Godzilla: King of the Monsters Roars to Life

godzillakingofthemonsterscharacterbanner1200x627

I am an unabashed Godzilla fan and have been for as long as I can remember. Throughout the decades there have been ups and downs in the quality of the Godzilla movies, but my love for the guy has never waned, whether he was a good guy or bad. There is something joyful, perhaps whimsical about giant monsters duking it out amidst a backdrop of a crumbling cityscape with no care for how much destruction is caused that speaks to the inner child in me playing with miniature toys. And before anybody thumbs their nose in blockbuster snobbery, consider the appeal of the Jurassic Park films and Superhero films that promise just as outrageous premises.

The first attempt at an American adaptation of the iconic monster was the dismally received 1998 version. It wasn’t until 2014 that another version would be made with more active participation from Godzilla rights owners Toho. It received more positive reviews and as far as I was concerned it was indeed a genuine Godzilla film with the exception that it centered too much on the human drama and not enough on Godzilla itself. But it was successful enough that a sequel would be on the way.

Since 2014’s Godzilla director, Gareth Edwards was unavailable due to working on Star Wars: Rogue One, horror director Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat, Krampus)was brought on board. Michael Dougherty was himself a huge fan of Godzilla. He was not only offered to the chance to direct a Godzilla sequel but to direct one that featured multiple monster from the Toho stable of monsters. These monsters would be Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. Needless to say, he jumped at the chance and we are all the better for it.

It’s not often a sequel tops its previous film but Godzilla King of the Monsters does that by embracing its kaiju movie roots and treats the audience to jaw dropping scenes of giant monsters wrecking havoc while fighting each other. Although much of the battles take place in murky or dark conditions, it is never so dark that you can not make anything out.

The plot is clunky to be kind. But if you were to compare it to any other plot of a Japanese Godzilla movie in the last fifty-plus years of Godzilla films it is serviceable. Five years have passed since Godzilla left San Francisco in ruins and since then he has not been seen. Monarch, the not so secret monster hunting organization, has been tracking and containing other kaiju, or titans as they are called. There is conflict with the government as to whether to destroy these creatures or keep them alive.

Emma Russel (Vera Farmiga) is a researcher for Monarch and has developed a device called an Orca (this is the McGuffin of the movie) that has the ability to tune into the frequency of the titans and potentially control them. She puts this device to good use at the hatching of Mothra , one of the titans under Monarch observation. Suddenly the base is attacked by eco-terrorists led by Alan Jonah (Charles Dance). Mothra is set loose, Emma and her daughter (Millie Bob Brown) are taken. Ostensibly, the idea is to release the other titans to bring balance back to the world since humans are responsible for more global devastation than the titans. I guess that involves killing billions? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  It’s a bit of a Thanos solution, but whatever.

Kyle Chandler plays Emma’s ex-husband, Mark who was once also a Monarch member, becomes involved with Monarch again after his daughter and ex-wife not only are taken but so is the invention she created. His motivation is getting his daughter back. Seriously the family dynamic theme from the last film did not work great the last film and it doesn’t work now.

The saving graces of the weak plot and the script is the talent of the actors who all do well at selling material that is not so stellar. Reprising their roles from 2014’s Godzilla are Ken Watanabe as Dr. Serizawa and Sally Hawkins as Dr. Graham. Look also for Zhang Ziyi playing not only a mythologist that researches the legends that are the historical basis for the titans.

Make no mistake who the real star of the film is. Godzilla is the centerpiece to this saga and is without a doubt a force of nature as he and Ghidorah, the three headed titan have been eternal rivals since the beginning of time. Throw into this stew of monster mayhem supporting action by Mothra, Rodan, and several surprise originals, and you have a kaiju tag-team match of epic proportions, leveling cities across the globe. But this is a showcase for Godzilla, and in this he is not just a force of nature or balance as in the last movie, he must save the planet.

Every single one of these monster look amazing as each has their unique personalities and quirks. It’s not guy in a rubber suit, but it does use motion capture animation which really adds a sense of…uhm…realism to the fight scenes. The titans are rendered with incredible detail not only to their giant bodies, but also their facial expressions convey emotion beyond that of a a raging creatures. Ghidorah, which has three heads, each have their own personality (they don’t always get along either). And this Ghidorah is one huge motherfucker. Rodan is pure menace from the moment it emerges from a Mexican volcano, emitting lava from its body. Its aerial combat against a squadron of jets one for the ages. Mothra, who has always been a bit of a silly monster for me is absolutely majestic in this movie and is possibly one of the best representations of the moth-like kaiju ever.

There are elements of eye popping scale that include the monsters against cities buildings but also from the viewpoint of humans on the ground. It makes them truly imposing and massive. The sheer level of destruction is apocalyptic in its imagery and is almost biblical in its fearful imagery.

Another star of this film is one that does not appear on screen but makes its presence known with its own monstrous presence and that is the epic orchestral score by Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica, Outlander). I’ve long been a fan of McCreary’s work since Battlestar Galactica and he tackles the score with nods to the some of the famous Toho themes by Akira Ifukube while adding his unique ability to incorporate music from around the world such as taiko drums, Buddhist chants, and a chorus in Ancient Babylonian. The cherry on top of this is a cover of the classic Blue Oyster Cult song “Godzilla.”

In the end, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a magnificent triumph of special effects monster action and battles. It manages to rise above a fairly dismal script filled with a few character with heavy plot armor (seriously Millie Bobby Brown’s character should have died several times over). But the real reason one sees a Godzilla movie is for the action, destruction, and monster versus monster action and this movie delivers on that promise. It lays enough seeds for the upcoming Godzilla vs. King Kong match-up next year.

The most positive thing I can say about the story is that it does a better job of diving into the lore and mythology of the titans. Much of this is handled by Zhang Ziyi who has a surprising connection/homage to the classic Toho era. It does provide perspective and if you are like me love world building, it’s very informative. They try to do some other science exposition but that just doesn’t hold up.

This is a movie that is clearly made by a Godzilla fan and for Godzilla fans. It is an absolute love letter to fans and I believe it elevates it to classic status. The film’s only shortcoming in in some of the plotting, but it is an absolute blast of a film. The action is above top-notch and is filled with stunning iconic moments. If you are already a fan of Godzilla films, this is the one to see on the biggest screen possible. Highest Recommendation

Final score: 9/10

PS. Why do soldiers continue to think shooting regular guns at giant monster do any good?

Advertisements

You Should be Watching Cinemax’s Warrior

warrior-poster

“I’m a Chinaman who’s never been to China. I was born in San Francisco, but I’m sure no fucking American. I don’t belong anywhere.”

Young Jun from Warrior

It is nearly impossible to describe how big an impact Bruce Lee had on the world of martial arts, martial arts movies, and action movies in general in a simple blog post. With just a handful of movies, most of which were really not that good and don’t hold up to the test of time, he solidified his iconic status as a martial arts superstar with name recognition that has lasted over 45 years past his death. But that stardom was hard to come by, especially in Hollywood. While getting moderate success in supporting roles, it would take him moving back to his childhood home of Hong Kong for him to have a leading role.

Hollywood in the late 60s and early 70s was not anywhere near as diverse an industry as today. And, frankly, it’s still not as diverse as it should be. But legend has it that Bruce Lee approached Warner Brothers with a pitch about a Chinese man coming to America during the late 1800s in the search for his sister. It would be a series that not only featured an Asian leading man, but would be a vehicle for him specifically and a showcase for martial arts. Warner Brothers and ABC declined, presumably with the excuse that Americans would not accept a Chinese leading man in a television show. ABC went on to produce Kung Fu, starring David Carradine.

Flash forward to 2019, and Cinemax, with the participation of his daughter, Shannon Lee, have finally brought us Bruce Lee’s original vision for a television series. Shannon Lee, Jonathan Tropper (Banshee) and Justin Lin (Fast & Furious 3-6, Star Trek Beyond) would join in producing the series Warrior that premiered this year on the premium cable channel. So let’s dive into a non-spoiler review of the first season of Warrior, and why you should be watching it.

When the first episode of Warrior opens, Ah Sahm (played by Andrew Koji) is literally fresh off the boat when he comes face to face with the bigotry of America, specifically San Francisco. He encounters a trio of abusive immigration officers, one of whom knocks a bowl of rice out of the hands of another immigrant. They mock him as he begins to pick up the rice from the ground. Ah Sahm intervenes, trying to save the man’s dignity no matter how starving he is.

That doesn’t go over well with the cops and it gives us our first glimpse of what’s to come. When Ah Sahm quickly dispatches the cops, and is recruited into one of the biggest Tong gangs in San Francisco, the Hop Wei.

This may be a show that takes place in a western setting, specifically post civil-war, but it feels modern — specially with the language, which is very generous in it’s usage of the f-word. The almost all Asian cast exist in a Western setting that is more like Deadwood, than Gunsmoke. The costuming is almost contemporary. And it may be a small thing for some, but much of the Asian characters forego wearing the traditional queue pigtail of the period. This is significant in that the queue was actually a hairstyle imposed by the conquering Manchus to demean the Han Chinese and if one were to cut off or remove it, they were never allowed back in their country or face a death sentence.

As much as a disappointment as the final season of Game of Thrones was to me (I’m definitely working on that article), the first season of Warrior exceeds expectations. From the first episode, we are given the racial and political layout of San Francisco. There is tension between the different Tong gangs with gambling, prostitution and especially opium. There is huge tension between the Irish workers and the Chinese laborers, who they believe are stealing their jobs. And then there is a corrupt police department barely able to contain the brewing powder-keg of tension ready to explode.

Since this is based on the writings of Bruce Lee, the series is also meant to be a showcase for martial arts action. If you have watched the AMC series Into the Badlands, you will know that the martial arts in that show is it’s main selling point. But that choreography purposely goes for the more stylized wire effects and near fantasy versions of fighting. Warrior presents its fights not just in a more grounded style, foregoing what Lee used to call “that classical mess,” it can get downright brutal. You won’t see any fancy flourishes or set forms and moves that were staples of 70s era martial arts epics. You certainly won’t see gravity defying wire-work. What you will get is hard hitting grounded martial arts pioneered by Bruce Lee and seen in contemporary martial arts action films.

There is quite a stable of talented martial arts actors in the show besides the main star Andrew Koji. Jason Tobin plays Young Jun, the son of the chief Hop Wei Tong. As far as gangster performances are concerned, he is the Tong’s Sonny Corleone. Rich Ting is appropriately intimidating and lethal as “Bolo,” who is considered the Hop Wei’s best fighter. Joe Taslim, who has proven himself a dynamic martial artist in films like, The Raid: Redemption, and The Night Comes for Us, plays Li Yong, an enforcer for rival tong, the Long Zi.

On top of the top-notch action and exceptional performances lies timely and topical themes about the immigrant experience. Chinese are shunned by the white American populace. They are treated as others, uncivilized, bringing crime and disease to America, as well as taking jobs away from Americans. If this sounds familiar it is purposely so. It is an obvious commentary on the how immigrants are perceived today. And towards the end of the season, there is talks of the beginnings of infamously racist Chinese Exclusion Act.

The show is pretty much serialized but with perhaps the one exception of what could be considered filler. Yet, it is a spectacular filler. “The Blood and the Shit” is a straight up homage to classic western tropes and borrows heavily from Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight. The episode takes Ah Sahm and Young Jun out of their regular element of the “blood and shit” (as Young Jun describes it) of San Francisco to Nevada as they are transporting the corpse and coffin of a Hop Wei relative. The coach driver has to make a stop at a saloon in the middle of the desert so that the horse may rest up. Besides putting up with racist remarks from fellow coach passengers, they end up having to fend off a gang of robbers. The episodes serves also to solidify the bonds of friendship that Ah Sahm and Young Jun have. But for me it is the most straight up fun of the season.

The show plays a little loose with some historical accuracy. But the tong wars were indeed real, and they were incredibly violent. The names of the gangs are different for sure. As a native San Franciscan and American born Chinese I’m a little familiar with some of those Tong names, as they are still on buildings to this day.

Although it may be confusing at times, Andrew Koji’s Ah Sahm character is the only one that speaks perfect English because his grandfather was American. Though the entire Asian cast speaks English, it only within their points of view each other. So sometimes you may here them speaking accented English in front of non-Chinese or Cantonese.

Warrior, with its hip storytelling style and willingness to take on the western genre and  tell it from the viewpoint of a marginalized and many times forgotten people that helped build this country, is unique, thought provoking, and without a doubt entertaining. It has already been renewed for a second season. I’ll be looking forward to that and highly recommend checking this first season out.

Update

I know I have been remise in mentioning the women of Warrior. I’ll try to go over them without spoiling anything, since the core of their characters play against type. Olivia Cheng play Ah Toy, a madam of a local brothel who is much more than what most people see on the surface. Dianne Doan plays a character that walks a line between the world of power plays within the Tongs and the local politicians. Joanna Vanderham plays the wife of San Francisco’s mayor, in a loveless marriage and one of the lone non-bigoted among the Americans. It goes beyond saying that they not only add to a cast of fine performances but their characters subvert stereotypes as well.

Review: “Brightburn” is Basically “What if Superman was a Child Psychopath”

brightburn-extended-trailer-poster-james-gunn

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. A Kansas farm couple have been unsuccessful at having a child, then one day, a streak in the sky that results in a crash in the woods answers their prayers. They raise the infant child as their own. It soon becomes apparent that the child is not normal, he has extraordinary powers. He is also developing into a psychopath.

If you thought Zack Snyder created a murderverse version of Superman in his interpretations, you better sit down. Brightburn, directed by David Yarovesky, takes the trope, and turns it on its head. So basically what if Superman was an evil kid.

But let’s be clear, Brightburn is a Sony Pictures property and has nothing to do with DC or Warner Brothers. It is produced by James Gunn from a script by Mark and Brian Gunn. Once past the plot hook, Brightburn is an effective straight-up horror film with roots in the slasher genre. It was made for a budget of less than $7 million but looks like it was made for more. It helps to have a good cast too. Elizabeth Banks and David Denman play the loving and normal parents to Brandon, played by Jackson A. Dunn. This trio of casting choices makes carries the weight of the film.

When we truly see Brandon once past some home video of his infant version, he is a relatively normal 12-year old boy in small farming town of Brightburn, Kansas. It is apparent he is smarter than the other kids and he draws teasing from others for it. He has a young crush on Erica (Becky Wahlstrom), the girl who sits in front of him.

Things start to change when he realizes on day that he has superhuman strength. That night, he sleepwalks to the barn, hearing an eerie voice in his head. He unsuccessfully tries to open the barn’s trapdoor. I don’t think it would spoil anybody that it’s obvious that the spaceship that Brandon crashed in is stored in there.

It is possible that Brandon has always been a bad seed as his parents one day find under his bed magazine pages of models, but as they go from one page to another, it goes from bikini clad models to operating room pictures, and anatomy drawings. Otherwise his turn to seem to be influenced by either the development of his powers, the beginning of puberty, or just the spaceship talking to him. Nevertheless, he begins to believe himself superior to those around him as the voice in his head tells him to “take the world.” More his powers begin to manifest beyond superhuman strength and they will look familiar to anyone who knows the Superman tropes.

The film descends into slasher territory and becomes quite gory as Brandon acts against those he perceives as his enemies. His parents aren’t oblivious, however, especially his father. David Denman as Kyle Brenner plays a loving dad, but is the first to suspect his kid is not just going through normal growing pains. Elizabeth Banks is great as the always loving mother who still thinks of Brandon as her baby boy, yet even when she realizes how evil he has become you feel sorry for her.

What makes Brightburn successful is that it promises a premise, delivers on that premise and offers it up in a compact package with great performances and deft editing. It clocks in at a trim ninety minutes, yet tells its story quickly leaving open a possibility for a sequel or franchise. If anything, it could have been longer.

This movie, is not for everyone, however. It is quite gory at times with some very unsettling makeup effects. It is rated R for a reason so I would not recommend bringing young kids to see this. IF you are a horror fan you will probably enjoy this. And if you are a comic book fan who also happens to like horror, you may enjoy the unique take on the standard trope. Recommended

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum Prepares for War

07956f40-77c4-11e9-9073-657a85982e73

Si vis pacem, para bellum. “If you want peace, prepare for war.”

I remember the first time I ever saw the movie The Killer and Hard Boiled. It was my first exposure to John Woo. After that, I kept seeking out not only more John Woo films like A Better Tomorrow, I was checking out all sorts of Hong Kong action movies with elaborate stunts and gun choreography.

As Hong Kong’s over the top action films started to decline (that’s a whole separate article there), it was countries like South Korea with high production values that appeared to take up the torch. And it certainly seemed like it, but in reality it would be countries like Thailand, led by instant star Tony Jaa, and Indonesia’s Raid films that would inject adrenaline into the modern martial arts action genre.

The following contains spoilers for John Wick 1 and 2

You can read my recap or watch Keanu Reeves cover the first two films in 60 seconds.

The Matrix films, starring Keanu Reeves, were clearly influenced and paid homage to the Hong Kong action films and anime. Those films were revolutionary with their mix of action and special effects. When the first John Wick (again starring Keanu Reeves) movie came along in 2014, it was not only a great action film, but it changed the way action films would look.  The John Wick films was an intense visual feast of grounded fight scenes and gunfights. It became a resounding success both critically and financially. The premise was simple, John Wick is a retired assassin who was living a normal life with his wife. But unfortunately she dies, and as her final gift to him she has a beagle puppy sent to him so that he would have someone to love. In what seems random, his house is broken into and they not only steal his ’69 Mustang, but kill his dog. And that is it, hell is unleashed on the gang and the gangsters that get in his way for revenge.

So it was inevitable that there would be a John Wick Chapter 2 which continued directly after the first one. It really was like a second chapter in a book. In this sequel though, after finally getting his car back from a chop-shop, he is approached by someone who has a marker on him. It is an unbreakable bond that he is obligated to fulfill. The second film expands upon the lore and mythos of the John Wick world. But by the end, after breaking one of the cardinal rules of assassins, he is rendered “excommunicado” with an open $14 million bounty on him.

On to John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

The third installment of the John Wick franchise has the daunting task of not only living up to the amazing action and stunts of the previous work but also topping it. It succeeds in this in glorious fashion in both fighting scenes and shootouts that come at you one after another, with each sequence being more jaw-dropping than the last.

Chapter 3 opens within an hour of the ending of Chapter 2 with John Wick on the run as every assassin in Manhattan is after him and the huge $14 million bounty on his head. So from the beginning we are thrust into the action. That action is near relentless as we go from one elaborate scene to another. There is an early scene within the first 20 minutes or so where Wick must fight off a horde of other assassins. (Seriously, that is not any sort of spoiler.) Unarmed, he finds himself using whatever weapons he has available, It just happens to be some sort of antique shop or museum full of knives.  But just before that is a great homage to a scene from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  Right away, the close quarter fight is brutal and raw – topping any other single set piece in the previous films. Look for a cameo by Tiger Hu Chen, good friend of Keanu Reeves, stuntman and assistant choreographer on the Matrix.

Now, the plot is there to not only serve the action but to expand on the lore of the Assassin’s world. It serves its purpose well — but to talk about it too much past the bare basics would spoil the film. With the price on his head, Wick looks for a way to get it lifted. To do so he must first speak to the man above the High Table, the organization that controls the assassins. Yeah, he has to speak to upper management.

Part of that journey involves a trip to Casablanca, Morocco where he will get some help from Sophia (Halle Barry), who just happens to owe Wick a marker herself. And Halle Barry not only adds additional star quality to an already loaded cast, but joins in on the gunplay action.

In the previous films, John Wick was the lone man against many, but once Halle Barry’s Sofia comes along for the ride we realize he not only has star caliber allies but star enemies as well. In addition to the accomplished martial arts actor Tiger Hu Chen earlier is an appearance by a pair of actors from The Raid films, Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman who play a pair admiring killers in a two-on-one fight scene that involves a lot of breaking glass. But most fun to see of all is Mark Dacascos as the leader of a gang of modern shinobi that Wick faces in the final battle (Come on, you know there would be ninjas eventually). Mark Decascos has had a long career in martial arts roles including Cradle to the Grave and most notably Brotherhood of the Wolf, but some may recognize him as the current “Chairman” from Iron Chef America. His character serves as the main villain and provides a few bits of levity as well. Decascos’ prowess is very well displayed and he seems to be having the time of his life doing such intense action.

john-wick-4-parabellum-ending-explained

In non combat roles, Ian McShane and Laurence Fishburne reprise their respective roles from the previous installments. Hollywood legend, Anjelica Huston joins in to provide some back history to John Wick. And Jerome Flynn, best known as Bronn from Game of Thrones chews up a bit of scenery in his small role as a member of the High Table.

Lawrence Fishburne and Tiger Hu Chen are not the only Matrix alum to join Keanu Reeves. Look for a cameo by Randall Duk Kim who played the keymaker in the Matrix films to reprise his roll as the underworld’s go to doctor. Director Chad Stahelski not only served as martial arts stunt coordinator for the Matrix films, he was also Keanu Reeves’ stunt double. So this is nearly a family affair.

If I can lay any criticisms on the film it would be near the end in the last set of fight scenes. John Wick really should have died several times, but I guess out of professional courtesy or respect, he’s given a chance to get back on his feet on more than one occasion. But at this point in the franchise, he’s not just a guy anymore, he’s literally a bloody superhero.

A fourth chapter in the John Wick saga has already been announced, which is no surprise since the final scene before the credits roll provides the seeds for a sequel. How they could possibly continue to top the exciting action sequences from film to film is going to be the biggest mystery.

Some action films are generic. Some are outright forgettable. The John Wick films have not only been instant classics but each has been progressively outstanding in its action. This third chapter comes with the Highest Recommendation

Ninjas on motorcycles! Hell Yeah!

Movie Review: Tolkien

tolkien-french-poster-752x1024

Like many, I grew up reading the works of J. R. R. Tolkien and his excursions into middle-earth. Even though world building has come a long way since then with other grand epic fantasies, Tolkien paved the way not only with his imagination of his worlds but his sense of history and primarily language.

There are a few things that go into consideration when making a biographical motion picture of such a creator as Tolkien who not only has a large literary body of work but has also been the source of several huge films based on his work. One of the things to consider is what separates the artist from the art and what influences led the artist to create?

This is a Fox Searchlight production. It does not reference the Warner/New Line movies in any way. On top of that, it was made without the involvement of the Estate or family. This last part may leave a sour note, but the fact is that Tolkien estate has never authorized any sort of biographical film about Professor Tolkien, and seem unlikely to.

With all that out of the way. this biopic  directed by Finnish director Dome Karukoski is a fine dramatic picture and portrait of an artist as a young man, but of the bonds of brotherhood that that would impact him for the rest of his life. On top of that is the romance he shared with Edith Bratt, the love of his life — not only the future Mrs. Tolkien, but the Luthien to his Beren.

You can approach Tolkien as a fan of his work, but even if you know nothing about The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit or any of his other works, you can appreciate a remarkable  period coming of age film about fellowship, young love, the horrors of war, and the lasting impact they have on us for the rest of one’s life. People expecting insight or revelations into the creation of Professor Tolkien’s world will have to be satisfied with being offered the building blocks that are at the heart of his imagination.

At a young age, he (the younger young Tolkien is played by Harry Gilby) had always had a love of languages and was an adept reader. He was home-schooled by his mother who would unfortunately die while he and his brother were quite young. He and his brother are put into foster care while Father Morgan,  a gruff priest (played full on Irish by Colm Meany) is his legal guardian. While in school, he forms a friendship with fellow students that would influence the ideas of the bonds of fellowship for the rest of life.

As a teenager (now played by Nicholas Hoult), he meets and falls in love for fellow boarding house resident Edith Bratt. Father Morgan is opposed to this on the basis that it will effect his studies and his admittance to Oxford, and she is not even Catholic.

Even when he is an Oxford student, he is not the not the best at his studies of classics, but would later find his his true calling at the prodding of a philology professor, played by Shakespearean legend Derek Jacobi.

The trailers for this film made me think this was a biographical movie that mixed in the author’s life story with his fiction in surreal fashion like Paul Shrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. I certainly thought so from trailers, but that is not the case. The instances of surreal, dream and nightmare images of reality and fantasy elements mixing together are confined to Tolkien’s experience in the trenches of the Somme during World War I. The Battle of the Somme serves as the centerpiece to the story as most of the film is told in flashback from it.

Tolkien is a film worthy of seeing not only for fans of the Professor, but even for those who are not. It is filled with fine performances by actors of young to old. NIcholas Hoult as Tolkien brings a balanced mixture of a youth that is conflicted with what his heart’s desires and what is expected of him. Lilly Collins as Edith Bratt (who once auditioned for the role of Tauriel for Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy) makes it easy to believe why she would be the eternal love of J. R. R. Tolkien.  It is also supported by a remarkable score by Thomas Newman who may have done one of his best work in years since Shawshank Redemption. Sure, the film could cover the famous years that have been the subject of many documentaries already, but that would make for a trilogy of films if it did.

Overall, this is a very entertaining film. Whether you are a fan or not, it transcends the biopic genre and presents a drama that is well made, intelligent and entertaining. Recommended.

Spoiler Free Avengers Endgame Review

 

3511213-s1

It was one of the greatest gambits in movie history. What began as a tease when the first Iron Man was released has finally culminated into what may be the biggest movie franchise in film history, rivaling, maybe even surpassing Star Wars. When Samuel L. Jackson showed up in the post credit scene of Iron Man and mentioned the idea of an Avengers Initiative, there was as yet no genuine plan for actually making an Avengers movie.

Even more audacious for the Avengers plan was that every member of the team was going to have their own solo movie to introduce us to the individual members of the team. The Incredible Hulk followed Iron Man (witch is possibly the least connected of the Marvel films), then came Captain America: The First Avenger, and on and on. Every movie was connected and every movie had a post credit tease that led to another movie that was upcoming. It led to the first Avengers movie, the Avengers: Age of Ultron, and last year Avengers: Infinity Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, of comic book movies dropped and like that iconic Star Wars movie from then, left audiences guessing on what will happen next.

Now, we have come to Avengers: Endgame, the culmination of ten years and twenty-two films. Was the wait worth it? Hell yes! Clocking in at three hours, it it is the longest Marvel Studios movie, yet the movie is so tightly packed that there is very little slow parts in it. And any part that may seem slow is actually a buildup to the biggest payoff in not only comic book movie history but maybe in movie history.

The final hour of Endgame is the closest that comic panels have ever become realized on the big screen. Do yourself a favor and do not wait to see this at home, or those really bad bootlegs that have already leaked. The inevitable final battle is a jaw dropping feast of sight, sound, and fist pumping fan moments.

But less you think that this is just a bunch of fan service moments action scenes (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones season seven!) the film gives every character their featured moment. Character’s that were B-list in the past movies are given a story arc that they had sadly been missing before. Hats off to to all the actors bringing their A-game.

Ultimately Avengers: Endgame is a reward and a love letter to the fans who have stuck around for a decade and twenty-two films. There are almost too many Easter eggs, callbacks, and cameos to count, yet non of it is gratuitous or takes you out of the story. At least I did not think so. And of course there is the appearance of Stan Lee in his final filmed cameo.

I of course highly recommend watching at least the other Avengers movies first — and pretty much almost all the Marvel studio films. This really does tie everything together and gives many of the characters closure to their story arcs.  I have no reservations on seeing this multiple times, and I give it the Highest Recommendation.

Why Violet Evergarden is One of the Best Seasonal Anime in Years

violet-evergarden-visual

In the piles of anime that come out seasonally it can be easy to overlook some of the good ones. For me, there is just too much anime to stream and watch on Blu-ray and my backlog is huge. And sometimes I’m just not in the mood for certain things. So it’s easy to just start off with the latest moé blob show and complain how current anime is in a quagmire of overly cute lolis, isekai, and shonen trash.

And then Violet Evergarden comes along to to show that anime can be original, emotional, and yes beautiful.

Violet Evergarden is a thirteen episode anime series (plus one bonus OVA) presented by Netflix. Produced and animated by Kyoto Animation, a studio with a track record of high quality titles such as the Full Metal Panic series, Clannad, and the beautiful A Silent Voice, It is an anime that maintains feature film quality in every episode.

The world is one that is similar to early 20th century, post World War I Europe. And that world is just recently recovering from a devastating long war. The differences are subtle, ch as the written language and the technology. And of course it’s history is different.

58048b4747f17c043719de63cad69dc8

We first meet the main character, Violet recovering in a hospital from war injuries that has left her without both hands. She is fitted with mechanical prosthetic hands that give her full motor function. Her last memories are of watching over her severely wounded commanding officer Major Gilbert Bougainvillea. One of the last things he says  to her are “Live and be free.” Violet, having been in the army since she was a child,  is used to following orders and has always carried them out without question and often lethally. She believes her purpose is to only be a military tool. But the war is over and she knows no other life. She has a certain naive quality to her about anything outside her world of military service though.

Claudia Hodgins, a friend and comrade of Major Bougainvillea takes Violet in and gives offers her a job, initially as a postal carrier for his company, a postal service. They write and deliver letters at the request of clients who don’t know how to write. She ends up wanting to be a “Auto Memory Doll.” A service where a person not only writes what a person says to be written, but must see what is in the person’s heart for their true meanings. Normally, people become Auto Memory Dolls, because they understand three words, according to Claudia, but Violet wants to become a doll, because she wants to understand the meaning of those three words, “I love you,” the last thing the Major said to her.

The next handful of episodes are concerned with development of several members of the postal service. The series itself is episodic in nature, yet should be seen in sequence for the development of the main character of Violet as she becomes more in tune with not only her job, but her abilities as an auto-memory doll. The supporting characters are also unique in each of their personalities and have their own back stories that are revealed as the show progresses.

Every episode, though self-contained, is a piece of character development for Violet. It becomes clear that when people say they don’t know how to write, it is more of an analogy that they don’t know how to express themselves from the heart. Almost every episode conveys the importance of communicating inner feelings. And it is the auto-memory dolls, ghost writers for these clients, who draw out a person’s true meaning and feelings while sitting with them taking and listening to their feeling.

One of the most unique and beautiful episodes is a of a playwright who is suffering from writer’s block. By this time in the show, she has been able to connect more emotionally with others and  and grown as a an auto-memory doll in her ability to convey a client’s emotions to paper. Through several days of Violet’s time with the writer, we realize that he is suffering from a great loss that he has yet come to grips with. We are also beginning to know more about Violet’s bloody past when she dispatched enemies without question and with dispassion.

ve

By the time you get to episode ten “Loved Ones Will Always Watch Over You,” you would have been exposed to peak emotions as it is deals with family love, death, loss, and the eternal love a mother will have for her child. And as much as the ending is telegraphed, the emotions still hit you like a ton of bricks by the end. Episode ten even became a YouTube meme as there are dozens of episode ten reactions posted on the video channel of people reacting to the episode live.

Violet-Evergarden-10

As the series winds up, Violet’s history unfolds as well. Her sad story as a tool of war is explored more as well as her relationship with the Major. And as the series unfolds, she not only becomes more in touch emotionally but must eventually come to terms that is of no surprise to us, that the Major is never coming back even though his body was never found.

Not just every episode, but every minute, every shot of the series is an example of high quality animation that you would usually find in high budget feature anime films. The music, by relative newcomer Evan Call, is not only beautiful in its work but is remarkable for its ability to carry emotion whether it is in scenes of lyrical beauty or intense action.

violet-evergarden-0505

 

Violet Evergarden is anime storytelling that does not fall into typical genre categories. It is not an action show, a romance, nor cute girls doing cute thing, or even a slice of life, and definitely not any of the dozens of isekai shows out there. It is instead good storytelling set in a near fully realized alternate world. Though some of the themes can be mature, it is handled with care and not gratuitous, especially when addressing the impact of war and the effects of its violence on people.

Violet Evergarden streams on Netflix in both the original Japanese language with English subtitles or in a well done English dub. You would be fine with streaming it either way. It also comes Highly recommended.