Godzilla vs. Kong: It’s Good When It’s What’s On the Tin – HBO Max Review

The monsters are great, but the humans need work.

SUMMARY

Godzilla has been the unquestioned Alpha of the Titans (Kaiju) since his defeat of King Ghidorah, but now he’s starting to become wild and aggressive. Meanwhile, Kong has been in a protective covering on Skull Island to keep him away from Godzilla, as Kong would naturally have to challenge him as an Alpha. Kong is monitored by Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her deaf adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle). Meanwhile, Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), is a Titan conspiracy podcaster who is investigating the APEX corporation and its CEO Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir). Simmons hires geologist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to convince the team monitoring Kong to take him to the Hollow Earth and, in the process, to allow Simmons’ daughter Maya (Eiza Gonzalez) to harvest a power source for APEX. Bernie is joined by Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), who is the daughter of two Titan scientists (one of whom tried to destroy the world in the last movie), and her friend Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison). The three discover that APEX is behind something that poses a bigger threat than either Kong or Godzilla.

There is no way that aircraft carrier could hold them. Its full load is about 100,000 tons and each one of them weights 90,000.

END SUMMARY

It hurts a little bit to try and determine whether or not this was a good movie because in some ways I worry that my enjoyment of the film was due to extremely low expectations. Not that I’m going to put it up for an Oscar or anything, and I’m pretty sure that the writing for the human characters (aside from Brian Tyree Henry who might have just been improvising) was literally pulled from a screenwriting manual, but I have to say this was pretty much the best kaiju fighting I’ve seen in a long time. If I were to describe what I wanted to see in this film, it would have been “I want to see Godzilla judo-throw a drop-kicking King Kong” and, well, that’s the kind of thing that this movie does right. The problem is there’s no way to do 90 minutes of that. 

There is a singing contest, of course.

The best Godzilla movies usually try to treat Godzilla as a force of nature or a metaphor. The original Godzilla was used as a metaphor for the Atomic Bomb and the most recent Toho film, Shin Godzilla, treated the character mostly as a threat for the purpose of establishing how Japan is treated by the Western world. When you treat Godzilla as something beyond humanity or as a consequence of humanity’s hubris, then it gives him an appropriate relationship to the characters as something almost inevitable or that can only be dealt with by sacrifice. While some of the Godzilla movies give him more character and emotion, but in those films he’s usually more isolated from the “real” world, so you don’t have to worry as much about how the humans are reacting to the kaiju. The American movies, so far, haven’t really gotten this right, including this movie, because Godzilla is still treated more like a monster or a wild animal than a force of nature (although they start to give him some emotion when dealing with Kong). However, since Kong usually IS treated like an emotional creature, at least the scenes with the giant ape actually come off pretty well. 

It is a little telling how unbalanced the fight is when you have to give Kong an anti-Godzilla weapon to make it fair.

The biggest problem with the movie is that the human characters, with the exception of Bernie and the absolutely adorable Jia, are mostly forgettable. There are too many of them and they’re often in completely separate plots throughout the film. Moreover, the plots range from “needless” to “insanely stupid.” At one point, in order to be present for the finale, three characters accidentally travel from Pensacola, Florida, to Hong Kong (it makes sense in context… no, it’s still insane). That said, once the film actually gets to having Godzilla and Kong going at it, it’s a hell of a fight and even has a few moments that were genuinely visually impressive. This film really put a lot of extra effort into lighting and framing shots as well as creative creature design and settings, so when it gets the plot and people out of the way, this is very enjoyable. 

The hollow Earth looks cool.

Overall, while this movie wasn’t what it could have been, it had enough fun visuals and a solid fight sequence to merit the viewing. 

****SPOILERS****

Also, it’s great that they had Godzilla win the fight. Like, there’s no question that Godzilla can kick Kong’s ape ass up and down Skull Island. I was worried they’d just avoid having a real winner by having them fight MechaGodzilla together, but they managed to do both. 

Temporary HBO Access Review – Barry (Seasons 1 and 2): Hitman Comedy Done Right

Bill Hader stars in a story of a hitman trying to become a star.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Barry Berkman (Bill Hader) is a former Marine who has turned hitman, working for Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root). Fuches orders Barry to do a hit for Chechen mobster Goran Pazar (Glenn Fleshler) targeting Ryan Madison (Tyler Jacob Moore), an aspiring actor who has been sleeping with Goran’s wife. Barry follows Ryan to an acting class run by Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), an extremely self-aggrandizing acting coach, and attended by aspiring actress Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg). Barry gets caught in the class and does a scene, poorly, before he ends up getting stuck driving Ryan home, something witnessed by Goran’s associate NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan). Barry ends up killing Ryan, which is being investigated by Detective Janice Moss (Paula Newsome), but also finds himself drawn to the acting class. Now he’s got to find a way out of the contract killer world in order to pursue his dream… despite his complete lack of talent.

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He kills with frills.

END SUMMARY

There have been a number of hitman/assassin comedies. There have been hitman/assassin comedies about people trying to leave the business. There have even been shows about hitmen trying to get into the movie industry (Get Shorty, for example). However, this one stands out as an example of this strangely specific subgenre at its best.

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And it’s a very good subgenre.

Bill Hader’s performance is almost perfect. It’s one of the most memorable characters I’ve seen on TV in a while, mostly because he’s just so broken. Barry is unhinged and emotionally damaged, but not in an over-the-top way. It’s the subtlety with which Hader shows how disconnected Barry is to other human beings that really makes you feel like he’s a real, relatable person. I was a fan of Dexter, but whereas that show and Michael C. Hall’s performance kept saying how crazy Dexter’s psychopathic tendencies were, this show doesn’t ever talk about Barry being messed up, only showing his fantasies and reactions. 

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Man has range, even with a blood goatee. 

I’m particularly impressed by Hader’s ability to play a terrible actor. Barry’s inability to properly express his emotions naturally opposes his ability to get into character and emote on stage. Naturally, this makes him absolutely atrocious at playing any character. However, we finally see him start to draw on his past experiences in order to properly play parts, something that leads to him becoming more confident… to an almost psychotic level, which is an interesting and still realistic way to do character growth. Moreover, despite his inability, he still manages to succeed due to the ridiculous nature of the film and television industry.

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Plus he rocks some costumes.

The supporting cast is also excellent. Henry Winkler plays a failed actor who somehow convinces everyone else that he is capable of teaching them to succeed where he could not. Given the fact that Henry Winkler was, for a decade, arguably the most successful TV actor in the world, this works amazingly well. Sarah Goldberg plays the stereotypical struggling actress, but she constantly is confronted by the fact that she is not a natural star and that the industry is not going to cut her any breaks. NoHo Hank is the lovable guy with a crush on Barry despite also being a murderous gangster. Fuches is a cockroach who is also somehow charming because he’s played by Stephen Root, a man who excels at making unlikable characters likable. 

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Stephen Root just nails being a special kind of creepy.

The writing and direction are both great, allowing for a balance between action, comedy, and dramatic scenes that all still serve their desired purpose. The fact that the story frequently oscillates between inside of Barry’s head and to a third-person omniscient view would normally irritate me, but somehow the show always makes it work. 

Overall, amazing show. Recommend finding someone’s HBO account to watch this.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Mini-Review: Watchmen – Who Should Watch Watchmen?

HBO has given us a continuation of the famous 1986-87 comic series that changed the industry.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

It’s been 34 years since a giant mutant squid appeared in the middle of New York City, killed off several million people, and convinced the Earth that aliens were invading, preventing nuclear war. Since then, superheroes have been outlawed and Robert Redford has been president. An incident involving an attempt by the racist “Seventh Kavalry” to kill all of the law enforcement officers in Tulsa, Oklahoma has led to the passage of laws which allow Law Enforcement Officers to operate as costumed figures to protect their secret identities. 

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They cut the mutant squid from the movie, sadly.

Angela Abar (Regina King), a survivor of the “White Night,” operates as a Tulsa detective under the name “Sister Night” along with her fellow survivor Judd Crawford (Don Johnson) and Det. Wade Tillman (Tim Blake Nelson). After a police shooting by the Kavalry, Abar gets dragged into a series of events intertwining her fate with the characters who are still standing from the events of the original Watchmen: Adrian “Ozymandias” Veidt, Laurie “Silk Spectre” Blake, and Jon “Doctor Manhattan” Osterman. 

END SUMMARY

Damon Lindelof, the creator of the show, has spent a decade being roundly (and justifiably) chastised for the fact that his previous creation, Lost, appeared to have no f*cking clue where the story was going. As if to compensate, this show clearly was thoroughly plotted before the first scene was shot. It’s almost as coherent in terms of themes and storytelling as its namesake comic, which is saying something. Without saying what it is, they have their own version of the clock motif from the comic and it pays off from the first episode to the last.

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They put a lot of work into the character designs, too. 

Every performance is great, which makes it hard for me to really say who the standout is. I’m going to say it’s Regina King, mostly because she gets the most screen-time and is the focus of the story, but the fact that such an amazing actor isn’t head-and-shoulders above the supporting cast tells you how elevated the supporting cast is. Many of them have to play characters who operate almost entirely through masks that don’t allow for expression which is impressive. 

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I mean, sometimes they cheat, but it’s often for a reference.

In terms of storytelling, the show manages to both select and adapt some of the more memorable elements of the comic, including a completely linearly non-linear episode (it makes sense in context), which contains one of the best temporal mind-screws I’ve seen in quite a while. The show does a great job managing it’s fairly large cast and they accomplish a lot of worldbuilding through showing, not telling (which is something that I will literally always applaud). While the original Watchmen essentially satirized the existence of superheroes by pointing out that only damaged people would ever think superheroics are a good option, this show continues that by showing that people inspired by superheroes are also likely to view violence and secrecy more than normal people. The themes about the nature of racism are handled well, attacking it from all angles. 

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I admit that they are sometimes not super subtle, but it works.

The main thing that I appreciate about this is that it isn’t just Watchmen 2. The show isn’t focused just on the characters and what happened to them after the series, it’s about what would be changed in a world like the one that Watchmen is set in. It’s similar to what I appreciate about The Mandalorian: It’s showing me more about a world that I want to see more of, but it isn’t just trying to force a continuation of the previous story. Yes, it involves some of the same characters, but it doesn’t focus on them. 

I liked it and I hope the next season gets made.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.