June 5, 2019

Monsters and Mutants: What to Watch in Athens This Week

Movie Dope

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

The original Secret Life of Pets was super charming, but comedian Louis C.K.’s fall from grace certainly endangered its chances at a sequel. Enter Patton Oswalt as the new voice of Max in The Secret Life of Pets 2. Harrison Ford and Tiffany Haddish join returning voice actors Kevin Hart, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Lake Bell and more for the continued adventures of Max and company.

Now that Disney has finished its acquisition of 21st Century Fox, Marvel Studios has gained access to its beloved team of misfit mutants, the X-Men. Fox’s final X-film, Dark Phoenix, adapts the popular tale of powerful telepath Jean Grey’s fall. Here’s hoping Simon Kinberg, the franchise’s longtime writer and producer settling into the director’s chair for the first time, can bring this story to the big screen better than in X-Men: The Last Stand. However, an X-Men film lacking Wolverine always diminishes my excitement.

Are you looking for something without cartoon animals or comic book superheroes? Check out Late Night. Emma Thompson stars as late-night television’s sole female host, who finally hires a woman, played by Mindy Kaling—it’s her script—for her writer’s room.

Around town, Amazing Grace returns to Ciné on June 7 for the Hot Corner festival. The Flicker Film Society begins its monthlong summer retrospective with a new presentation from Showdown at the Equator on June 10. In 1988’s Night of the Ninja, the Star of India has been stolen, and only Nick Goldman—your guess may be better than mine—can recover it. On June 11, enter some Bikini Trivia before 1984’s Hardbodies, which you probably have not watched since a free HBO weekend in your early teens. If you do not recall, Hardbodies follows three lecherous middle-aged dudes looking to score with those mythologized California girls. Strangely, this ’80s sex comedy launched the careers of no one you know today.

Now, on to some recent releases.

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (PG-13) Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the sequel to 2014’s Godzilla, more generously doles out sequences with the big guy himself. Still, the movie struggles to balance its human element with its giant, atomic protagonist. Picking up after Godzilla’s destruction of San Francisco, KOTM proposes a world filled with dormant Titans. Some, like Rodan and Mothra, are familiar; others remain nameless and mostly forgettable. However, King Ghidorah, a three-headed dragon-ish monster, awakes and challenges Godzilla for dominance of the monster kingdom.

The sequences of the movie dealing with its cast of CGI monsters thrill even more so than its predecessor. Too bad a lot of its two-hour-plus running time involves scientists and military personnel played by Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe, Bradley Whitford, Charles Dance and more. (Remember which of these guys, if any, were in the 2014 movie? Me neither.) I know what you are thinking; I thought the same thing. What a great cast! However, one can only hear Coach Taylor whisper-yell about Godzilla, whom he blames for the death of his young son, so many times. It is Godzilla’s world, after all, and they are all just living in it.

Nonetheless, three tries, and an American studio has finally produced the Godzilla movie we were wanting. It features the wanton destruction one expected from Roland Emmerich’s 1998 disappointment and more than the eight minutes of screen time given to the big guy in 2014. He fights Monster Zero, Mothra gets some well-deserved screen time, and the stage is set for 2020’s Godzilla vs. Kong. Someday, a filmmaker will figure out how to milk Godzilla, not hoary human melodrama, for emotional as well as physical devastation. Godzuki, anyone?

BRIGHTBURN (R) Brightburn has gotten all the attention for how it recasts the Superman origin as one where Lex Luthor is right: The Man of Steel is an alien bent on human domination. However, it is less an elseworld origin story than an alternative version asking, what if General Zod or Kryptonian serial killer Faora Hu-Ul fell to Earth, rather than Kal-El?

Apparently, the answer is an unpleasant horror film with some unexpectedly graphic and well-done gore. The dramatic arc feels too fated; young alien Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn) simply turns bad. He is not born bad. He does not require any bullying; he simply and suddenly is the bully. Author Brandon Sanderson posited an evil Superman far more entertainingly in his YA Reckoners trilogy that began in Steelheart.

Brightburn did leave me intrigued by its extended universe of superpowered evildoers, but any potential follow-up must more gratifyingly mash up the superhero and horror genres.