film and their story is entertaining and draws you in so you aren’t just marking time until the next bout of kaiju fighting. The score is top notch too, with Bear McCreary doing some of his best work in crafting new themes and mixing in the old that originated with Akira Ifakube.

I feel like a monster brawl like this was a long time coming and it was well worth the wait. The designs are awesome, the story is good and the action scenes will melt your face like a blast from Godzilla’s atomic fire. Long live the King…of the Monsters.

Check it out.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Attention all Friday Night Frights fans! Just wanted to let you know that the fifth book in the series, She-Wolf Take a Bow, is now available for pre-order for the Kindle. Both this version and the paperback version come out on June 21.

Pre-Order Here

Thanks for being a fan and I hope you enjoy it!

Review: Suspiria (2018)

How does one remake a horror classic? For those adapted from a novel or story, like with The Thing (1982), you hew closer to the source material instead of the original Hawks film or like with The Fly (1986), you keep elements but go off in your own direction. When the movie you are remaking is from an original script and a beloved film, as is the case with Suspiria, there is a fear that you are either going to tread too closely ala Halloween (2007) or end up being so inferior that people will wonder why you just didn't make a different movie in the first place. So when the Suspiria remake was announced, it was understandable that there was some concern about how it might turn out. After all, that film is highly regarded by horror fans and started off Argento's Three Mothers trilogy that consists of Suspiria, Inferno and The Mother of Tears. The Three Mothers include Mater Lachrymarum (Our Lady of Tears), Mater Suspiriorum (Our Lady of Sighs), and Mater Tenebrarum (Our Lady of Darkness), for those unfamiliar with his work.

I'm a little late to the party on this one, but I have to say that it was bloody brilliant.

The film, directed by Luca Guadagnino from a script by David Kajganich, keeps some elements of the original but diverges enough and fleshes out the world around it enough to wholly separate it from yet build upon the mythology of the Dario Argento original. It also subverts some of your expectations, much like Night of the Living Dead (1990), so you have no way to expect what might exactly come next.

The plot focuses on the arrival of Susie Bannion at the Helena Markos Tanzgruppe in Germany in 1977, and Dr. Josef Klemperer, a psychotherapist who in investigating the disappearance of one of the dancers in the group who had been a patient of his. As Susie rises the ranks in the dance group and is plagued by nightmares and odd happenings, Dr. Klemperer discovers that the matrons in the dance group may actually be a coven of witches.

That's all I can really say without delving into too many spoilers, and this is the type of movie you want to watch without knowing much in advance so you can absorb the atmosphere and get taken along for the ride the same as the characters on screen are. It's a re-imagining of the Argento original that takes some cues and adds new ones as the tale is woven to its climax.

As Susie, Dakota Johnson display a great physicality that mesmerizes you with her dance and an emotional distance of a stranger in a strange land, of which a Berlin torn by the efforts of the RAF, as well as the intimate need to find a new mother after losing hers. In the role of Madame Blanc, the famed instructor that Susie has come to study under and also the role of Dr. Klemperer is Tilda Swinton, whose ethereal mutability throws her into the two different parts and two different genders. Swinton is one of the finest actors working today and it shows as Blanc where she can turn from severe when instructing her students to almost motherly when helping Susie along on her quest.

The lurid colors of Argento's original have been eschewed for a muted palette that mirrors the bleakness of the world outside the dance studio. It's a bold choice and one that works, as trying to imitate Argento or outdo him would be too easy a decision. This pays off in the few moments where color is allowed to come out and cover the frame and results in some stunning imagery. Equally few are the moments of grisly murder, allowing the ones we see to stand out and shock us with some rather spectacular special effects. Instead, we are allowed to bask in the escalating tension that pervades each scene as we wonder what will become of Susie in her dealings with the coven.

All-in-all, this is a worth addition to the world of horror remakes that builds upon, rather than supplants the original. At nearly three hours (six acts and an epilogue) it does feel a little long at times, but there weren't many points where I was sitting and hoping they would get to the next scene as there is world-building going on and few run longer than they have to, so there is a conscious effort to keep things moving. I was impressed enough to wonder how Guadagnino would handle the other films in the Three Mother's Trilogy and hope we get them in the future.

Suspiria is available on Amazon Prime now and is a great way to spend a night.

Check it out.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Review: Detective Pikachu

Once upon a time in college, I was pretty heavily into Pokemon. The first game had just come out and I picked up the Red version and my buddy got the Blue one and we'd battle and trade and had a blast. Hell, we even watched the cartoon. As much as I enjoyed the game, I never really got into the followups to it and I moved on to other things. I still loved those OG Pokemon though and their designs.

Going into Detective Pikachu, I wondered if nostalgia would carry me through the movie or if there would be enough substance to entertain me as well as my family. I am thankful to say that in addition to the joy of seeing those Pokemon favorites rendered in lifelike CG, the story and acting carried the movie and kept us all enthralled.

In the world of Detective Pikachu, most people have a Pokemon of their own. Some are trainers that battle with them while others just keep them as pets or friends with potentially deadly abilities, such as people do. Tim Goodman, however, is not one of those people. He used to want to be a Pokemon trainer but gave up that dream and never got a Pokemon of his own, even when friends try to help him capture one. When he gets the call that his father has died in an accident, Tim travels to Ryme City, where Pokemon and people live as equals. When he stumbles upon his father's Pikachu that he can somehow understand and that his father may not be dead after all, Tim is drawn into a plot that may bring Ryme City crashing to the ground.

While the Pokemon are admittedly the draw of the movie, Justice Smith and Ryan Reynolds provide the heart of the movie as Tim and Detective Pikachu, respectively. Smith is great as Tim, a boy from a broken home who is trying to find his place in the world and regretting some of the decisions he's made in the past in terms of his father. I never though Ryan Reynolds as a wise-cracking pikachu was just what I needed the world but it turns out it hit the spot with humor that edges close to being a Deadpool-lite but never really crossing that line but still providing the laughs.

There are few bumps here and there but all in all it was a solid film that will be sure to delight Pokemon fans young and old.

Check it out.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Post-Mortem with Mick Garris

I'll be frank with you. My commute sucks. It's not as bad as some but it's definitely one of the worst parts of my day. I carpool on some days so that lessens the pain slightly. On those other days? I mainly listen to music because I don't have satellite and the talk radio around me is terrible. Lately I've been feeling extra down during the drive and was looking for some way to get me excited about being in the car for that long.

That's when it hit me. Podcasts.

I know I'm late to the party on these, especially when you have ones that have been going on for so long and won awards. I tried to listen to some when I had my own office but they never really hooked me. Then, on a whim, I decided to check out horror podcasts, in particular Post-Mortem with Mick Garris, as I saw he had interviews with a few of the horror luminaries I enjoy like Elvira, Joe Bob Briggs, John Carpenter, Barbara Crampton and the like. If you are unfamiliar with him, Garris is an established film director and writer of film such as Critters 2: The Main Course, The Stand (TV mini-series) and The Shining (TV mini-series) as well as a slew of others, so it should come as  no surprise that he has such an interest in the horror genre.

I gotta say, I don't know how I slept on this so long. Garris's interview style and breadth of knowledge of the genre is just what I needed. Each episode I've listened to has been filled with tidbits and stories that I've never knew before, from John Carpenter talking about how Panavision widescreen lenses work to Barbara Crampton discussing her father's life as a carnival worker. With a running length that is around the same as my commute on a good day, this show gives me something to look forward for on the way home and back and gives me another use for my ancient iPod in addition to it just being the world's most eclectic DJ. It's like having friends in the car and having a great conversation with them every time, even if all you are doing is listening and driving them around.

I've already been through three episodes and can't wait to listen to more. I have Nightmare on Film Street and Shock Waves to listen to as well but I'm enjoying Mick Garris so much I haven't dipped into them yet. If you're a horror fan, you should definitely check it out.

What podcasts are you listening to right now?

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Avengers: Endgame (2019) & Infinity War


I never fully reviewed Avengers: Infinity War, opting to wait until the second part was out to weight my feelings on both films at once. Now that Avengers: Endgame is here, I feel like I can finally do a review. Note: I might also have been lazy too, but that is neither here or there. There will be spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movies yet, please don’t read this review yet.

For those that might have missed the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), these two films represent the culmination of 11 years of filmmaking that started with Iron Man back in 2008. It brings the Avengers together with the Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panther and others to fight an alien threat in the name of Thanos, who wants to bring balance to the universe by killing half of all living things. For the longest time, Thanos has been doing this by hand, but now he wants to hasten the results. To do this, he has been collecting the Infinity Stones, six magical gemstones that have incredible power—especially when brought together and used at the same time, mounted in a glove called the Infinity Gauntlet.

In Avengers: Infinity War, the heroes sought to stop Thanos from collecting all of the stones and completing his mission. As you can imagine, due to the fact that there is a direct sequel, they failed. Thanos obtained all of the stones and with a snap of his fingers, snuffed out half all living things throughout the universe. This included many heroes and the ones remaining were devastated by the loss.

Then they sought revenge. In Avengers: Endgame, the heroes go on a suicide mission to the planet where Thanos vanished to so that they can retrieve the Infinity Stones and revive their vanished comrades. They also want to kill him. Upon finding him, they learn he has destroyed the stones and with it, their one hope of restoring what was lost.

However,  the surprise return of Ant-Man from merely being lost in the Quantum Realm when he was presumed dead gives our heroes a way to undo what Thanos has wrought—if they can find a way not to collapse time and space in the process.

The first of the two films sets up a desperate fight for the universe. And while the second continues with the repercussions of such great loss, it bypasses a lot of it in favor of humorous hijinks that wouldn’t be out of place in an Ant-Man film. Indeed, holding him out of the first film allows his presence to be felt that much stronger as he not only provides the way to save their friends but supplies a lot of heart with his optimism and humor. Even with half of the universe gone, the cast of the movie is pretty big, yet for the most part, they all get a chance to shine, be it Captain Marvel blasting onto the scene to save the day several times or the small heart to hearts that Hawkeye and Black Widow have before one of the movie’s many sacrifices. That said, Avengers: Endgame belongs to Iron Man and Captain America, the brains and heart of the team. That’s fitting, as the movie serves as a swan song for now for both characters as their growth has brought them to points in their lives when the thought of them hanging it all up isn’t unfathomable. We will miss them, but they have earned an honest goodbye.

Infinity War is the stronger of the two films to me. It has a concise mission: stop Thanos. Everything done in it by the various heroes moves them closer and closer to this goal. In contrast, Endgame, while it  has a similar mission, takes many asides that do little other than offer fan service and showcase just about every actor that has been in a Marvel movie. While neat, it does pad and already long movie and one can’t help but think that those moments could have been spent better in service of the plot. Even with those deviations, the movie aims to please and does that just, especially in the final battle between the heroes and Thanos that is a visual treat to behold with everyone in on the action. It also offers a scene we’ve been waiting for since the first Avengers film. It also sets up a shaken up world thanks to the events of the first movie that should add new twists to future movies.

All in all, each movie stands alone but together they make each other that much stronger, much like the Avengers themselves do with each other.

Check it out.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Review: Captain Marvel


If there’s one hero I was truly excited to see hit the screen in 2019, it was Captain Marvel. I’d been a fan of hers since her Ms. Marvel days and the new run under writer Kelly Sue DeConnick with the revamped suit really had me hooked. I was hoping that the movie would do this amazing run justice. After an early viewing on Sunday morning, I am happy to report that it does.

Set in the 1990s, decades before the traumatic events in Avengers: Infinity War, we are introduced to Vers (Brie Larson), a female Kree warrior who is having nightmares of herself in another life on another planet. Her commander, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), thinks it is all because she is not controlling her emotions and trains her to control them so she can better control the photon power she wields that she was told was given to her by the Supreme intelligence.  The next mission Vers and the team go on goes all sorts of sideways and she finds herself captive by a group of Skrulls, the mortal enemy of the Kree. During a memory probe, the nightmares surface and turn out to be memories of her past that Vers can’t remember. She escapes and crashes to earth where she meets Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the two try to stop the alien threat and also get to the bottom of Vers’ true identity.

I never knew how much I needed a superhero version of Midnight Run mixed with A Long Kiss Goodnight, but that is what we got and it is perfect. Larson and Jackson make the perfect team, and it is fun to see Fury so young in his career, before he lost his eye and before becoming the head of SHIELD. The emotional journey that Vers goes on is touching, as she finds out about the life that she left behind and never knew she had, not to mention the circumstances of how she joined up with the Kree military.

Larson is perfect as Captain Marvel, bringing a great range of emotion and power to the character, in addition to making quips and kicking ass like a Carolco hero. Jackson is great as well, getting thrown into the deep end of weird things for the first time when we’re so used to him dealing with on a regular basis in the other movies, letting us see a side of Fury we’ve never really experienced.

The movie wears its politics on its sleeve as well turning itself into a hard-hitting female power fantasy that entertains and helps point out the honestly crappy behavior that women have to put up with on a daily basis. Even when you have superpowers, men are still going to be creeps. Part of the issue in correcting these problems is pointing them out and by doing that, Captain Marvel is making the world a better place in the process. The film absolutely delighted the mixed crowed at the theater I was at, culminating in a round of applause as the credits began to roll and everyone left with a smile on their faces.

Check it out.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Happy 2019 (A Little Late)

Just checking in to say Happy New Year and I apologize for it being so quiet here. Things tend to get a little crazy during the holidays and this year was no exception. The new Friday Night Frights book, She-Wolf, Take a Bow, is currently going through a second draft. I hope to have that out to beta readers soon and have it done by March or April. After that, I'm looking to finish my first fantasy novel and hopefully knock that into shape so I can start shopping it around. After that, I have another entry into the Astrogirl series written, as well as a sci-fi novel that features loads of giant monsters and robots. No timetable for those just yet but I'll keep you updated on them as they progress.

Keep reading and I hope 2019 is good to you!