Godzilla vs. Kong

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 6/15/21;
Warner;

Sci-Fi;
Box Office $100.1 million;
$34.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $49.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of creature violence/destruction and brief language.
Stars Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza Gonzalez, Julian Dennison, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir.

The title fight between two monster-movie heavyweights delivers pretty much what one might expect from such a premise: a lot of spectacle, flashy visual effects, rampaging destruction on a massive scale, and a completely disposable story to provide the flimsiest of excuses to set it all up.

The clash between Godzilla and King Kong is a rematch of sorts, the pair having faced off in 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla, a Japanese production from the “Godzilla” creative team (and the third “Godzilla” movie to that point). But this is their first encounter in the new “Monsterverse” franchise that began with 2014’s Godzilla remake, which got a sequel in 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters featuring Godzilla battling several of his traditional enemies. This Kong was introduced in 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, a 1970s-set adventure film in which humanity discovered the giant ape and all the strange creatures of his mysterious homeland.

Godzilla vs. Kong is under no illusions that it exists for any reason other than to put the two titans together. It even structures the opening credits as a tournament bracket showing which creatures each defeated in the previous movies.

The story, such as it is, involves Godzilla attacking research facilities of a company called Apex and putting the local population in danger. Apex wants to access the power source of the mythical “Hollow Earth” (a hidden underground world) to power a defense against Godzilla, and recruits a scientist named Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to lead the expedition. To access Hollow Earth, they need two things: special vehicles that can withstand the gravitational fluxes of the subterranean barrier, and a Titan to locate an entrance. Lind knows a scientist (Rebecca Hall) who runs a facility on Skull Island where in the past 40 years they’ve managed to entrap Kong and keep him contained in a giant dome.

Anyway, the plan is to take Kong to Antarctica to locate a portal. But since Godzilla can sense the presence of other Titans, he can track Kong once the ape leaves the dome. So Godzilla attacks the fleet transporting Kong, and the Titans have their first throwdown on the deck of an aircraft carrier, and it’s pretty awesome.

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Meanwhile, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) from King of the Monsters joins up with a conspiracy podcaster to investigate why Godzilla would be attacking cities again, since she believes Godzilla is meant to protect the world. So they look into Apex and discover the company is building Mechagodzilla, the famed giant robot version of Godzilla, which the original Godzilla doesn’t like.

Through some more plot mechanics, Kong ends up in Hollow Earth and finds his ancestral homeland and an ancient axe his ancestors once used to fight Godzilla’s ancestors in some ancient war between the Titans. The axe allows Kong to harness the same radiation Godzilla uses, which evens the playing field a bit since Godzilla is a lizard that can fire nuclear blasts from his mouth, while Kong isn’t much more than a big monkey.

But Kong turns out to be pretty smart, and to speed things along the movie treats Kong as another protagonist, communicating with a little deaf girl from his island in order to join forces with the humans against Godzilla.

So, Godzilla attacks the Apex facility that is building Mechagodzilla, and Kong returns to the surface to fight him again, and glorious destruction of many neon buildings ensues. It’s quite a sight to behold. And the facility is in Hong Kong, because of course King Kong has to end up in Hong Kong or else what is even the point of it all?

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The Blu-ray of the film is loaded with more than an hour of featurettes exploring the history of Godzilla and Kong and the making of their epic clash. Many of the featurettes are also available with copies from select digital retailers.

The extras are broken down by character, so there are two focused on Godzilla, four focused on Kong, and one on Mechagodzilla. There are also three featurettes covering the major fight scenes, one for each.

For the Godzilla featurettes, “Godzilla Attacks” is a six-and-a-half-minute look at the character’s use in this particular story, while the 10-minute “The Penomenon of Gojira, King of the Monsters” is a look at the history of the creature in film, featuring interviews from cast members and filmmakers from all the Monsterverse movies.

The Kong featurettes mostly deal with visual effects and production design, with one, the eight-and-a-half-minute “The Evolution of Kong, Eighth Wonder of the World,” is a history of King Kong as told through interviews with Monsterverse filmmakers. In a not altogether unexpected move, only clips from Warner-owned Kong movies are shown; the 1976 (Paramount( and 2005 (Universal) remakes are mentioned briefly without any clips from them being played.

The regular Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray editions include an exclusive commentary track by director Adam Wingard. Much of his discussion centers on technical details, but Wingard is also a fan of the characters and admits that part of his motivation for making the movie was to follow up on debates he had in second grade about who would win in a fight by making sure the character he had always picked would end up winning.

Originally published as a streaming review April 19, 2021.

First Man

(Review) Director Damien Chazelle’s visually impressive biopic about the first man to walk on the surface of the moon challenges viewers’ expectations about what a film about the space program is supposed to be by focusing on the man instead of the mission, presenting an intimate and not always flattering portrait of an American hero that most Americans actually know very little about.

 

 

 

 

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 1/22/19;
Universal;
Drama;
Box Office $44.94 million;
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some thematic content involving peril, and brief strong language.
Stars Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Christopher Abbot, Ciarán Hinds, Lucas Haas, Shea Whigham, Patrick Fugit.

Space program enthusiasts thinking this biopic about Neil Armstrong would be as awe-inspiring treatment as The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 might want to temper their expectations.

Director Damien Chazelle’s First Man is not altogether about the Apollo 11 moon landing. Strictly speaking, it’s not even about the space program. As the title would imply, it’s a film about Neil Armstrong the man, what drove him to join NASA, and what motivated his efforts to become the first man to walk on the moon. Depictions of spaceflight achievements take a backseat to the character study of the most famous of astronauts that, ironically, most of the public really knew nothing about.

Chazelle’s re-creations of various missions are dazzling visually, but his aim is not to celebrate the achievements of the space program the way other portrayals have. That disconnect between filmmaker objective and audience expectation may be the primary reason the film underperformed at the box office despite massive critical buzz (though, really, how much of the acclaim was simply drafting from the aura of Chazelle’s Best Director Oscar for La La Land is anybody’s guess).

First Man is moody. It’s gritty. It’s lyrical and often plays like a dream, a tone set by a haunting musical score from Justin Hurwitz that often shifts between elegant and droning. And sometimes it’s just depressing. The first two-thirds of the film feels like a 1970s independent film rather than what one might expect from a big-budget outer space blockbuster.

First Man

Ryan Gosling plays Armstrong as a sullen family man who takes on risk as a means of distracting himself from the grief over the death of his young daughter in the early 1960s. This is a portrait of a man constantly confronted with death, with several of his astronaut friends killed training for missions. Yet Armstrong presses on, despite questions about whether going to the moon is even worth it. As an engineer and pilot, Armstrong is absorbed by the challenges of spaceflight to the seeming detriment of his personal life and relationship with his wife (Claire Foy) and two sons. He even conducts a discussion with his children over his chances of surviving the moon mission with the cold stoicism of a press conference.

The depicted missions are presented mostly from the point-of-view of Armstrong, with the final part of the film taken up with Apollo 11. Most of the major events were covered much more comprehensively in HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon, and anyone familiar with that miniseries will be struck by just how much is missing from the depictions here.

That’s not necessarily to the movie’s detriment, since it needs to portray the missions just enough to show how they fit into Armstrong’s story, not America’s. The result of this narrative direction, however, seems to be a choice to portray the missions in a matter-of-fact way, more akin to 2001: A Space Odyssey or Interstellar, as opposed to an inspirational achievement the way most audiences would be used to.

The film is less interested in technical details and glosses over several of them, such as an alarm that went off several times during the lunar landing that indicated the navigational computer was being overwhelmed with data (which doesn’t get explained until the bonus materials, for anyone who isn’t otherwise aware of what happened). The film flubs a few details, too, but only the hardcore enthusiasts are likely to notice.

Once viewers can get past such challenges, it’s easy enough to appreciate the film for its technical and artistic merits, which may take several viewings to fully take in.

Notably, First Man was the first big-screen dramatization of an actual Gemini mission, with the depiction of Armstrong and Dave Scott performing the first orbital docking during Gemini VIII. The mission was cut short when a stuck thruster sent the capsule spinning out of control before Armstrong could stabilize the craft. But here’s a prime example of how the decision to stick with Armstrong’s perspective could hamper the audience’s understanding of what was really going on, aside from a colossal malfunction taking place.

Personally, the knowledge I already had of the incident helped me follow what the scene was trying to portray, so I’d recommend checking out the first episode of From the Earth to the Moon for a more omnipresent look at what happened (aside from actual research on it, of course).

Likewise, with the way the film rushes through the lunar landing sequence, the way it’s handled in From the Earth to the Moon’s sixth episode will probably be more to a lot of viewers’ tastes. (HBO would be wise to re-release the From the Earth to the Moon DVD boxed set, assuming they aren’t willing to remaster the visual effects for high-definition to finally release it on Blu-ray).

First Man

Judging by an otherwise excellent audio commentary track of Chazelle, screenwriter Josh Singer and editor Tom Cross, the filmmakers weren’t really interested in how their movie would be compared to previous examples of the genre, other than stylistically. That’s kind of a shame, as the decision to present the Gemini VIII launch from the viewpoint of within the capsule the whole time works well to simulate Armstrong’s experience for viewers, but robs us of what could have been a glorious external view of the rocket launching that hasn’t really been dramatized yet.

Instead, Chazelle saves the inspirational launch for the liftoff of Apollo 11, and while a fully fueled Saturn V rocket is a sight to behold, and First Man manages to craft a solid launch with some good shots of the spacecraft, the filmmakers were going to be hard-pressed to top what we’ve already seen from the Apollo 13 depiction of a Saturn launch, which is the standard-bearer for such sequences.

In addition, the remarkable shot from the trailers of a Saturn launch that’s reflected in a window as Armstrong watches was cut out of the movie. It’s available as one of the two deleted scenes on the Blu-ray, while the film’s trailers haven’t been included with the disc.

The other deleted scene is a sequence of the Armstrong house burning down, which really happened in 1964.

The Blu-ray also includes about 34 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes, which in conjunction with the commentary provide a lot of insights into the process of adapting the film from James R. Hansen’s book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong.

What’s particularly fascinating is the level of practical visual effects employed with models and in-camera opticals rather than an abundance of CGI. In fact, it’s almost as if the filmmakers used technological advancements to improve upon old-school methods, filming models and cockpits in front of a giant LED screen that displays images at a resolution high enough to look like the real deal in the final product (with some digital enhancements).

This results in several visually stunning sequences that look great on the high-definition presentation of the disc. Scenes on Earth were shot with different grain levels to give the film a retro feel that serves its tone well. Of course, Chazelle is saving most of the razzle-dazzle for the final lunar sequence, which was shot with Imax cameras and appropriately shifts aspect ratios to capture the grandeur of it on home video.

To re-create the moon, filmmakers built a giant lunar set at a quarry, filmed at night with an actual full-sized lunar lander mock-up and a giant light in the distance to stimulate the sun (as opposed to the greenscreen and CGI approach most films would likely take today). The results pay off in a visually impressive lunar sequence that provides a real stylistic contrast with how such scenes have been handled before.

First Man

Game Night

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Warner;
Comedy;
Box Office $68.85 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for language, sexual references and some violence.
Stars Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons, Chelsea Peretti, Danny Huston, Michael C. Hall, Kyle Chandler.

The premise behind Game Night is simple yet solid: A group of friends gets together to play some board games, only to have the party interrupted by criminals, involving them in a caper they believe to be a more-elaborate game.

And sometimes, having an entertaining time with a movie doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. Think of it as David Fincher’s The Game mixed with the comedic sensibilities of The Hangover.

The premise allows room to build jokes around the quirks of the characters, which only feeds the comedic potential of the premise further. It helps that there are multiple levels of where the game might end and real danger might begin, which makes for some hilarious moments for the characters when they don’t realize where that line is but the audience does.

Game Night was co-directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the team behind the 2015 Vacation remake, for which this is a bit of a step up, and co-writers of amiable fare such as the “Horrible Bosses” movies and Spider-Man: Homecoming.

The cast is charming and the script knows just how long to push a story point before it wears out its welcome, making this a great movie for a cozy evening in or a diverting re-watch with friends in a casual setting.

The Blu-ray includes an effective but short four-minute behind-the-scenes featurette and a funny seven-minute gag reel.