Current Mini Reviews

Hi friends! I hope you are doing well and enjoying the end of your summer. I have been writing a lot of reviews lately but, I still have a few films that I need to catch up on. This means it is time for one of my ‘Current Movie Reviews’ posts. If you got to see any of these films let me know what you thought of them.

Sure love ya!

apollo 11

APOLLO 11-

I was very disappointed I didn’t get to see the documentary Apollo 11 at Sundance this year but I missed it. Now catching up to it I think I prefer it more as an interesting experiment than an actual movie but it still has lots to recommend. What they do is they use archival footage, interviews, sound/video recordings merged together, to recreate the events of the Apollo 11 mission to land on the moon. They do it in a way that feels like real time including each step along the way from politicians, to training, to the accounts of the astronauts themselves. While I missed having a narrator to guide me through some of the moments it still is a fascinating documentary with a very unique approach.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

once upon a time

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

I honestly wasn’t going to see Quentin Tarantino’s new film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood because it didn’t interest me. It is only the 2nd Tarantino film I have seen; the first being Pulp Fiction, which I did not enjoy. I understand why other people love it but it was not for me. However, enough people wanted to know my take on Once that I decided to give it a watch. My thoughts? It was fine. It has a lot of problems but overall I think the good outweighed the bad. I loved Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in their roles. I love the sense of time and place Tarantino evokes and much of the dialogue and recreated media from the 60s made me smile. Julia Butters from American Housewife practically steals the film as a young actress who inspires DiCaprio’s character Rick Dalton to give his best performance. What I didn’t like was the exorbitant running time, the meandering story and the long sequences of driving and walking for no purpose at all. That said, it was a fun lark but mostly forgettable if you ask me.

As for the violence, particularly at the end, it is so over the top and ridiculous it didnt bother me much but I know others will find it alarming so you’ve been warned.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

scary stories

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK

When I was in middle school I remember my friends reading the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. Being a scary movie/book wimp they didn’t interest me, but I definitely was aware of them especially their creepy illustrations. Now director André Øvredal has made a movie version of these stories with a pg13 rating designed for teens. I am no horror pro, but I found this film to be quite entertaining. I liked the 1960s throwback. I enjoyed the teen performances and found all the horror set pieces to be quite well done and scary. It’s the kind of scary you get going through a haunted house. You know it is silly and not realistic at all but it’s done with enough style to get you and make you smile. That’s how I felt watching it. Sure there are flaws but the overall experience was fun.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE 2

I had mixed feelings about the original Angry Birds Movie. I liked the animation and some of the characters but I felt the messaging was off and the story wasn’t my favorite. Now in the sequel they have improved upon the original in most ways. The story is equally as bland but the characters are better, messaging more nuanced and the humor is way funnier. I particularly liked any of the jokes involving music. Overall, I had a good time with The Angry Birds Movie 2 because it kept me laughing throughout.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it! I am quite the positive person on this week’s mini-review post. Smile Worthy for all of the films! Let me know what you thought about any of these films.

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‘The Kitchen’ REVIEW

Since I became a critic on rottentomatoes I have been trying to diversify the films I review. I know if I want to work full-time at this someday I need to be a well-rounded critic that covers more than just family films. In general, pushing myself outside my comfort zone has been a good thing and produced many great experiences. However, occasionally I hit a dud I know was not made for me and then I have to wonder ‘was it made for anyone?’ Such is the case with the new crime drama The Kitchen.

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There are positive aspects to The Kitchen but unfortunately they are not put together in an effective way.  It honestly felt like a more brutally violent version of a Lifetime mafia movie (like the recent profile they did of Victoria Gotti called Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter) rather than a gritty organized crime profile. I know I am supposed to champion this film because it stars and is made by women but it is way too problematic for me to do so.

First of all, the film cannot decide on a tone. Of course, 2 of the leads, Tiffany Haddish and Melissa McCarthy are known for their comedy, which they try to work into these more serious roles but to no avail. They and Elizabeth Moss play 3 women in the 1970’s running the Irish mafia in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC. Oddly, Moss’ character tries to be the funniest, which completely misses the mark coming across as bizarre instead of the intended dark humor. For example, a scene where we are instructed how to dispose of a dead body in the Hudson River is played for laughs while we see her severing limbs and her hands covered in blood. What on earth?

Domhnall Gleeson plays Moss’ boyfriend and is the only thing that seems remotely Irish about this supposed Irish mafia syndicate. Not a single character has an accent and our 3 leading ladies sometimes talk like they are from New York and sometimes use their normal voices, which made the whole thing feel very cheap. The Italian characters are equally lame. Cops in the 70s New York sure wished the mafia was like it was portrayed in this ridiculous movie. So instead of being immersed in a time and place we are waiting for the next brutal murder while the ladies do power walks down the street collecting money. This isn’t good storytelling! (If Don Corleone hit as many people as these women there’d be nobody left to collect the money! Give me a break).

Also the portrayal of Haddish’s character felt like something out of a blaxploitation picture like Shaft instead of a real character. Perhaps that’s what they were going for (which could be fine) but then the movie tries to be real and gritty; thereby, creating a muddled mess. For example, there’s almost no attempt to show any kind of racism against Haddish’s character, outside of her husband, which is the same domestic violence the other 2 women face with their husbands. The same is true for Common as a detective (is he always a cop these days in movies?). The Jewish characters are equally shallow and stupid. The longer the picture went on the more it felt like it had to be violent in order for it to feel relevant and edgy instead of actually having a story that is relevant and edgy.

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The sad part is the production design is nice and all 3 of the women are trying to give good performances. Unfortunately, it is in a failing enterprise with a mess of a tone and an uncompelling story. They all feel miscast, and they don’t have chemistry together, so I wasn’t rooting for any of them. I didn’t care if they got revenge or were kick-butt women in the mafia because they weren’t interesting, funny or compelling in any way. Instead, I was left sitting waiting for the next brutal murder to be over, so that I could be done with it and go home.

I guess you can confidently say this one was not for me, and I do not recommend it to anyone!

3 out of 10

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BLIND SPOT 44: ‘TAKE SHELTER’

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This month for my blind spot pick I watched the film Take Shelter by the great indie director Jeff Nichols. I have loved to liked all of the movies from Nichols I’ve seen including Midnight Special and Mud, but I had never gotten around to seeing this unique entry from 2011.

Take Shelter tells the story of a man named Curtis played by Michael Shannon. He lives in Oklahoma, and one day he starts seeing visions of an apocalyptic storm that is attacking his family. As these dreams and visions become more alarming Curtis becomes more unglued. He becomes fixated on building a tornado shelter for his family and can’t understand why everyone in the town isn’t as concerned about the upcoming storm as he is.

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His wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and deaf daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart) try to be supportive but struggle to understand Curtis and deal with each step of the mania. It was so nice to see Chastain as the almost ethereal mother again. She is so good at that role and we haven’t seen it in a long time (of course she will be forever remembered as the mother in The Tree of Life, which was also released in 2011).

Take Shelter definitely has a languid pacing I struggled with particularly when we weren’t in the dream sequences and it can feel repetitive (it’s pretty much just dream, mania, dream mania etc) but it also builds tension well and the performances and film-making are so good it’s hard to not recommend it. Adam Stone does a wonderful job with the cinematography leaving the viewer confused if the storms are really happening or if it is another dream.

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The movie is also a bit confused with what it is trying to say. Is it talking about mental health care? Is it talking about religion? Is it talking about family? Mania? I’m not sure to be honest, which I guess you could see as a good or bad thing depending on your taste in movies. On one hand I like the ambiguity but other moments I wanted more clarity.

All that said, I would definitely recommend watching Take Shelter for the incredible dream sequences and the great performances. It will definitely leave you thinking and there’s something to be said for that experience.

Have you seen Take Shelter? What did you think of it?

6.5 out of 10

smile worthy

 

‘Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw’ [REVIEW]

The Fast & Furious franchise has always been hit and miss for me. They seem to vacillate between an overly serious police drama to insane stunts with people leap-frogging from one building to another in a car. I much prefer the latter.

The most recent entry Fate of the Furious was a disappointment with far too little fun and too many boring scenes of people staring at screens (my greatest action movie gripe!). Now we are getting the franchise’s first spin-off film with the unwieldy title Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. This is no doubt meant to perpetuate the franchise into new avenues but also allow feuding cast-members to make their movies in peace. So what’s the result of this new Jason Statham/The Rock vehicle? I’d say it is as unwieldy as its title but mostly a good silly time at the theater.

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I’ll spare you much of a plot summary. Basically there’s a convoluted reason that Luke Hobbs (The Rock) and Deckard Shaw (Statham) have to work together to fight a mutanized Idris Elba and help Shaw’s sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) clear her name and save her life. Along the way we go to London, Moscow, and Samoa with over-the-top action and lots of witty banter between the charming cast. I was particularly impressed with Kirby who holds her own in both departments.

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The film does a great job surprising the audience in ways that really paid off and had me smiling (no spoilers from me!). I also liked there wasn’t much standing around staring at screens, which is very boring. For the most part it moved effortlessly from one action set piece to the next and that kept it fun.

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Unfortunately on the downside the movie is way too long at 136 minutes and especially the extended portion in Samoa wares out its welcome. There are some major exposition dumps and the attempts to become sentimental didn’t work. Even though I know appeals to family are part of this franchise the Samoan warrior scenes came off as patronizing rather than heart-warming.

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There’s some impressive sequences in Hobbs & Shaw but also some I have seen before in other movies and the special effects were hit and miss. Sometimes within the same action scene there would be edits that looked like a tv budget and then the next edit would be really impressive. For example, there were definite moments within a fighting sequence I could tell The Rock wasn’t in Samoa but in front of a green screen. It’s harder to have fun when these type of distractions take me out of the movie.

However, I still walked away from Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw with a smile on my face, having had a good time. It’s not going to change your life but if you are looking for a silly, over-the-top entertainment with very likable leads than there is more than enough to enjoy here.

6.5 out of 10

smile worthy

‘SHADOW’ REVIEW

One fact about me that might surprise people is I actually enjoy a good martial arts movie. While I wouldn’t claim to be an expert in the genre, I enjoy Jackie Chan movies like The Drunken Master, or other films like The Grandmaster or IP Man. I know these movies can be very violent but it’s so stylized and part of the choreography that it doesn’t bother me as much as other violence. The skill and craft that comes into making your body a weapon is beautiful and fascinating.

Naturally when I heard that director Zhang Yimou had a new film called Shadow, I knew I needed to see it as soon as I got the chance. Fortunately, it premiered today at the Tower Theater in Salt Lake City so I had to see it! It’s not the biggest screen in the world but it’s better than nothing! So I went to see Shadow today and to my relief the film lived up to the hype.

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Shadow tells the story of an ancient land with 2 feuding kingdoms. One is ruled by a man named Pei (Zheng Kai) and the other by a man named Yang Cang (Hu Jun). They both have generals, sisters, wives and followers to muddy the waters and bring their kingdoms into conflict. Pei, in particular, has a general named Ziyu (Deng Chao) who we learn is actually a look alike named Jingzhou (also Deng Chao), with the actual Ziyu being hidden away in a cave. Jingzhou has been trained to be Ziyu’s shadow hence the name of the movie.

I won’t give any more spoilers but there’s magnificent training sequences that take place on a giant yin/yang symbol. The cinematography of the film is incredible with a monochromatic aesthetic where sometimes the only color you see is the bright red of the blood.

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There is also a surprisingly effective love triangle between Jingzhou, Ziyu and his wife Xiao Ai (Sun Li). Most of this is done through looks and dialogue-free scenes that the actors pull off very well. In fact, it makes Shadow approachable for Western audiences because it’s all about the emotion more than the words spoken with each other. So if you are turned off by subtitles you might still want to give Shadow a try.

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The martial arts fighting is like none I’ve ever seen before (except maybe in Kungfu Panda 2 oddly enough). They use a metal umbrella made of spears in their fighting and all of these circles help reinforce the theme of yin/yang and combined with the monochromatic cinematography are quite mesmerizing. Honestly Shadow is the closest to watching a modern Kurosawa film that I’ve recently seen. It’s quiet and contemplative like his films. It’s striking like his films, and it has Shakespearean themes like his films. If you are a fan of visually dazzling films with heart than you will leave the theater awestruck by it.

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The only downside to Shadow is it can be uneven in its pacing. Particularly the first 30 minutes are a bit laborious. It gets too caught up in the diplomacy between Pei, Yang and Ziyu for its own good. Also it will take me a couple rounds to understand everything going on with the plot. Sometimes I decided to just enjoy the visuals because I wasn’t entirely clear on what was happening.

All that said, Shadow is a tremendous achievement for Zhang Yimou and a film I heartily recommend to film lovers and anyone who can tolerate a rather bloody martial arts action film. You won’t regret hunting this one down

8.5 out of 10

smile worthy

‘The Fighting Preacher’ REVIEW

For many years filmmaker T.C. Christensen has made a career out of making sweet and inspirational, faith-based films for Latter-day Saint audiences. Many of these are set in the past and seek to tell part of Church history like The Cokeville Miracle or 17 Miracles. These movies are definitely not for everyone but if you like programs like When Calls the Heart or Little House on the Prairie than you will enjoy them. His latest effort, The Fighting Preacher, is a bit uneven but overall it succeeds in telling a sentimental true story about tolerance, kindness and how a Christian spirit will win over hate every time.

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The film is based on the experiences of Willard Bean (David McConnell); a boxing champion who in 1905 is called by the Church to move to the town of Palmyra, New York and make a home for himself and his family in the recently purchased Joseph Smith Farm. As the name implies, the home was once owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint prophet and founder Joseph Smith. Nearby is the Hill Cumorah which is where the prophet claimed to find (by the guidance of an angel) the gold plates he translated into ‘The Book of Mormon’. Unfortunately, the Saints were eventually pushed out of Palmyra by residents who feared the new religion and the fervor of its followers and after 85 years the town had remained free from all ‘Mormons’ as they were known at the time.

One would think after such a long time away from each other, the anger against the Latter-day Saints would have dissipated in Palmyra but this proved to not be the case for the Beans. They faced opposition and challenges trying to do normal things like purchase everyday necessities, get medical care and even helping their daughter get an education.

At first Willard is tempted to use his boxing skills to retaliate against the people but eventually he learns such problems are better solved by an offering of homemade pie rather than a fist to the face (if that description sounds too saccharine, than trust me. This is not the movie for you!).

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The casting goes a long way in making The Fighting Preacher work. McConnell is easy to relate to and has nice chemistry with Cassidy Hubert who plays his wife Rebecca (my only nitpick with her is she had very modern lipstick on). The little girl, Scarlett Hazen, who plays their daughter Palmyra is also adorable. She did a great job!

The rest of the cast is fine but there isn’t a huge attempt to flesh out people beyond a slamming of the door with a ‘get out of here you Mormons’ rebuke. As a former missionary, I have no doubt this was a reality, but as a movie, it comes across as forced. The script as a whole is clunky with dialogue that doesn’t feel natural or human.

For a better example of a similar plot with a much better script I recommend last year’s Jane and Emma. That film took the time to flesh out the characters and give authentic nuanced dialogue.

Even with its flaws, however, I still recommend The Fighting Preacher. It knows its audience and unlike some faith-based films, the message is very positive. It tells the viewer to accept people of all beliefs, and to be kind and loving to all men and women (even when it is not reciprocated). The performances are also strong enough to forgive a script I wish was better.

6 out of 10

smile worthy

‘Crawl’ REVIEW

I bet I will be the only critic that compares the new creature scares movie Crawl to a good Hallmark movie but that’s just what I’m going to do. I spend many hours watching Hallmark movies for my podcast The Hallmarkies Podcast and I’ve learned that the good ones know what they are and execute it well. They don’t try to be anything other than a sweet romcom, with nice chemistry between the leads, and a warm holiday message.

It’s the same idea in Crawl. It absolutely knows what it is and executes it well. It doesn’t try to be campy or silly. It doesn’t add annoying characters or convoluted subplots. Crawl knows it is a creature scares movie with 2 people dealing with gators and it executes that concept very well. It’s as simple as that.

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Crawl stars Kaya Scodelario who starts out the film trying to rescue her father from the basement crawl space of his Florida home. Unfortunately when she gets there she learns he is stuck with 2 gators in the basement (behind some large pipes). Getting out is then the main plot of the movie. Unfortunately, this task is made more difficult by a huge hurricane that threatens to drown them before the gators can eat them.

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Director Alexandre Aja does a great job moving the characters around enough within the small space to create different set pieces by which to fight the gators. They also keep the movie a lean 87 minutes so you never have time to get bored. It feels relatively grounded and realistic and for a small budget film the gators/special effects look great.

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Barry Pepper and Kaya Scodelario do great work as a father and daughter and the film gives us just enough of their backstory and relationship to attach us to them without becoming boring. As they are basically the only characters on screen, their chemistry also adds a ton to the film’s success. It kind of reminds me of 10 Cloverfield Lane in that respect. I was rooting for both of them throughout the entire movie which made the scenes with the gators more intense and fun.

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I suppose if there are negatives to Crawl, there are some moments where we must suspend disbelief. In particular the injuries the 2 lead characters have seem to ebb and flow depending on the needs of the script. However, I was invested enough in the story and characters to not care. There are also definitely side characters introduced to be kill candy for the gators, which gets a little predictable.

All that said, I had a great time watching Crawl. It’d be a wonderful choice to go with all your friends and have a good tense time at the movies. Nobody will be too traumatized, and they will all have fun.

Go see it! It’s a blast

8 out of 10

smile worthy

Current Mini Reviews

Today I recorded a podcast with 2 of the ladies at the Filmotomy Podcast. The topic was a  ‘Film Festival Survival Guide’ and we had a great time discussing all of the tricks of the trade for getting the most out of your festival experience. It all made me a bit nostalgic for my time at Sundance, so I decided to head out to my local arthouse theater (Broadway Centre Cinemas) and watch 3 independent releases. Here are my quick thoughts on all 3:

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The Souvenir-

First up is The Souvenir by director Joanna Hogg. It stars Honor Swinton Byrne as a young film student named Julie who gets caught up in a toxic relationship with an older man named Anthony played by Tom Burke. Anthony is a deep thinker so of course he is also a heroine addict and extremely manipulative. Julie is a naive young girl who gets caught up in the mystique of Anthony and enables his terrible behavior because it feels dangerous and exciting. The Souvenir also stars Tilda Swinton as Julie’s mother and she is in fact Honor’s actual mother so that’s kind of fun.

This film has received huge acclaim from critics and is already scheduled for a sequel shooting this year. All I can say about this film is it is not for me. There are some stunning bits of cinematography (I particularly liked a sequence where we see Anthony and Julie talking not up-close but through a mirror across the room). I also liked Honor and Tilda Swinton’s performances. However, the couple have no chemistry and the story is extremely repetitive. The film is 2 hours long, and I felt every second of it. I didn’t care about either Anthony or Julie and their cycle of abusive behavior was not interesting.  I can see how it would be appealing for others but for me it was a piece of indie slog.

Frown Worthy

4 out of 10

american woman

American Woman-

Next up we have the drama American Woman directed by Jake Scott and written by Brad Ingelsby. This film stars Sienna Miller in one of the best performances of the year.  She plays a woman named Deb who is grinding out her life in suburban Pennsylvania with her sister (Christina Hendricks- who is also strong) living across the street.

For some reason the working class woman seems to be challenging for the movies to portray accurately. They are usually all damage and no joy. In American Woman they avoid this by showing over a decade of Deb’s life with all the joys, sorrows and all the in-between. Some pain is self-inflicted and some is caused by others, but either way it is gripping, and we feel empathy for her.

There were so many times I worried the script was heading into tired twists and then it didn’t, which made me very happy. This is the kind of script and lead performance that will be ignored come awards season and that’s a real shame because it’s great. In my opinion, this is MUCH better than the similarly themed Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri  which won all the awards. Oh well.

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

all is true

All is True-

My last film of the day is the fictionalized look into the latter part of William Shakespeare’s life entitled All is True. There is perhaps no human being on earth more qualified to play the Bard on screen than Kenneth Branagh. He also directed the film and it hopefully won’t put an end to his long career of adapting the works of Shakespeare because this film is an entertaining mess.

If your brand of historical drama is fluffy films like The Other Boleyn Girl or Tristan and Isolde than this might be the movie for you. The actors deserve awards for elevating such hammy dialogue and selling it as if it was one of Shakespeare’s great soliloquies. Judi Dench is particularly great as his humble wife who can’t read and Kathryn Wilder is big and boisterous as their rebellious daughter Judith. They all do what they can with this inane material.

Honestly there were times when it seemed a half step away from a Monty Python or Blackadder sketch. Even Branagh’s ridiculous hairpiece and beard made me laugh. I was entertained by All is True but probably not for the reason the creators intended.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ Review (Spoiler Free)

Going into the latest CGI Monsterverse film Godzilla: King of the Monsters I knew I was fighting an uphill battle. Monster movies are generally not my favorite movies, and I haven’t enjoyed either of the last 2 in this franchise. However, I assumed at least the visuals would look good so it would be entertaining on the IMAX. Sadly I was mistaken. It looks like the response is quite divisive on the film but I thought it was awful. You may love it but it was not for me. That’s for sure.

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There are so many problems with Godzilla: King of the Monsters but let me go over a few that especially stuck out. The first and least important problem is the asinine script with characters making nonsensical choices. Yes it’s a dumb monster movie, but we spend a lot of time with these people, so it would be nice if it was at least semi-coherent and logical. Especially Vera Farmiga’s character was a giant continual face palm.

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Second, I’ve long complained that action movies have become one long set of sequences of characters staring at screens. This is no exception. Almost every scene with the humans they are either looking at a glass encasement or staring at a screen. This is not interesting or exciting. Towards the end we have some emotional scenes with characters but they feel under-served because we haven’t gotten to know them beyond seeing them stare at screens.

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Finally, and most surprising, is the disappointing visuals. I think you can see from this gif how cloudy and murky the cinematography is. Every scene is raining and dark so you can’t see what is happening. To make matters worse the point of view is often from the ground up which is difficult when trying to see the action of these big creatures. The editing is also absolutely awful. The fight scenes are constantly cutting away into extreme closeups and mid-shots. Very rarely do you get a good wide shot to really see the fights or the full creatures. Isn’t that why we are there to see monsters fighting?

It wasn’t a big surprise to me when I found out one of the 3 co-editors is the editor for Transformers: the Last Night and Transformers: Age of Extinction- two of the worst edited films I’ve ever seen. And then the cinematographer usually does comedies like The Hangover. It was truly baffling.

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Another annoying aspect is millions of people are dying in scenes in Mexico, San Francisco and Boston, and yet we only seem to care about a handful of humans. It reminded me of San Andreas where the only person the screenplay cares about is The Rock’s daughter and everyone else can die. I think most people would be a little upset if the world was being annihilated and there was mass carnage? Call me crazy. Like I said Vera Farmiga (and Charles Dance) characters were especially bad in this regard.

The only comparison I can make is with 2017’s Geostorm but that film had more of a spirit of fun about it than Godzilla: King of the Monsters and the visuals were fine. This was just a badly made film. You might enjoy it and I hope you do but it’s definitely not for me, and I think I’m done with this Monsterverse for the foreseeable future.

I recommend seeing the Chinese film The Wandering Earth instead. It’s on Netflix and provides much better nutty spectacle than anything you’ll get here

2 out of 10

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