Saturday, 1 June 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (Movie Review)


Every other summer, there seems to be that one movie that manages to stay under the radar until just before it releases to rave reviews and strong word-of-mouth, and by so doing becomes a must-see movie event. In 2015, that was Mad Max: Fury Road. Last year, it was Mission: Impossible - Fallout.  For some reason, I really thought Godzilla: King of the Monsters would be that movie for 2019. Sadly, it is not. What we have instead is what is sure to be one of its biggest guilty pleasures.

The movie takes place 5 years after the events of the 2014 reboot to the franchise, in which the titular Titan from prehistoric times proved its place as mankind's greatest defender against others of its kind (but not before leveling both Las Vegas and San Francisco of course). It also pulls double duty by planting the first true seeds for next year's crossover with King Kong from Kong: Skull Island, Godzilla vs. Kong. But don't expect any kind of a strong connection to that movie in this one, other than a few oblique references here and there.

In the aftermath of both films, Monarch, the top-secret organization dedicated to tracking and studying Titans, has managed to develop a device called the Orca, which emits sound frequencies that can be used to control the giant monsters. It doesn't take long into the movie before that device falls into the hands of an eco-terrorist (Charles Dance) who plans on using it to control King Ghidorah, a three-headed dragon-like Titan who would in turn awaken all the other Titans and bring about a much-needed cleanse of the human race from the world.

In order to stop that from happening, Monarch recruits the help of Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), co-creator of the Orca, whose ex-wife, Emma (Vera Farmiga), and daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), have been kidnapped by the eco-terrorists. He'd lost his son during the attack on San Francisco during the events of the previous movie. But now he must put aside his aversion for the Titans and work together with Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) to find Godzilla, who is once again mankind's only hope and defense against the incoming Titan threat.

If none of that sounds like it makes much sense, then don't sweat it. The story is more or less an excuse to have skyscraper-sized monsters have a go at one another while wrecking everything in their path. And on those very grounds, the movie succeeds, delivering enough jaw-dropping spectacle to satisfy even the most jaded moviegoers. The problem though is that we've already gotten movies like Pacific Rim that prove that spectacle doesn't have to come at the expense of a good story.

Also lacking are the underdeveloped characters, whose motivations remain unclear or improperly realized for the most part. But it is obvious that the true stars of this movie are the giant monsters themselves, and the fact that each one looks so stunning and has been imbued with its own sense of personality needs to be applauded. I was especially wowed by Rodan, the birdlike Titan whose mere flight overhead is strong enough to cause shockwaves capable of leveling buildings.

Overall, I'd rate 2014's Godzilla higher than this sequel, despite the criticisms leveled against it for spending too much time teasing the fights between its Titans. This is simply because it gave us human characters you could actually invest in, as well as did a better job of balancing their plight with the conflict between the Titans. That said, Godzilla: King of the Monsters did feel like a logical progression from that movie, and one I might come to appreciate even more with a second viewing.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Aladdin (Movie Review)


Of all the movies released during the decade-long Disney Renaissance, the 1992 animated film, Aladdin, was arguably my favorite one. The movie had captured my imagination with its beautiful visuals and unforgettable cast of characters, not to mention its awesome soundtrack. So you can imagine my skepticism when it was announced that Disney would be adapting a live-action remake in their current bid to introduce their classics to a whole new generation. Thankfully, my worries have turned out to be unfounded, at least for the most part.

Aladdin tells the story of a skilled thief (Mena Massoud) that befriends a young woman (Naomi Scott) after rescuing her from a botched attempt to steal some food at the marketplace. Unbeknownst to him, she is actually Princess Jasmine, the daughter of the Sultan (Navid Negahban) of the desert kingdom, Agrabah; having grown weary of her place as nothing more but a price to be sought after by royal suitors, she'd desired to understand the plight of the commoners and help the less fortunate.

Believing that she is nothing more than a handmaiden, Aladdin pays her a visit at the royal palace one night. But he is spotted vaulting the rooftops by Jafar (Marwan Kenrazi), the Vizier and chief advisor to the Sultan, who has also grown weary of being "second place." Impressed by his climbing skills, Jafar captures Aladdin and takes him to the mouth of the Cave of Wonders, where he tells him about the princess' true identity before tasking him with helping him retrieve a sole lamp from its vast vault of many treasures, in exchange for what he'd need to win her affection.

Things don't go according to plan of course, and Aladdin ends up trapped in the cave with nothing but the lamp, his pet monkey, Abu, and a sentient magic carpet they'd found there. He soon discovers that the lamp is actually home to a powerful genie (Will Smith), who grants him three wishes as a reward for finding the lamp. And with the help of the genie, Aladdin begins his attempt to woo the princess by becoming a prince. But not without having to contend with Jafar and his equally villainous parrot, Iago.

Aladdin is one of those timeless tales that never ceases to amaze in whatever form it is being told in, and I think it is fair to say that Disney has done an admirable job with this 2019 live-action update. The cast in particular needs to be applauded for turning in such good performances, the obvious standouts being the two leads. Even Will Smith's take on Genie wasn't half bad, or at least as bad as we thought it would be after that second teaser trailer. The musical numbers as well were pretty stellar, with some of the most memorable ones feeling like what you would find in a full-blown Bollywood production.

And therein lies my biggest criticism for the movie, the fact that it doesn't lean into its Middle Eastern origin more heavily, with the two leads adopting American accents that felt out of place within its colorful and culturally-rich backdrop. But even that small nitpick couldn't dampen what was otherwise a remarkable if somewhat flawed experience. Overall, it didn't quite reach the same emotional and storytelling heights as The Jungle Book, but I guess we have The Lion King to look forward to for just that.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 6 (Spoilercast)


The final episode of Game of Thrones has come and gone, and once again, it has proven to be quite divisive among critics and fans alike. People have taken issue with the fact that too many subplots have proven to be inconsequential, and with the by-the-numbers approach the showrunners had used with the final two seasons of the show in general. In all fairness though, they had clearly stated that the ending was going to be bittersweet, and the final outcome was precisely that, even if it didn't quite "go out with a bang" like many of us had hoped it would.

Listen to myself, Prince and Comfort (our special guest for the week) share our thoughts on the episode below or over at SoundCloud. You can also listen on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and TuneIn, so don't hesitate to give us a sub, like, rating or comment wherever you choose to listen. We also look back at the series as whole, and reveal some of our best episodes and defining moments. Regarding the future of this podcast, now that Game of Thrones is over, we are already looking into providing future content by doing spoilercasts for movies and such, so continue to watch this space you must.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (Movie Review)


The boogey man is back for another round of over-the-top action in John Wick: Chapter 3, the third film in the fast-growing franchise about the eponymous hitman who's been forced out of retirement. And as the subtitle, Parabellum, suggests, he is fully prepared to bring all-out war to all those that would oppose him or otherwise stand in his way. And all through the ensuing carnage, he remains glorious to watch as the movie manages not to feel stale in the same way that similar franchises like The Equalizer or The Transporter started to over the years.

The movie opens right where the previous one left off, with John Wick (Keanu Reeves) on the run after he is declared excommunicado for killing a member of the criminal underground's High Table on Continental grounds. And with a $14 million bounty on his head, it doesn't take long before all the shady assassins come out of the woodwork and attempt to claim said bounty. Emphasis on the word attempt though, because John Wick is still as deadly as they come, turning even the most mundane objects like a book from a library or a nearby horse into instruments of death.

But in order to put an end to the endless barrage of assassins after him, John Wick seeks out some owed help from the Director (Anjelica Huston), a member of the High Table, as well as Sofia (Halle Berry), a fellow assassin and dog lover whose twin German shepherds are almost as deadly as she is. With their help, he hopes to find the Elder (Said Taghmaoui), a senior member of the High Table powerful enough to end it all, a mission that takes him all the way to the deserts of Casablanca.

The High Table itself has already started making moves of its own though, sending out its Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillion) to mete out justice to both Winston (Ian McShane) and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) for helping John, with both men being given seven days to step down from their positions of power or face the consequences of their actions. She also recruits Zero (Mark Dacascos) to hunt down John Wick, a deadly assassin whose skills are only matched by his adoration for John's.

John Wick: Chapter 3 is a more than worthy follow up to the two movies that preceded it. It takes everything that fans love about the first two films, and cranks its up several notches. It deepens the lore behind the rules under which the criminal underground operates, while also shedding more light on John's past life as an assassin in service of that underground. And while the movie delivers enough thrills to be considered satisfactory on its own terms, it still somehow manages to leave you amped up for more of the same and what comes next by the time the credits roll.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 5 (Spoilercast)


The penultimate episode of Game of Thrones has aired and not everyone was happy with its outcome apparently. Color me surprised, but isn't that what Game of Thrones is known for? Subverting our expectations and spitting in our faces at every given opportunity? Regardless of how you felt about the episode, there is no denying the fact that it was an even greater technical achievement than The Long Night, with it graphic depiction of war and its consequences.

Listen to myself and Prince share our thoughts on the episode below or over at SoundCloud.You can also listen on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and TuneIn, so don't hesitate to give us a sub, like, rating or comment wherever you choose to listen. We also give our predictions for the very last episode of Game of Thrones. It's feels weird saying that, the last episode. Here's hoping that it turns out just as bittersweet as the showrunners have promised it would.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Detective Pikachu (Movie Review)


Video game adaptations haven't exactly had the best track record with critics and fans alike, with beloved franchises like Super Mario Bros, Tomb Raider and Resident Evil all managing to fall short of their source material's full potential after making the transition to the big screen. This is what immediately makes Detective Pikachu appealing, because of all the video game-based movies we've had so far, it looked like it had the greatest potential of delivering the goods. But how exactly does the finished product fare? Not bad I'd venture, not bad at all.

The movie is set in a fictional world where humans coexist with Pokemon (a portmanteau for Pocket Monsters), creatures with special abilities which can be caught, tamed and even trained to battle other Pokemon. Most people in this world eventually form a bond with their Pokemon, but not Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a young man who despite growing up in awe and adoration of the often cute but nonetheless powerful creatures, has come to have a measured level of indifference and aversion to their various species.

All that changes of course when Tim is forced to team up with Detective Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), a wise-cracking Pokemon with a caffeine addiction. Unlike other humans and their chosen Pokemon, Tim is able to understand and communicate with Detective Pikachu, which sets the stage for the buddy-cop dynamic at the heart of their relationship. Tim's father was a Detective himself, but had gone missing while on the trail of a case, so it is up to the unlikely pair to get to the bottom of the mystery behind his disappearance, with Kathryn Newton, Ken Watanabe and Bill Nighy rounding out the cast.

My first experience with the Pokemon franchise came all the way in 1999, when I'd first played Pokemon Yellow on Nintendo's GameBoy Color (a game that was recently remade for the Nintendo Switch as Pokemon Let's Go). So in a way, Detective Pikachu felt like a nice callback to those childhood days, presenting what was once a world relegated to the confines of a 2.6-inch monochromatic screen in a beautiful blend of live-action and CGI. And therein lies my greatest concern about the movie's crossover prospects, with most of the fun I had with the movie being dependent on my built-in familiarity with the franchise and the lore it has built up over the years.

I'm indeed curious to know what someone who isn't already a Pokemon fan would have to say about Detective Pikachu, which was of course decent enough by its own terms. But one thing that can't be denied is the fact that this is a "far cry" from the Uwe Boll adaptations of old (see what I did there? 😉), so this is a hopeful indicator of what can be done with video game adaptations when placed in capable hands and given the requisite amount of attention to detail they demand.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 4 (Spoilercast)


How do you top the biggest battle ever put to film? By following it up with an episode that serves as build up for an even bigger battle, that's how. At least that was the feeling Game of Thrones fans had at the end of the fourth episode of the final season, "The Last of the Starks." It is clear that the battle for the Iron Throne is going to turn out every bit as exhilarating as last week's Battle of Winterfell.

With just two episodes remaining until the very end, fans are already going crazy with their predictions for how the whole thing would pan out. Listen to myself and Prince's predictions and our overall thoughts on the episode below or over at SoundCloud. Our podcast is now also available on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and TuneIn, so don't hesitate to give us a sub, like, rating or comment wherever you choose to listen.