“Team Hot Wheels: The Origins of Awesome” Review

I’ve seen so many of these commercial-based animated films over the years which do little more to sell toys that you start to grow tired of their shameless formula. ‘Team Hot Wheels’, however, managed to surprise me from its first vivid and wildly colored shot. A mysterious car whizzes through the dessert with a popping purple dust. It looks like something straight of an A+ animation student’s demo reel and that style maintains throughout the picture. As far as these types of movies go, this one has a unique animation style with a clever wit unlike anything I’d expect for a direct-to-video release.

The story is simple enough. Four kids are so bored with their town that they congregate with a local automotive mechanic the helps them fix up go-karts. When they’re behind the steering wheel, these kids own the town with their various expertise that include gadgets and daring feats. My favorite of the group is the portly member who fancies himself a car guru believing he can connect with a vehicle through meditation and oneness. Their town is put in peril, however, when a strange driver known as Rev rips up the road of the town with his seemingly magical car. Apparently it has some form of imagination generation that causes all kinds of strange effects as when pigeons turn giant and a robotic Abe Lincoln turns evil. Being a Hot Wheels film, you’ve also got to have that tie in with the iconic orange tracks. The kids are the town’s only hope as the eccentric and sly mechanic they befriend bestows some super-powered cars they can utilize to catch the speedy menace. Don’t bother questioning whether kids should be driving such cars without licenses as that would slow down the momentum.

‘Team Hot Wheels’ has a lot to love from the start. All the character have some very funny dialogue on par with animated pictures such as ‘Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs’ and ‘The LEGO Movie’. Very few of the gags ever miss a beat and have the perfect timing to keep any family smiling throughout. The animation style is also very admirable as a cross between traditional 2D animation and 3D computer graphics. A true mark of quality is when you can’t quite tell the difference between the two mediums. The only time it becomes abundantly clear is during the car racing scenes in which the vehicles are far too slick compared to the rest of the animation.

While I enjoyed the spirit and the look of this movie so much, it was rather disappointing that this was such a substandard story. The mysterious car chase is a decent concept, but then the plot begins to veer off into needless filler with the boys experimenting on animal DNA. The boys want faster cars so they use the DNA of various fearsome animals to create self-aware vehicles with an unstable nature. It’s the one time during this video that I felt it was a shameless plug for toys. The whole plot with Rev, as loose as the rules for that scenario were, was far more entertaining watching the boys save their town from all kinds of weird creations Rev leaves in his wake.

I grew a little tired with ‘Team Hot Wheels’, but was impressed enough by the characters and the animation to recommend the video. Kids and adults alike will appreciate its enthusiastic nature, but I just wish it had a better story to elevate all the other elements. This production team deserves another movie and a better script which I hope they’ll receive in the future. If they do, they’ll be able to make some an animated film that transcends any other animation on home video.

“Attack on Titan: Volume 2” Review

‘Attack on Titan’ presents a darker twisted world of giants that’s less like a fable and more like a zombie apocalypse. Cities are attacked by marauding, monstrous creatures with human features that eat humans constantly in their mindless hunts for food. They don’t wear clothes, they don’t come from beanstalks and they certainly don’t speak with the usual Fe Fi Fo Fums. The only hope against taking down these towering enemies is an elite group of soldiers equipped with zipping grappling hooks and swords for slicing. I’m not too sure why they don’t just develop guns they could carry, but that probably wouldn’t looks as skillful as swordsman flying across the trees.

This second volume manages to up the ante by providing a new kind of giant. This one is an athletic female who is fast on her feet and doesn’t appear to eat any of her victims. With far more intelligence, she chooses to kill those in her way in a more creative manner by kicking them into the sky, smashing them against trees and whipping their bodies around like yo-yos. With the recent revelation that humans have the ability to transform into these giant killing machines, there is a mystery afoot trying to uncover just who is this new Titan assaulting the current group of soldiers on their current mission. But being such an efficient killer, the group may not live long enough to uncover the true identity.

What’s truly admirable about this series unlike the film ‘Jack The Giant Slayer’ is that there is a real sense of tension. We spend just enough time with the human characters that we care when the carnage begins to unfold. Like most Japanese animation with a horror element, the kills are very brutal and bloody, but they pack a bigger punch when it happens to the primary characters. The show builds them up and then takes them away quickly in a manner that isn’t overly dramatic. There are never any clear visual cues about who is going to bite the dust. When people are killed by the Titans it happens fast and without warning. It is nearly impossible to estimate who will and will not make it out alive.

While this second volume does provide more thrills and some interesting explorations on the mechanics of the Titans, I can’t help but point out that this entire volume was mostly just a chase. Things pull together in the end with a finale between the two human-mutated Titans, but for most of this arc we’re just following a group soldiers being picked off one by one in the woods by the giants. I wish there were some more dialogue exchanges between the characters that developed them just a little bit more. The few passages that are not focusing on Titan strategy is reserved for some truly awful dialogue about teamwork and bravery. Those are solid concepts, but they’re delivered as if this were a program for very young children.

All that being said, I did fall for the addictive nature of the show. The Titans are all very frightening with the otherworldly art style and freakishly horrifying manner they seek their prey. It’s little more than a chase with some swordplay, but it’s darn good at what it seeks out to accomplish more than any other anime. I don’t normally go for series with such a drawn-out arc of little more than action, but this ‘Attack on Titan’ is one I just couldn’t resist.

“A Million Ways to Die in the West” Review

‘A Million Way to Die in the West’ is written by, directed by and starring Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. He chooses a decent concept for his second feature film which focuses on the nasty reality of the old west. Seth MacFarlane plays the straight man providing commentary for how this era was a terrible time for disease, corruption and violence. It’s not a bad idea for some gags, but the problem is MacFarlane grows bored of it very quickly and switches the film over to a barrage of childish gags involving bodily functions, curse words and sexual acts. But even in that arena, Seth still fails to deliver anything clever or amusing about the level of comedy. I’m trying to figure out what other project he was working on at the time that made him turn in such an uninspired script.

The story itself is nothing special. MacFarlane’s character falls for an outlaw played by Charlize Theron who helps him learn to shoot a gun so he can best a mustache salesman played by Neil Patrick Harris who is now dating his ex. And then eventually he has to face off against the ruthless traveling bad guy played by Liam Neeson. Much like the gags there is plenty of potential here that is never once tapped and he’s given nothing to work with. Much of the humor is also rather baffling and it seems like some of them may be in jokes we are not let in on.

MacFarlane even manages to find ways to completely waste cameos. Several actors reprise their roles from previous films and don’t really have anything funny to say or do. They just sort of show up to make a movie reference and then leave. Is this really what passes for comedy? I suppose it has to since the dialogue jokes meander and the physical gags are just flat. What is so funny about Neil Patrick Harris pooping in to various hats for an extended period of time? Is it the length that’s funny or the punchline where he trips over one of the hats spilling excrement all over the road?

‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’ is vulgar, low-brow and sometimes offensive as it struggles to whip up some laughs. But what’s more offensive is that this is a film that didn’t feel the need to try. It didn’t want to try to stick with the satire of the old west. Instead it just wants to make some toilet jokes and that’s supposed to be enough. The devoted followers of MacFarlane’s comedy work deserve so much more than what this film has to offer. You can live a long and healthy live if you never see this sad excuse for a Western comedy.

“Edge of Tomorrow” Review

You may have missed this film at the theater because it had such a generic title: ‘Edge of Tomorrow’. Now on home video its been given the title ‘Live Die Repeat’ with the subtitle ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ in the corner of the cover. Well, that’s a slightly better title and at least superior to its novel source entitled ‘All You Need Is Kill’. Well you can call this film anything you like, but I call it one of the best films sci-fi films I’ve seen all year.

Tom Cruise plays a Major who is demoted down to a grunt for a D-day style offensive against an invading alien force known as Mimics. Cruise is killed minutes within the battle, but not before getting some nasty alien blood into his system. The blood of these aliens has time-travel abilities which ends up sending back to relive the same battle again. He’s sent into combat again, dies again and the whole thing starts all over again, hence the title. Think of it as a science-fiction version of ‘Groundhog Day’. The only one who believes what Cruise is going through is Emily Blunt’s character, a veteran soldier who has had the same experience. She’s aware that the only way to stop the cycle is to either get a blood transfusion or kill the hive mind of the aliens. And since Cruise seems doomed to die in this alien war, the latter is a much more tantalizing goal.

Just like ‘Groundhog Day’, ‘Live Die Repeat’ makes great use of the repeating day concept to be both clever and amusing. Not-so-typical for Tom Cruise’s usual characters, he doesn’t play an action hero from the start. In fact he makes several mistakes that result in multiple deaths until he finally trains enough to become a more efficient soldier. When he does, there’s an undeniable charm to the way he strolls through key events as a psychic who seems to know everything about everyone from the accumulated knowledge. It’s also just as hilarious to watch him fail each time. One of the funniest montages involves his training scenes with Emily Blunt where any serious injuries incurred by Cruise’s character results in her murdering him to reset the day once more. There are several great moments where Cruise tries to walk off his injuries claiming its not that bad only to be shot by Blunt and start all over.

As much as it is a tongue-in-cheek comedy, it also succeeds at being a sci-fi/action blockbuster with brains. The mystery behind the invading alien creatures is just as intriguing as their designs. The closest thing I can relate them to are like rabid starfishes able to change their shape and attack multiple targets. Once Cruise and Blunt finally form a solution, they carry out their plan of attack with incredible efficiency and tact in sensational action sequences.

Director Doug Liman completely delivers on a film that’s goes above and beyond the expectations. The action sequences are well-shot with some rather some impressive computer graphics given the abundance. You’d think that a film repeating key scenes over and over would grow dull, but the it’s edited tightly enough to keep the energy and drive of the picture going. I had a lot of fun watching this film trying to decipher the Mimics and watching Cruise learn from his deadly mistakes. This is a film I’m going to be going watching multiple times in the future just to see if I can see something new each time. Needless to say, it’s a definite buy.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” Review

The ‘X-Men’ are easily one of the most intriguing and interesting superhero teams in comic book history. It’s been a long time since those awesome stories have actually resonated on the big screen. The franchise over the last four years has gone downhill into routine action shlock. Thankfully, Brian Singer has returned to deliver one of the best ‘X-Men’ movies ever made based on one of the most memorable stories. You know how some comic book fans will often talk about their favorite sagas and how those would make the best films, but would probably be muddled in production? This is the first comic book film to finally get the formula right and it’s a more than welcome presence for the genre.

The future for the ‘X-Men’ is a dark and depressing time as mutants are hunted down and murdered by the robotic Sentinels. Able to adapt to any superpower and outnumber their opposition in numbers, the few remaining mutants struggle to hide and survive. Notable regulars Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Kitty Pride (Ellen Paige) are a few of the remaining mutants from the old guard. Their last hope is to travel back in time and undo the events that led to this dismal state.

Using Kitty Pride’s unique time-traveling ability, Wolverine is sent back to 1973 to undo the crucial moment in history that set off a horrific chain reaction. The Sentinels were developed by Trask (Peter Dinklage), but did not receive the proper funding and attention until Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) murders the President of the United States. To prevent this assassination, Wolverine rounds up the old gang that includes Xavier, Beast, Magneto and Quicksilver for a brief prison break of Magneto. At the same time while Wolverine is desperately trying to change history, his friends in the future are tragically trying to keep him in the past before the Sentinels end them all.

Explaining to everyone in the past what will happen in the future is easy for Wolverine. The tough part is attempting to change the minds of those who act on their fears to prevent catastrophe. Xavier has shut himself off from his telepathic abilities, Beast is ashamed of his abilities, Mystique is entirely driven by revenge and Magneto seems to think he can handle all of this with no regard for others. Therein lies the challenge not just for Wolverine, but for all the characters to grow as better or worse individuals who will shape the world with their actions. So, essentially, it’s Back to the Future with much more epic consequences.

This is the first ‘X-Men’ film Bryan Singer has directed in at least a decade. His last film was ‘X-2: X-Men United’, the only ‘X-Men’ film I actually enjoyed. Now he’s blown the rest of the franchise away with this pitch-perfect direction of the classic comic arc. What makes his effort so different and so effective is how much Singer holds back. He never inserts more mutants or action sequences than what is needed to make the film work.

Early in the film, Mystique saves a group of mutant soldiers from being experimented on by Trask Industries. I was almost positive these mutants were going to be thrown into a large scale sequence later on. To my surprise, they serve their purpose of just establishing the climate of mutants for this era. The final confrontation of the film is the showdown we were prompted for, but it’s a rather genius scene for how Magneto plans to be the victor. He traps the area of the White House by lifting a sports stadium to create a perimeter. It’s a smart use of his mutant powers and still manages to feel epic in scale. It’s a far cry from when Magneto moved the Golden Gate bridge for the silliest of reasons.

Quicksilver, despite his short appearance, manages to steal the show with his comical personality and speedy displays. The scene where he disables a room full of security guards from shooting down our heroes is both stunning, clever and a whole lot of fun. He’s much needed smile in a story that’s mostly gloom and doom. Also, if you’re familiar with Quicksilver’s family ties, there’s a brilliant little easter egg in the dialogue.

While there are a handful of fight scenes, hardly any of them felt pointless or drawn out. It helps that there was a main goal for which all these characters were fighting towards so that everything is kept in focus. Mystique, for how many fights she gets into, isn’t just being an atypical villain. Her mission is clear and she wastes no time saving her kind and wiping out the threats. It’s that added depth to the characters and their plight that makes the fights that much more entertaining.

What I love so much about Singer’s script is that he manages to maintain the overall story of the original content, but still make it balanced and work within a movie. By focussing the movie entirely on Wolverine, Xavier, Beast, Magneto, Mystique and Trask, we’re given plenty of opportunity to explore these characters and their ambitions. Trask, in particular, managed to be one of the most unique villains I’ve seen in a comic book movie for how three-dimensionally defined he ended up being. The man doesn’t really want to kill all mutants for revenge, but has a genuine desire for safety and the study of mutants. He’s a villain who truly doesn’t see himself as one at all.

With a story that jumps between two timelines, it seems like it would be easy to get lost. But the script manages to keep things leveled and focussed while at the same time not wasting a moment. That’s a rather impressive for a film with so many characters, even if only a handful get the most screentime. But even the primary characters never felt overused. With Wolverine being the one sent back in time to save the future, you’d think he took center stage. To my delighted surprise, he really only serves his purpose for setting the plans in motion and then literally leaves the stage.

While the plot is perfectly conceived for a time travel film, it’s the characters that really give the movie such value. We’re given a small group of characters that we can follow and understand rather than just a smattering of simple heroes as previous ‘X-Men’ films tended to be. Sure, we are still introduced to a large collective of mutants, but most of them only fulfill their purpose for the establishing environment, tone and urgency. As a result, even the smaller roles don’t feel wasted.

This is the ‘X-Men’ film every fan has been waiting to see and it delivers on all fronts. It’s that one dream production that every comic book reader talks about, but figured they’d never see. Thanks to Brian Singer’s skillful and tight direction, ‘Days of Future Past’ ends up being not only the best ‘X-Men’ film, but easily one of the best comic book movies ever made. Expect this film to be talked about years later as the perfect comic book film adaptation. One can only hope this talented vision rubs off on the future tsunami of superhero films.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” Review

The sequel to ‘Captain America‘ is the shot in the arm superhero movies needed. While other films of the genre struggle to write in heroes and villains for a modern audience, ‘The Winter Soldier‘ is aware of exactly what it wants to be. It ends up being the only Marvel movie out of Disney that not only has a tight and intriguing script, but has a lot to say about our world’s security and how it can get the best of our trust. And the best part is that it still manages to get away with adding in more heroes and villains to an already exciting political thriller.

Trying to find a purpose for his place as an unfrozen hero in the 21st century, Steve Rogers continues working for Nick Fury of the secretive S.H.I.E.L.D. organization. Continuing to don the Captain America suit, he ends up dealing with hostage situations and taking out terrorists. However, when he discovers that Black Widow and Nick Fury have been keeping information from him on his missions, Rogers begins to have severe doubts about the level of security and trust within the organization. The upcoming deployment of three massive Helicarriers doesn’t thrill him too much either.

Steve’s doubts are rightfully justified when a high level of corruption and assassinations start taking place within S.H.I.E.L.D. Trusting no one, Steve ends up on the lamb with crucial data that reveals an insidious plot leading to the rebirth of the long-dead menacing group, Hydra. And just in case wave after wave of secret Hydra agents armed to the teeth wasn’t enough of a challenge, Captain America must also deal with the mysterious and powerful Winter Soldier. This won’t be an easy fight as the Winter Soldier can match the star-striped hero’s power and has an emotional edge when his true identity is revealed.

Who would’ve thought that Anthony and Joe Russo, the two guys behind ‘Community‘, could deliver such a bracing thrill ride. These boys don’t waste a frame or a shot. It really embodies the whole atmosphere and complex nature of a spy film while still continuing the story of a soldier soldier frozen in time. For a film that features an old talking computer and cyborg soldier, ‘The Winter Soldier’ manages to be well-grounded conspiracy thriller that takes all the correct and exciting routes you’d hope it would take. The paranoia and fear of the underground Hydra organization infiltrating SHIELD feels very real and incredibly gritty.

This is due mostly in part to the action sequences which are beyond words. With Captain America hopping and skipping around wide sets while Falcon zooms through the sky, there is quite a bit going on in these scenes. And, for the most part, they’re not just excuses for flashy CGI (though it does look pretty cool when those Helicarriers ascend). When Nick Fury is assaulted by Hydra agents early in the film, it’s an attack that is hard and fast with no punches pulled. Hydra presents itself as a real and seemingly unstoppable threat especially with the Winter Soldier going toe-to-toe with Captain America. The fight scenes between these two are so brutal you feel every punch.

That’s not to say there isn’t any room for fun. The opening sequence in which Steve Rogers dashes around a captured boat taking out terrorists left and right really brought a smile to my face. It’s a scene packed with plenty of fun takedowns and witty one-liners that gets the movie off to an enthusiastic start. The two directors do get a little crazy with the shaky-cam effects, but that’s understandable given how much is going on. In the scene where the Helicarriers are in the air firing wildly in all directions, you really do want to see the entire area of carnage.

Once again, the Russo brothers stun me with a script I wouldn’t expect to be so grand and layered. For one, Steve Rogers is the most interesting of the colorful characters not just for how he attempts to adapt to modern culture, but also how he tries to comprehend the new state of security. He’s wary of SHIELD’s restrictions and the need for more weapons when trust and communications are placed on levels. Even with all his super-soldier powers, the man still feels helpless when there are so many forces at work behind the scenes that he ends up flexing more of his brain muscles to unravel the corruption.

This turns the film into more of an espionage thriller than your standard superhero film. It takes so many twist and turns that there never is a dull moment as you get to play the guessing game of who is working for Hydra. There are so many secret plans and weapons revealed in the epic climax I can’t even begin to describe the exact events within a few sentences. It really is a masterfully crafted dance of shocking realizations and pulse-pounding action you just have to see to appreciate.

But the most admirable part of the script is that on top of this great story, the Russo boys manage to write in the hero of Falcon and the programmed villain Winter Soldier. I was especially impressed with the development of Falcon, a character that appears in the comics as a little goofy and basic. But they actually give him a solid, modern redesign and a believable place within the story so he’s not just shoehorned in. Winter Soldier didn’t seem like too hard of a character to integrate, but it’s still pretty cool how the Russo’s didn’t compromise on the sci-fi tech of old-world Hydra. All this makes for one of the most effective balancing acts for a superhero movie I’ve ever seen.

‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ is everything an exciting superhero movie should be and then some. Mixing the intrigue of an espionage thriller with the big-budget action sequences and heroic elements forms one of the most enjoyable film concoctions to come out of Marvel Studios. It’s not only one of Marvel’s best movies; it’s one of the best superhero movies ever made.

“Night Moves” (2014) Review

In the quiet drama of ‘Night Moves’, Jesse Eisenberg plays an extreme environmentalist who teams up with two like-minded individuals who conspire to destroy a hydroelectric dam. His two companions are Peter Sarsgaard as the veteran hippy of the group and Dakota Fanning as the feisty, but dedicated player somewhat new to this operation. They secretly acquire all the tools they need and silently carry out their sabotage. While they are successful at destroying the dam, the resulting damage manages to kill one singular camper near the area. All of the players break contact with each other and try to keep their mouths shut, but the murder lingers on the minds of Eisenberg and Fanning. Couple that with the crippling realization of how much of a difference they may actually be making with their actions.

These are very rich and deep characters so well-defined that we see can clearly read the mental fury pulsating through the three leads. They’re not just passionate college kids either. They are hardcore environmentalists that live on communes off the grid. These three are so committed and dedicated to the cause of crippling human sources of pollution that they’ve close their minds off from questioning any of their motifs. Perhaps they’ve gone so far down the rabbit hole they’re afraid to look back at any point. The film eventually hits on that moment of hesitation that brings things into darker realm, but it doesn’t play out as a Mexican stand-off or everybody getting caught. Instead, the film leaves us with an uneasy feeling lodged in the heart of Eisenberg’s character about how easy it is to lose sight in passion.

‘Night Moves’ is directed by Kelly Reichardt with a somber and eerie tone. Most of the film follows around Eisenberg silently as his mind does mental somersaults coming to grips with his fears. It’s the fear of paranoia, the fear of trust and the fear of humanity. He delivers a fantastic performance as does Fanny and Sarsgaard as focused group of terrorists. The film is also incredibly well shot as in an unforgettable moment when the trio is nearly caught while working under the cover of night. We see the car lights coming from high up on a hill as if we’re looking up directly at them with the characters. We feel the same tension and unclear nature of their perspective. It echoes that of a Hitchcock film which draws intensity from the long-shot unknown.

It’s brilliantly shot with great locations, it’s dreamlike in its surreal nature and gives the actors plenty to do when there is hardly any dialogue on the page. This is a very well-done piece of filmmaking that gets inside your head and never lets you go. It’s a very worthy purchase.

“The Amazing Spider Man 2” Review

This new ‘Spider Man’ may be a reboot of the movie series, but it seems to have the same problems as the old one. Namely, it’s come down with a bad case of sequel-itis we’ve seen previously in ‘Spider Man 3′. After opening up a new world with the first film, ‘The Amazing Spider Man 2′ is just in too much of a rush to cram in as much as possible. The final result is a bloated film with just too many yarns that hardly build or culminate. It’s never a good sign when a movie over 2 hours long still feels like you’re only getting have the story.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) continues to web-sling around New York as the titular hero. Despite the promise he made to the late father of Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), he does his best to maintain a relationship her. Of course, the fear of losing her causes his relationship to fluctuate as new baddies arise from within the mysterious Oscorp. The sketchy corporate giant is at it again this time developing the villain Electro (Jamie Foxx) as well as the Rhino (Paul Giamatti) as a bookend throw-away experiment. All this is going on under the radar of Harry Osborne, seeking a cure for the horrific disease that claimed his father. As Harry tries to reconnect with his childhood pal Peter Parker, he starts uncovering the horrifying mysteries of his family’s company and begins to fight back against the corruption in his angst. Meanwhile, Spider Man struggles with trying to find a way to save everyone with disastrous results.

Much like the last film, this sequel manages to tap into some of the adventurous nature of the web-slinger, but never fully capitalizes on it. Just when we think Peter has found some joy in his life, it’s quickly snatched away by tragic villains or unfortunate incidents. It’s all well and good to throw some tragedy into the mix to give Peter a higher mountain to climb, but this film just piles way too much on to our protagonist. The climax of the film is so incredibly dark that it almost seems inappropriate to end it on such a high note. The segments involving The Rhino feel like they’re from another movie; a much more fun movie where Spider Man can deliver more bits and fight some entertaining villains. That’s the kind of a film I want to see as opposed to everyone around Parker falling down dark holes. If I want a somber hero’s journey filled with grim, I’ll watch Batman.

At over two hours, this is a Spider Man movie with too much going on that’s never really explored enough. There’s an opening sequence involving more secrets of the Parker family, but that is hardly ever developed past that scene. There’s some interesting mechanics to the unstable psyche of Electro, but, again, it feels like we’re only given half the story. What made the first ‘Amazing Spider Man’ so engaging was that there was one central villain with an organic progression to his descent. There’s just nothing to latch on to in this film. It just feels like a series of introductions for Sony’s forthcoming ‘Sinister Six’ movie. Movie’s should not be promos or commercials for better ones to come, regardless of being a bridge or not. The final result is a messy collection of Spider Man yarns. All the elements are there given how perfect Garfield and Stone are on screen, but they deserve far better arcs than the disjointed ones presented in this superhero story.

“Godzilla” (2014) Review

What can you expect from a Godzilla movie? The legacy of Japan’s top giant monster has had several interpretations. The mean, green machine has been the horrific creation of science gone wrong, an opponent in giant monster wrestling matches and even a hero of the people. So which route do you take? Well, this 2014 remake managed to find a way to make Godzilla the hero of the day without turning the film into a campy kaiju wrestling match. So, just to get the initial question out of the way, this is a much better film than Roland Emmerich’s 1996 disaster of a Godzilla flick. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it helps to know our country managed to do Godzilla right.

I really dug how the first act of this film keeps Godzilla aloof. We don’t even mention the iconic monster for that section outside of some quick shots from a distance in the opening credits. All we’re really told is that something is moving underground and causing havoc in the form of massive earthquakes. More importantly, we see the real human consequence of these attacks. A nuclear plant is attacked where scientist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) loses his wife to a dangerous radiation leak. Many years later, Joe’s son Ford (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) has joined the military service and made a family for himself. Meanwhile, Joe stays in Japan as a conspiracy theory nut stalking the quarantined disaster area of the plant. He ropes his son into his investigation where the two uncover the Japanese government has been secretly keeping a giant monster contained. And it just woke up.

The monster is dubbed MUTO and consumes energy like candy in addition to setting off EMP waves. The unstoppable creature plows through anything and can make jets fall from the sky with his abilities. The MUTO travels from Japan all the way to America to find his mate concealed by the US government. Once they meet, they plan on getting busy and having a kids with an ill-equipped military standing in their way. So where is Godzilla in all this? He’s our triumphant savior who steps in to beat the snot out of these two uglies honing in on his turf (the planet Earth). He has one brief skirmish with one of the MUTOs before the grand two-against-one brawl. And while it seemed like there was a lot of useless build up to that point, the final fight ends up being one of the best Godzilla matches of all-time.

Gareth Edwards takes a much different approach to Godzilla than any other director. Similar to what he did with his previous film Monsters, Edwards teases us with the giant monsters. You don’t see Godzilla almost an hour into the film and when you do see him it’s very brief. Godzilla shows up in Hawaii to fight one of the MUTOs, but you only see some quick news segments. Do we get a CGI disaster fest when a MUTO plows through Nevada? Nope, we only get to see the aftermath. It gets to the point where you start fuming over the lack of giant monster money shots. But, I assure you, it’s well worth the wait for the climactic clash.

The slow burn by Edwards keeps the plot interesting by only giving you a taste of the action here and there. The excuse of a human story used to get to the giant monster fights is pretty average for a disaster flick. It gains our attention right away with the whole conspiracy angle, but is swapped in the second act for delivering a nuke to the creatures. Thankfully, by that point, you’re more invested in keeping an eye out for these monsters and the quick shots of carnage they unleash. The good news is that while this is your standard tropes of the epic disaster genre it doesn’t feel as lazy or forced as Roland Emmerich’s vision of making every human comic relief.

Watching this new Godzilla gave me the satisfying experience I expected along with the new vision was hoping to see. All you need to know is that Godzilla is back, he looks great and has finally gotten the movie remake he deserves. Would you believe that American audiences would be cheering for Godzilla in the theater when he unleashes a mighty roar? It’s one of my favorite moments to be in a cinema with a crowd. Edwards may not have completely started from scratch for the Godzilla franchise, but he’s done right at making a pleasing movie for fans and newcomers alike.

“A Haunted House 2” Review

‘A Haunted House 2’ is the biggest middle finger of a sequel I’ve ever seen. It refuses to take any new chances, try out new material or even write something different. The term rehash would be too kind in describing this “horror satire” which struggles more than any other film of this sub-genre for a laugh.

Marlon Wayans returns as the overly-talkative protagonist once again thrown into a creepy house where haunted hijinks ensue. The plot plays out as a direct sequel with his character dumping his previous love interest for a new white wife. I mention she’s white because his character will not shut up about how taboo it is to have an interracial relationship. Even though she tries to reassure him that it’s not a huge deal in the 21st century, he keeps harping on it. Here is a perfect opportunity missed for comedy as Wayans could’ve been seen as a backwards man alone in his misconceptions of the world he bases on stereotypes. Sadly, he is entirely justified by the usual tired and often racist depictions of different races in this picture.

The horror parodies are nothing all that special. There’s a running satire of the plot from 2012’s ‘Sinister’ with the killer from that film failing at his murders and getting assaulted by his victims. It’s mildly amusing as a sort of revenge against horror films, but then again this is nothing new for the sub-genre. The longest running joke involves the creepy doll from ‘The Conjuring’ which Wayans has a strange love affair with. This is a film where for five minutes we watch Wayans go off on an inanimate object and have sexual relations with. I never once cracked a smile during these scenes as they just never seemed to end despite the quick-cut editing style. That’s an even creepier thought to imagine there is more footage of Wayans making out with a wooden doll. This is the cry of someone who desperately needs a writer since he clearly can’t handle improv comedy.

The cherry on the top of this awful mess is the heavy racism. Wayans has written an extremely backwards world where Mexicans are gardeners, white people refuse to even acknowledge black people and African Americans are depicted either as gangsters or drug abusers. Needless to say, this is not biting or challenging comedy. Most of the film just seems to be improv from Marlon Wayans flopping around set with his loud and often annoying mannerism. The result is a film that is unfunny, tired, offensive and just not an enjoyable experience making it one of the worst films of 2014 by far.