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“Wonder Woman” is blockbuster fun

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Ever since “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad,” I wondered when DC Comics would finally get their act together and make a fun comic book movie. The only two I recall that worked so well was a bulk of “Superman II” and Burton’s “Batman.” Finally, with a breath of air, I can claim “Wonder Woman” as my favorite DC Comics movie to date. It’s fun, action-packed and does what has been missing the whole time. A bright colorful superhero flick that isn’t afraid to try things.

Gal Gadot plays the Amazonian warrior Diana who is tough but has a human soul. The movie starts off introducing her character in probably the smartest way. We learn who she is and what she wants to gain over the course of the plot. Diana maybe trying to understand the nature of her people, but she wants to know what lies beyond her island home to see if humanity is more forgiving then what her people think. There is no big quest to save her world or big urge for a love interest like Disney’s “Little Mermaid.” The aspect of World War I plays a big factor into her character as she questions if human beings should be saved or left to their own devices.

Helping her out is US spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who helps Diana understand the world outside her own is not all pleasant. His character works well as the straight man as Steve keeps her curiosity at balance while letting her understand the human element is more complex. There is a love interest hint but thankfully downplayed to let the two work off each other. Pine and Gadot have a fun chemistry that really works in scenes when Steve is trying to have the Amazonian learn about the treatment of women and government law.

On the opposite side, a German general (Danny Huston) plays a red herring in all this as he works with the diabolical Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) to create a deadly gas bomb. Most of the movie focuses these two are trying to craft the ultimate killing device with much menace. Unfortunately, I found myself more interested in the Poison character. She has a disfigured face which feels like a tribute to William Castle’s “Mr Sardonicus” and seeks to ensure they have the upper hand. While they don’t build her up to the “big evil one,” I felt there was something memorable about her performance and look. In contrast to the iron-fisted general who is just there to win the war.

There is much action to behold as “Wonder Woman” leaps from one colorful action scene to another. Something missing in recent DC adaptions was the value of fun and there is much to enjoy. One of my favorite moments was seeing Diana dash into No Man’s Land and go up against an air full of bullets. There is something awe-inspiring yet enjoyable with the usage of music and energetic visuals.

Even the side characters are a lot of fun too. At Steve’s side is a ragtag of secret agents and sharpshooters who provide plenty of comic relief. But when they are not cracking jokes, there is a sense of vulnerability to these characters that help Diana’s understanding of the human race. One such example is a Scotsman who post-traumatic stress disorder who can be a good shot but also has a heart. While they are aware of how hard the war is, they try to keep optimistic in the best way possible.

And for a movie like this to take on a heavy subject as war, it knows how much to focus on the darker details. Images of injured soldiers, families without homes and dead bodies after a launched gas bomb could have weighed in on the fun factor, but it works. Diana understands the human race is a complex bunch that fight each other, but never feel spite against one another. In a lesson never learned from Superman, you can win on some days but lose sometimes as well. This is an element I see Fieg’s “Ghostbusters” tried but I feel it works better because the main character is trying to know how the world works.

I am close to say “Wonder Woman” is a perfect movie, but there is one tiny flaw that can either make or break the movie. Throughout the story, Diana believes this was is the doing of a god and seeks to end it by killing him. It leads to an interesting concept about belief. Diana is stuck to her mythological history while Steve believes things are a cause of human nature. There comes a moment when it starts to pay off, but unfortunately a twist villain confirms the true nature.

For a moment, I thought it was going in a very smart and very clever direction, but then it felt like we were not ready for something unique and different. The final 20 minutes resort to a final showdown between Wonder Woman and the true antagonist behind the whole thing. Why couldn’t they just do something more brilliant like have Diana’s mother appear in her mind and try to remind her of her warnings or something less cliche. Instead, they play it safe and even if the climatic fight scene is explosive, I just wish it a much stronger element than a twist villain.

But, I can’t rampage on this latest entry. DC Comics and Warner Bros are trying to make a good adaption here and I can see it. They were so close and yet so far from perfection. However, I think I can let them off the hook this time. Even if the ending was slightly lame, “Wonder Woman” still turns out to be fun and engaging from beginning to end. Its finally refreshing to see a good movie from the other comic book brand and can safely say this one is certainly worth your time.

Rental Corner: “Superman II” Vs. “Superman II…The Richard Donner Cut”

The Adventure Continued...and so did a long battle for a sequel!

The Adventure Continued…and so did a long battle for a sequel!

Director Richard Donner gave us a superhero movie unlike any other. Or that would be the case if he was given free reign with “Superman II.” I will always argue to this day that what Donner could have done might have given us a sequel that no only matched the power of the original but quite possibly be better. However, Alexander and Ilya Salkind never let him finish his movie for the following reasons. During the production of the first movie, Donner ran into some problems with financing and film schedule while supposedly criticizing the producers in interviews around the time of the first movie’s release. On top of that, Marlon Brandon was promised a percentage of the box-office profits making for one expensive cameo if he was ever to be in the follow-up that was meant to be released in 1979.

As a result, the Salkinds got a new director, made heavy rewrites to what was already planned out and sought to make a sequel that was the combination of two worlds. This didn’t sit well with the cast and crew with some even refusing to return for the sequel under protest of Donner’s sacking. Most notable was Gene Hackman despite having all his scenes shot and yet cut down in the final version. It also didn’t help that the new director Richard Lester had to reshoot 51% of the film in order to gain credit for working on the movie. Well, “Superman II” came out in the summer of 1981 and was a box office hit but gained a noted amount of controversy over the dramatic production stories. It wouldn’t be till 2006, Richard Donner would complete his original cut (sort of) after learning all the original negatives for the first and second movie that HE FILMED was a London film vault. Thus, “Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut” was released to much praise and mixed reception among fans while showing a possible “what could have been” while fans having a hard time trying to place it in its own continuity. So the question begs, what is the better version?

Reeve and Kidder return as their famed roles and explore more romance than in the first film

Reeve and Kidder return as their famed roles and explore more romance than in the first film

Instead of going gun-ho and doing a compare and contrast, I felt it would be unfair to those who have not seen both versions. Seeing both movies share the same story despite difference in tone, I feel its only just to talk about the story first before going into what works and what doesn’t in a “spoiler-free” manner. Christopher Reeve returns as Superman along with his alter-ego Clark Kent but things get out of hand when his heartthrob Lois Lane figures out that Clark is Superman. As a result, he decides to spend a day off focusing on his romance with the Daily Planet reporter while even consider the temptation of being human giving up his superhero duties.

That all changes when surviving Kryptonian General Zod (Terence Stamp) escapes from a prison known as the Phantom Zone along with two of his accomplices and it doesn’t help they just so happen to be freed near Earth. As they start to take over the American nation (and the world…maybe), Superman now has a choice between being a savior to the world or being human forever despite a planet in the toil and torment of a cruel and militant supervillian.

Terence Stamp as his famous role as the ruthless General Zod along with his accomplices played by Sarah Douglas and Jack O'Halloran

Terence Stamp as his famous role as the ruthless General Zod along with his accomplices played by Sarah Douglas and Jack O’Halloran

After seeing “Superman II” a few times (along with its 2006 re-cut), already its slowly becoming one of my favorite sequels and for good reason. It asks would what it be like if our favorite superhero decided to take the day off. Would the world be in peril if he left his hometown alone? Would he be stuck between eternal paradise? And what are the consequences of a superhero gone mortal? To my surprise, every single one of those questions get answered while also digging into Superman’s psyche. Lois Lane maybe a huge responsibility to him but so is the world and it gets tough in the final act (without giving too much away) when both realize how hard it would be to manage a life together would turn out. This is main heart of both cuts and carries through no matter what changers or alterations they have between the two.

The performances are great and possibly better than the first. Christopher Reeve knows Superman has a big task between choosing a life with Lois or be a hero to the world. Instead of being muscle bound, he goes into the weakness of Superman as we seen him attempt a normal life and it shows what happens when such a grand hero goes weak in a modern world. Now reality is in and no longer at superhuman strength. Reeve really brings out the tragedy in the character when he has to make two sacrifices in one blow; the choice of being human while giving up a normal life continuing his normal responsibility. As always, Reeve and Margot Kidder are great together as Clark and Lois Lane but even the sequel develops more of the romance between them when Lois finds out that Clark is the famed caped wonder she dreams of. Now, all is changed and it looks right out of a fairy tale come true.

When watching the theatrical cut, any scene Gene Hackman is in where its not an obvious body double is Richard Donner's footage...just saying

When watching the theatrical cut, any scene Gene Hackman is in where its not an obvious body double is Richard Donner’s footage…just saying

Gene Hackman also returns as the favorite fast-talking criminal mastermind Lex Luthor as he plans to make a pact with the evil Kryptonians in order to not only destroy Superman but even gain some more land property (“Australia,” he claims proudly with a cigar in his mouth.) Like the first movie, he soaks up and chews every bit of scenery with such delight as he coaxes into Zod about his knowledge for Superman while trying to keep himself alive at every step.

The villainous Kryptonians are also a huge highlight for “Superman II” and prove to be a huge challenge knowing the power they posses matches Superman to a degree. They can fly, shoot heat beams from their eyes and even as much strength as the hero himself. This is a huge problem knowing their powers match when they tear up Metropolis in a memorable and intense climax as a bus full of patrons are tossed around and many neon signs get blown to smithereens in the brawl. Those who accuse of “Man of Steel” for having Superman not save ALL of the people might want to take good note of this movie as even Reeve’s Superman knows he can’t save everyone in Metropolis as debris falls to the streets below yet he tries.

Its overall a really satisfying sequel but here is where the two cuts differ from each other. The theatrical cut goes for a more light tone than the first film while keeping a good bulk of the Donner footage intact. The goofier scenes clash with the intense moments as you almost wish there was a darker sequel along the lines of “The Empire Strikes Back.” Notable highlights include a man on roller skates being flown back by Zod’s super breath, Non (the hulking and strong of the three) getting a “Groot” style personality that is cartoonish and over the top, a bizarre cat and mouse fight at the Fortress of Solitude between Superman and the Kryptonians and that’s just to name a few. When the Richard Lester material was interwoven, there were moments when it did work like a small speech at the end from Lois about how Superman belongs to the world more than her but then you had moments that felt like generic action taken from a 1960s episode of Batman. Its clear the Salkinds wanted a safer vehicle to market and that’s really what it is.

In 2006, The Richard Donner Cut was released to the public to much acclaim...and much controversy from the fans in terms of continuity.

In 2006, The Richard Donner Cut was released to the public to much acclaim…and much controversy from the fans in terms of continuity.

The Richard Donner cut, on the other hand, uses a lot of the footage that Donner originally shot but only used the theatrical cut in places when “gaps” were needed. Again, only 75% of Donner’s film was shot and thus some material was needed to fill in open holes with the narrative. Thankfully, most of the goofy moments are cut but some elements still remain like in the Metropolis fight. But thanks to a little sound re-mixing and tight editing, the brawl is more slick and intense with certain gags removed with different shots or trimmed completely. One scene where Lois tricks Clark into revealing his true identity was never filmed but luckily there existed a screen test of Reeve and Kidder acting the scene out. Some film purists might be distracted by how Reeve wasn’t as muscular at the time and how much Margot Kidder’s hair differs, but I wasn’t distracted too much by it. The staging alone as well as the editing was enough to forgive it. It was also a nice addition to see two actors show a spark of chemistry even before they were hired for their roles!

But the biggest highlight that should go unnoticed is all of Marlon Brando’s footage as Jor-El that was filmed for the sequel is not only restored but really changes the narrative of the story. In the theatrical cut, Jor-El was replaced with Susannah York playing the hollogram of Superman’s mother. While its nice to see the same actress from the first movie reprise such a small role, the focus of the first film was on Superman and his father. This looses a lot of momentum in the theatrical cut as Jor-El’s cryptic prophecy “the son becomes the father and the father becomes the son” never fully pays off. Without spoiling too much, this line now feels complete here and Brando’s performance couldn’t be stronger. To think over 25 years and we would never see such incredible footage surface. This gives the alternate ending to “Little Shop of Horrors” a good run for its money.

One of the many "lost scenes" restored in the Richard Donner Cut where Superman consults his father (Marlon Brando) about the aspect of being human. A huge highlight that changes the entire tone of the storyline. Also, its cute to see Margot Kidder in a Superman shirt

One of the many “lost scenes” restored in the Richard Donner Cut where Superman consults his father (Marlon Brando) about the aspect of being human. A huge highlight that changes the entire tone of the storyline. Also, its cute to see Margot Kidder in a Superman shirt

“Superman II” is hands down a grand entry. The story alone makes it good enough to recommend as character arcs that were left open in the last film are explored and a greater threat is at play that not only challenges Superman physically but even mentally. Would it be worth it to have a normal life among the people or can he be both Clark and Superman to the end? Arguably, I’d say this is better than the first movie for being darker and more action-packed than the first film.

But it goes back to the original question, which is the better cut and here is my main problem. The theatrical version has a clash between light and dark as one can tell when the camp factor lies and where the serious material the Donner footage lies. But going in not knowing the troubled back story behind the sequel, they probably wouldn’t spot these “inconsistencies in tone” on first watch. But the more I watch, I keep asking myself why can’t it cut back on the camp and cheapness considering the amount of effort the first film had. The Richard Donner Cut is an improvement but it acts as more of a “what if.” As much as I enjoy the new additions and kept appreciating all the changes, its not really an official cut because Donner never completed what was intended as a whole. However, I will be honest and say had Donner complete his original vision, I’m sure we would have had one hell of a sequel and I do admire it for those reasons. But are not completely bad and have their own strengths and weaknesses while still manage to be entertaining. I can’t think of moment when I saw something that was really awful or made me turn off. I’d say watch both and judge for yourself.

Rental Corner: “The Lego Movie”

For me, everything was NOT awesome with this film.

For me, everything was NOT awesome with this film.

Earlier in the year, moviegoers were treated to “The Lego Movie.” A big-screen adaption based on the famed toy many have been using to build all sorts of things and places brick by brick. Legos are still a hot product and sure enough this movie was a massive hit. “Lego Movie” got unanimous praise all around from viewers and Lego fans alike. The only question I have is that if such a film could get so much praise and appreciation, how come I’m not in the majority of those who keep claiming this is the next Toy Story? Or simply, how come I didn’t like this movie when it offers so much that I can enjoy but in the end I only felt it didn’t come together for me?

Well, sure enough this movie establishes its set in a universe where everything is made of Legos. From the people to even right down to the buildings, as the citizens casually go about their daily lives by means of instructions given to them. One inhabitant name Emmit (voiced by Chris Pratt) is a causal everyday construction worker gets suddenly pulled from his average day of following the rules to a chosen one plot. Eventually, he meets up with a group of Legos that are part of a rebellion alliance that plan to save the Lego universe from the clutches of the world’s leader Lord Business (performed by a surprisingly under used Will Ferrell). Lord Business plans to use a weapon called the Kragle to glue down the Lego universe to keep it “perfectly still” in his view. With Emitt tossed into the mix as a supposed “Chosen One,” he is the only thing that can save the Lego world but the problem is that aside from living life by the book, he doesn’t have a single creative thought in his plastic noggin aside from creating double decker sofas and ogling the love interest Wyldstyle who has Batman (Will Arnet) for a boyfriend.

And that’s very much just a portion of the plot as it feels like a first grader wrote this idea and I feel that’s kinda the point of this movie. Its meant to be outlandish and absurd to the point you feel like your watching a kid playing with his toys. And that’s one of the problems I had with “Lego Movie” as I felt like the whole movie was being made by a kid and I couldn’t distinguish if I should treat this as a kids movie or a self-aware parody of kids films considering the tone and style of the movie is addressing how aware it is. And I don’t want to be reminded of that. I want to watch a film and its universe.

After seeing “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” and “21 Jump Street,” I think I finally caught on to what directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are doing with their movies. They are making their flicks “self-aware” in thinking the more satire that gets injected, the more funnier it feels. Now, I love satire and I can see this form of writing working for things like Futurama or Mel Brooks movies. But the problem I have is that their material feels too “self-aware” when addressing a joke on a film cliche or how the scene is obviously parodying the common criticisms filmgoers have about today’s movies (as seen in 21 Jump Street when the chief officer comments on how people are rehashing old things and making them new…because that is about as clever as peanut butter toast).

I don’t mind “breaking the fourth wall” or being “self-aware” of yourself. But it has to work in a way so it doesn’t hamper with the environment of the movie. Mel Brooks took on the old West (Blazing Saddles)  and future space (Spaceballs)  without nudging to the audience frequently of the stuff they are parodying. The Muppets did riff on their own films but not the point they were constantly calling shots on which cliche was next or poking holes at the plot at a heavy pace. I can understand the form of comedy its going for but it just didn’t feel right for me here. I wanted to enjoy this world of living toys in their own world but because of the constant “film nudges,” it kept pulling me out as I was reminded it was a movie and I really don’t want that feeling.  I didn’t even laugh or smile at a single joke. Not one. And trust me, I do have a sense of humor. I’ve enjoyed recent kid/family films like Despicable Me 2, Frozen, and Muppets Most Wanted so perhaps there’s something with the comedic style that is not engaging to me.

Sure it has a social commentary on how unoriginal things are today and people are literally “going by the book” to get through life but it felt done before with movies like Brazil or Wall-E. Wall-E had it edgy with the human race babied down to computer obsessed beings as Brazil showed a totalitarian nightmare where the simplest computer error can create much havoc. With “Lego Movie,” I didn’t feel like I was getting anything new as the mini-toys go about their life and act like there is nothing wrong by sticking to what they read from a set of instructions.

But maybe the characters will be interesting right? Unfortunately, they were predicable and standard to me. We get Emmit, the everyday worker who enjoys being part of the system and will  find out just how important he is to this big conflict that is up ahead. He’s got a bright cheery attitude that makes him goofy but morale heart to know how to take his average life and put it to use. He’s very much the every man cliche and I didn’t find much interest in him. What I couldn’t understand was how Emmit could be so energetic and happy when he knows so many people and yet they don’t acknowledge  him as a close person. For a character this upbeat, I can’t picture him being socially awkward or devoted of people even considering how he interacts with them in the opening scene like he knows EVERYONE personally and yet they later regard him as just another average joe. Yeah, we know he’s going to save the day. There’s not competition there.

Wyldstyle is the feisty female love interest who wants to be great but misses her chance like Tigeress from Kung Fu Panda but less mystique. Vitruvius is the wise Obi Wan that guides the group and is blind (which in a possible reference to Ray Charles where he plays the piano I found rather questionable…either that or maybe I’m looking it too much. your choice), Batman is the Gaston that tries to prove how heroic he is and yet is wrong, Benny and Bad Cop are there for comic relief and then there is Lord Business. First, you can’t make a villain like this have a name with less subtly. Seriously? Lord Business? Guess executives are in open season for being kid movie villains.

Second, for an antagonist who has plans to freeze the Lego world and plays a huge part, I didn’t think much of him. Will Ferrell does his usual shtick and does fit the personality of  a “I want things my way” form of character but I didn’t find him funny or even threatening. I didn’t even feel like he was in the movie that much the more I think about it. The focus is more on this world of Legos that is doesn’t think twice when it comes to character depth that often.

But the biggest problem I had was the twist near the end which reveals the truth behind the Lego world. I won’t give too much away for those who have yet to see it but I will put it like this. Remember how I said this movie feels like it was written by a kid? I’ll leave it at that. By the time we get to this part, it feels like the rug has been pulled out from us. This Lego world is vast and when they reveal the truth behind it, it feels somewhat last minute and not well fleshed out. It feels like a last minute tag for emotion that comes right out of nowhere.

But there is a bigger problem to contend with and that’s my familiarity with Legos. I’m going to admit it right on the fly. I knew about Legos as a kid. I heard about this as a kid. I even saw commercials about them as a kid. But I never had them in my toy chest growing up or even think much of them. I was more of  a castle playset/action figure/plushie kid. When ever I had the chance to play with Legos, it would either be with the Duplo set or Kenetix. I even got annoyed with how there were so many small pieces in such a big box. Yeah, I didn’t have much patience nor have the Lego building skills. I just wasn’t into Legos that much and it shows how much I wasn’t into this movie because of my childhood experiences and the style of the screenplay. Even looking at as a movie on its own, I can’t separate it seeing it prominently has Legos as the center and feels like a half movie/half commercial. I can already picture kids running out and finding sets for the Unikitty’s cloud palace or trying to hunt down an Abraham Lincoln figurine.

But still are there some positives? Well I do admit, the animation is good. Seeing the way these worlds are made brick by brick and the movements of the Lego figures almost give the feel of a stop-motion flick and you have to give credit for their research. Even on the close ups, you can almost see scratches and signs of wear on the characters giving the feel of animated plastic right in front of you. Again, the idea of a world with nothing but Legos is a unique concept until the revelation kicks in that diminishes all wonder and I do like the idea of how they keep taking anything in this world and crafting something out of it like a pirate ship or a hot rod car. And you can tell the performers are having a good time regardless of one’s attitude towards this movie. They know its a movie about Legos and not limiting themselves while going all out and childish like spaceman Benny’s crazed obsession for making a spaceship or Unikitty’s urge to keep her emotions bottled up like how a kid would refused to explode into sadness or rage.

However, when I look back upon this movie, it reflects my feelings with the movie’s number “Everything is Awesome” where it feels too hip and energetic for my taste. Sure its a nice looking film but story and characters are the biggie when it comes to a feature film and I feel those elements didn’t live up to my taste. Maybe 2013’s crop of bad family films left me to resort to a form of cynical film snob or maybe the director’s comedic writing style didn’t work for me. Either way, I can’t chalk this up as a bad movie considering the amount of effort placed into it and considering the huge amount of respect and praise it has behind it. I’m sure kids will really love this one but for me, I’m more of a Toy Story guy as the world of people and toys melded together perfectly in that film and I had better connections with the characters and plot. “The Lego Movie,” on the other hand, just didn’t do much for me aside from its animation and creative environment. Even going in with an open mind and viewing it just as it is, I still didn’t like this one no matter what.

Rental Corner: “Empire” is crimminally underrated

A lost gem

A lost gem

Even after a few hours after watching “Empire of the Sun,” I feel its beginning to haunt me. Images of Steven Spielberg’s 1987 war drama are floating in my mind from the attack on Shanghai to the scenes in the prisoner’s camp with young Jim struggling to keep his youth from slipping to the harshness of the war and those around them. How can one film already make such an impact on me you ask? Well, you would be surprised.
Based on J. G. Ballard’s semi autobiography novel of the same name, James Graham, a young upper class school boy played by Christian Bale (yes, that Christian Bale) becomes literally lost in a sea of Japan’s battle to take over Shanghai International Settlement and eventually witnesses the horror of war that slowly diminishes his fantasy of it. His investment in airplanes keeps him trudging on and his fond view of pilots that guides his view through a depressing and episodic journey.

Most notable is a scene after the attack where he’s running around “surrendering” to Japanese troops who just shrug him off or see it as a joke. This is reality. Not a fantasy anymore. The streets that were filled with astounding hotels and amazing sights is close to rubble and being overcome by troops and urchins of the streets that try to take advantage of his possessions.

Not long after, he befriends an American Solider name Basie (John Malkovich) who looks like an aviator that the kid has dreamed of but during the film, we slowly see his true colors. Even the audience is duped by his “Artful Dodger” like nature as he tries to sell the kid’s teeth at one point and nearly abandons him as they are no good. The expectations are played around a lot as we don’t know if we should sympathize or hate him. In the end, we are drawn to our own conclusion as the stereotypical war image we see of him earlier is slowly stripped away to nothing more but an empty shell that has some kindness but not enough to deem him a hero.

Even pushed further is the depiction of the Japanese soldiers that hold Jim and a bunch of British and American refuges captive in a prison camp who at times respects some honor Jim responds back with and other times either test his faith or simply view him as a simple bystander. A perfect example is a moment when the general is destroy some of the camp in distraught over an attack on their harbor and is about to destroy the windows to the hospitals. As the doctor tries to prevent it, Jim instead smashes two of them and the general ceases the raid. Why does he do this? Does this mean he thinks Jim has some respect for him? Or was it just the thought of another American doing his work enough to please him? This is mirrored later when he beats Basie for a bar of stolen soap that Jim gave him and the kid tries to do the same thing but instead is fallen to a deaf ear. Moments like this really play with the viewer’s expectation and surrounding of the world. Is this all good faith or is it just action that means little or nothing?

Empire of the Sun is a beautifully filmed feature that I can’t do justice to. Even many have noticed the dream-like quality that carries out as Jim goes through the harsh moments while holding to every bit of innocence. This is brought further when Jim wonders if life is a dream by God or is it the other way around. The curiosity of a child that is even seen slowly eroded further when he sees the true horror of war. I don’t want to give anything too much away but by the end, you really start to feel the same amount of trauma creep into you that he gets.

The only problems I have is the theoretical aspect with Empire. Jim’s constant asking on the existence of God gets a bit redundant and is never given a good payoff. I curiously asked the significance until a certain key scene near the end when he questions it again that has some relevance but moments like that serve either little payoff or none at all.

Also is the transition from its dynamic moments to the light-hearted affairs midway. After much powerful imagery, when we take a five-year jump, it feels oddly uneven for a short bit as we see Jim’s established trading network and relationship with the captives. It’s not a bad scene but it nearly took me out of the movie for a moment for its sheer whimsy. After a long-range of powerful scenes in the tarnished streets and seeing people in reserves close to death, this is what we get. But after that, the film slowly trudges back its to roots that were placed in the beginning so you could argue that it was showing Jim in his prime before the negativity hits him again, but it felt a little off to me.

Even after that, the stuff that comes is nearly equally powerful to what we got earlier. There’s a moment when Jim watches a ceremony take place with a couple of Japanese aviators that causes him to break down and salute them. They look at him with curiosity but not enough to look back and return the honor or even cease his amazement. Let me tell you, not since E.T. have I shed a tear at a moment like this that captures the overall image of the film. In fact, the whole rest of Empire holds up really well and I never felt this emotionally attached to a Spielberg film in a long time or even cried more than once at it.

I really wish more people would check this one out and thanks to its Blu-Ray release, it looks marvelous in HD. This is up there with the Hudsucker Proxy and Pink Floyd’s The Wall as the kind of movie that deserves to be seen a huge screen. Its gripping, powerful, epic and showcases the director’s own view of the war and the tragedy it brings. It’s a coming of age story about the innocence of one boy and its struggle to hold on to it even he knows at some point, it has to be given up. And even as I write this, I’m fortunate to say a lot of it will haunt me to remind how much of our childhood doesn’t stay with us for long.

New “Godzilla” is best of summer

He's back...and bigger than before

He’s back…and bigger than before

Its hard to talk about Godzilla without giving anything away for newcomers and those who wish to go in spoiler free. So I will be fair and for those who wish not to be ruined to read this paragraph till it ends. First, I didn’t see Amazing Spider Man 2 (hell, I didn’t bother) and Neighbors. This was the movie I decided to start my summer on and I’m thankful I went to the Thursday screening. If you enjoy blockbusters that give a lot of character depth, this is the movie for you. But if you wish it was more action packed like World War Z….chances are you’ll still give a damn about it. With that said, those who wish to hear my thoughts….proceed with caution. Again, I will try to make this spoiler free as possible…but I can’t guarantee much….

I was worried when they made plans to do another Godzilla and even after watching Godzilla 1985, I grew a little cautious after seeing what kind of “mockery” they did. Again, I have an upcoming episode on this so I’ll leave that there. But with a new movie on the big monster, I was curious. Trailers showcased his mighty and dynamic ability and presented that monster movies CAN be serious and fun too. I went in hyped as hell and boy, I wasn’t disappointed…well, almost.

The minute the opening credits started, I was hooked. Supposedly this is meant to be an “origin” tale but really they just sum it up in the opening title scene. Smart move. In fact, a lot of this movie is just told though images and subtle actions which give it an almost balletic feel that is moving and haunting at the same time. It knows when to be quiet and when to be serious and I haven’t seen anything like that since last year’s World War Z and The Crow.

The story is centered on the human characters that survive the chaos and most of the film is placed on a “family” kind of theme that doesn’t feel too phoned in. While I’m glad to see we get some heavily developed characters, the problem is that less time is focused on Godzilla. In fact, a good bulk of this movie is a huge tease as every confrontation and bit of monster destruction is saved till the final third when EVERYTHING is seen and not kept secret. Even I found myself rather disappointed with the first Godzilla fight between him and a giant bug like monster (which props to the design) is reduced to a quick news report.

But again, this all build-up and suspense to the final act when a California city is put to rubble from Godzilla’s battle between two “MUTO” creatures that are like giant cockroaches with a fiery bite. If you are able to put up with the character development and patience for the final act where it all pays off, good for you. If not and wish it was action-packed…well, I still say its worth going through it.

You see, most of the Godzilla movies in the past focus on the monsters and little on the human characters. Not sense Godzilla Vs. King Ghiedorah, can I remember an entry in the series when human characters were the focus. They move the plot as they are in the middle of Godzilla’s brawl and the monster’s path of destruction. It really puts you in the moment and has an rather grim throwback to the natural disasters of the past. It treats the monsters like if Mother Nature herself was on a rampage as MUTOs represent the wind and Godzilla controls the tsunamis of the seas. Its funny how when Godzilla is enraged, he creates a tsunami before battle marking his entrance and yet at the end, it is bookended when he returns to the waters and makes calm waves. Nice touch.

Above all, this is truly a vast improvement over the 1998 film and it shows. While you do get less of the big lizard, you still get a very engaging and fun flick that I will admit is by far the darkest Godzilla movie I’ve seen to date since his fight with Destroyah. In a way, it does feel like a reboot of that one considering the insect-like tendencies of the MUTOs. In a way, we feel like ants to them when they battle it out and make us wonder what is it like to be small and in the middle of a monster’s brawl. Director Gareth Edwards of Monsters successfully captures this so well it makes Pacific Rim seem like a TV show and less of a blockbuster. Hell, it blew that movie out of the water tonight and I’m not surprised if it does the same for many. All I can say is go in with low expectations as hopefully by the end, you will see the (or if not) ONE of the best summer movies of the year so far.