Shaft – Film Review

When his best friend dies of a drug overdose, John Shaft is suspicious. No, not the John Shaft, the bad mutha-f-bomb-dropper of seventies fame who was a sex machine to all the chicks. And, no, not Junior, the nephew who turned up in a 2000 thriller that most of us can’t really remember. It’s John Shaft lll, the boy that junior abandoned some thirty years ago, a millennial with a degree from MIT, a cybersecurity expert working for the man in the FBI, the one that doesn’t care for guns and who lives in a trendy brick-walled NYC apartment that looks like a display at Pier One Imports, that John Shaft.

Perhaps best referred to by its year of release, considering that out of the 5 films, three of them share the same title, Shaft (2019) centers not so much on the ethnic subgenre of blaxploitation that originated during the early seventies, or even the thriller aspects that underlined Shaft (2000). This new release is more action comedy, with the emphasis leaning heavily towards getting the laughs. What it’s actually about isn’t important – certainly, the writers didn’t seem to care – but the film presumably exists because someone thought it would be a great idea to have all three generations of Shaft on the case together. Which is what happens.

A friend is found dead, his body abandoned in a back street with a syringe on the ground nearby. But Shaft lll (Jessie Usher) is not convinced it was accidental, particularly when he gets the toxic report and shows it to friend and nurse Sasha (Phoenix valley native Alexandra Shipp). “The concentration levels are too high,” she tells young Shaft, explaining it would have been impossible for him to have injected that much into his body himself. “He would have overdosed before he got there,” she explains.

Wanting to clear his friend’s name and prove that his death was not an accidental overdose but murder, Shaft lll hunts down his estranged street-wise father, Shaft ll (Samuel L. Jackson), now a private detective, and asks for his help in solving a crime. “What kind of business could your Don Lemon ass need from me?” asks Shaft ll of his well-dressed boy.

The plot, as it evolves, becomes negligible. It all has something to do with the underbelly of Harlem involving a support group for war veterans called ‘Brothers Helping Brothers,’ a mosque that may or may not be a front for terrorism, a drug den, and a woman called Bennie (Lauren Vélez) who may or may not be a bad guy, but probably is. You won’t connect the dots as the two generations of Shaft try to work out who is doing what, to whom, and why. In fact, you might simply switch off rather than try to figure where things are heading and just let it all play out. It’s easier that way.

What the film is really about is getting laughs from the differences between son and dad and catching up with how things have changed for both of them since dad left the family unit in 1989. The important thing is, from Shaft ll’s point-of-view, in order to get on in this world and to get things done the right way – something that usually involves committing every human rights violation in the book – his boy needs to loosen up, shed some of that tight-ass whiteness about him, and learn to be a Shaft. When Shaft lll tells his dad he won’t hit a woman, dad can’t understand the difference. “I’m an equal opportunity ass-whooper,” he tells his boy with pride.

It’s not until the final act that the original Shaft turns up. Richard Roundtree as Shaft Sr. arrives for the big gun fetish shootout. There’s no denying the crowd-pleasing moment when all three generations swagger across the street, side by side, accompanied by an arsenal of weapons and that original heavy bass line borrowed from Isaac Hayes’ best-known work of ‘71. They’re there to get the job done, even though you might have forgotten exactly what that job is.

The film doesn’t appear to be particularly interested in plot, so why should you? But you will laugh, probably more than you would expect for a Shaft movie. Lord knows why, but hearing Samuel L. Jackson’s endless tirade of verbal abuse and foul-mouthed insults among the gunplay never grows old. When a computer-challenged dad explains how it is that he has a laptop in his office, he tells his son, “I won it in a game show called Beat the Shit Out of a Piece of Shit Drug Dealer,” then adds, “You get to keep that shit.” Can’t argue with that.  But enough with family reunions.

MPAA Rating: R     Length: 110 Minutes

Posted in Film

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Theatre Review: National Touring Production, ASU Gammage, Tempe

When the 2013 Sam Mendes directed stage musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory first opened in London, the show was well received and ran for more than three years. In fact, it currently holds the record for the highest weekly gross of any production in London’s West End. Once it closed in 2017, the show moved to Broadway, but there were changes.

Several alterations resulted with the removal of characters (a mysterious tramp, Charlie’s father), there was a change of setting, a different open and close, and some of the Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley songs from the popular 1971 film were added to the new Scott Wittman/Marc Shaiman score. Plus, Jack O’Brien took over director duties. The result was mixed reviews at best and a closure after only nine months. But despite the Broadway loss, the show has done remarkably well while touring, proving once again that what doesn’t always work on the Great White Way can do gangbusters regionally. The production now on tour and playing at ASU Gammage until June 16 is the Jack O’Brien version.

Due to the enormous popularity of the Roald Dahl book and the ‘71 movie (perhaps less so with the later Johnny Depp version), it’s probable that almost everyone going in knows the plot and is already familiar with the outcomes. “Chocolate,” Willy Wonka (Noah Weisberg) informs at the opening of the show, “Is the greatest invention in the history of the world.” Curiously, a plot point that was only revealed at the end of the film and came as a wonderful surprise actually begins the show. Wonka is looking for an heir to take charge of his famous factory, and the way to do that is to arrange a global contest for potential inheritors. Five golden tickets are hidden in Wonka bars around the world. Whoever is lucky enough to buy a bar with a hidden ticket will be invited to tour the factory with Wonka as their guide. Once there, the eccentric factory owner will make a decision.

Those four annoying kids, the spoiled brat Veruca (Jessica Cohen), the overstuffed sausage loving Augustus (Matt Wood), the snarky Mike Teavee (Daniel Quadrino), and the anything but a shrinking Violet (Brynn Williams) are all there, ready for their downfall once they step out of line during the factory tour, while the good-hearted and dirt-poor Charlie Bucket (played at certain performances by either Henry Boshart, Collin Jeffrey, or Rueby Wood) and his Grandpa Joe (James Young) obey the rules – for the most part – and enjoy the ride.

The striking element about the production is the design. Individual sets, such as Charlie’s house, the candy store, and the individual areas of the factory itself, slide on and off, but it’s Jeff Sugg’s screen projections and the technology behind the theatre’s electronic frames within frames that grab attention. During act one, a steam train with smoke passes in the background behind Charlie’s shack, and when Charlie’s mom makes a wish and blows it into the air, a shooting star flies overhead as if carrying that wish to its destination. These moments help create a feeling of something magical occurring, but it’s the lavish (and expensive looking) explosion of color that comes in a virtual kaleidoscopic array and the following animation displayed during the second act within the factory walls that audiences will remember.

With a running time of 2 hours plus a twenty-minute intermission, the show is structured so that we never get to see the inside of the factory until the second act, which is another curious narrative element considering that what everyone is waiting for doesn’t come into play until the second half. The first act covers the worldwide chase for the golden tickets and who will win them while circling back to little Charlie’s home life in the derelict shack near the railway arches that he shares with his single-parent mother (Amanda Rose) and his four bedridden grandparents. “Are we still here?” asks a bewildered relative when all four wake up.

The energy and invention of Joshua Bergasse’s choreography are, as expected, first class, while Noah Weisberg’s Willy Wonka is mercifully less creepy and not quite so dangerous as Gene Wilder’s famous big screen portrayal. The character is considerably more humorous, as is the show itself, but with a much needed Roald Dahl styled black comic edge. When Mike Teavee gets impatient with the factory tour, he declares to his host, “Can’t you just kill another kid so I can get to the prizes?” And when Mike’s mother (Madeleine Doherty) hears the Oompa Loompas begin another tune, she cries, “Those little people are singing again. That’s never a good sign.” Though perhaps the best observation, and an appropriate one for members of the press in attendance on opening night, comes from Wonka himself when he says, “No one gets back to normal after they’ve been on TV,” then adds to the audience, “That’s a well-known fact.”

Having not seen how things looked across the pond, it’s difficult to make comparisons between the different productions, but two things are clear: name recognition and familiar tunes clearly make all the difference. Regional audiences are drawn by the name of the musical alone, and it helps that among the new, less memorable songs written for the show that popular classics such as The Candy Man, I’ve got a Golden Ticket, and the magical Pure Imagination are there to elevate matters. Without the emphasis on the attractive electronic visuals, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would seem like a box of plain confectionery. Changes and updates are usually intended for the better, but it does make you wonder what it was about the original Sam Mendes production that garnered the praise, the lengthy run, and the awards, while the newer reworked Broadway version closed early and received zero Tony nominations.

The national touring production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory continues at ASU Gammage in Tempe until Sunday, June 16

Pictures Courtesy of Joan Markus

Posted in Theatre

The Addams Family – Theatre Review: Arizona Broadway Theatre, Peoria

Since its inception in 2009, the musical comedy of the family with a taste for the macabre, The Addams Family, has gone through so many tweaks and changes, depending on the venue, it’s probable that no two stagings were ever quite the same. Out of town tryouts smoothed some issues; an early run in Chicago resulted with more changes; the 2010 Broadway opening dropped much of the Chicago score and replaced it with new songs; while the following national tour restructured things even further, revising songs, re-arranging the orchestrations, and re-writing the book. The whole business concerning a giant squid called Bernice never left Broadway.

The version now playing at Arizona Broadway Theatre in Peoria until July 6 is closest to the revised touring production, which is a good thing. Having seen some of those previous stagings, the appeal of The Addams’ has always felt elusive. The show never worked. Yet somehow, with this new, handsome looking production at ABT, something has finally clicked. It’s as if all the things that were wrong with the musical before have fallen into place. And, of course, name recognition in regional productions means everything.

Make no mistake, The Addams Family will never be great musical theatre. Despite the tweaking and all the revisions, the score remains mediocre and the plot is still basic; it’s like a single episode of the TV show with one major conflict; a dinner party and its aftermath. The show assumes that everyone knows the creepy characters and their various peculiar mannerisms; there’s no backstory or introduction to individual characters or an explanation of how they became who they are. Instead, the book goes straight to the issue at hand.

Young daughter Wednesday (Jasmine Bassham) is in love and wants to marry, but her intended, a young mid-westerner called Lucas (Nick Williams) isn’t quite the sort Wednesday’s parents would welcome into the family. He’s normal. As Uncle Fester (Lionel Ruland) explains directly to the audience, the ghostly family ancestors will not be allowed to return to their graves until true love finds a way. Exactly how those spirits can help is never really clear, but their presence is always there, lurking in the Addams house, forever observing the unfolding events and joining in the songs.

Much of the dialog, while obvious, is still comical. When Gomez (a thickly accented Brad York who appears to be having a ball) and Morticia (a sexy, deadpan Renee Kathleen Koher in her best ABT role) reminisce of their first date when seeing Death of A Salesman, “How we laughed,” responds Morticia. Then there’s the groaner. When the parents reflect on how fast their daughter Wednesday is growing, Gomez adds, “She’ll be Thursday before we know it.” And best of all, when boyfriend Lucas (Nick Williams) explains what he does for a living to Gomez – he’s a medical examiner who enjoys looking inside dead people’s bodies – the head of the Addams household declares aloud with admiration to his daughter, “Where did you find him?

Why this Danny Gorman directed production works as well as it does is a simple matter of style over substance. The premise of The Addams Family isn’t so much a story, it’s a single comic situation that occurs in the first half and ties up all the misunderstandings in the second. But it’s the casting, the energy, Kurtis Overby’s fun choreography, Adam Berger’s excellent music direction, and the show’s overall design that surprises. Nate Bertone’s set, beginning with the decaying, crusty curtains that rise on a fog infested ancestral graveyard then opens up into the massive interior of the Addams’ mansion is outstanding, highlighted by Zach Blane’s lighting design.

Even more important is how much fun the cast itself appears to be having. “Ah, the intoxicating smell of the graveyard,” declares Gomez after a deep breath. Note that the role of Pugsley is played on alternate performances by Aaron McCaskill and Corban Adams. While all male leads are uniformly well cast, including Nicholas Dana Ryland as the zombie butler Lurch, and Mark Woodward as Lucas’ father Mal (“I think we’ve landed in weird city,” he insists upon entering the Addams mansion) the strength of the show is really due to the ladies.

In addition to the curvaceous Koher, Barbara McBain is a funny, feisty Grandma Adams (“My mother?” asks Gomez. “I thought she was your mother!”) while Lynzee Foreman as Alice stops the show with a very funny turn during the dinner table song Full Disclosure, proving that in addition to her top-notch singing and dancing, Foreman is also a talented comedienne. “You want to act like a tool,” she snarls at her husband, “Go and sleep in the shed!” But it’s Jasmine Bassham’s Wednesday that stands out.

The revised script from some of those earlier incarnations during the show’s tryouts now revolves more around the creepy teenager than the other members of the family, and Bassham infuses Wednesday with such appeal, it’s little wonder why an ordinary, likable guy like Lucas would be willing to overlook Wednesday’s weirdness of setting fire to a visiting Jehovah’s Witness and want to marry her. All together now, Da-da-da-dum (snap, snap).

The Addams Family continues at Arizona Broadway Theatre in Peoria until July 6, then moves to Herberger Theatre Center in Phoenix from July 12 until July 28.

Pictures Courtesy of Scott Samplin

Posted in Theatre

The Dead Don’t Die – Film Review

Let’s keep this brief. In director Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die, they really don’t, but you’ll wish they did.

In the small town of Centerville (a nod to Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels perhaps?) where the population totals 738 and the sign reads ‘A Real Nice Place,’ strange things are happening. It’s late in the evening yet it’s still daylight. Watches have stopped and cellphones have lost signals. Plus, as bespectacled Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and equally bespectacled Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) of the local police have discovered, radio contact with other cops is difficult. “Something weird is going on,” says the ever observant Ronnie. “Yeah, weird,” agrees the chief.  Evidently, nerdy black-rimmed glasses are part of the law enforcement uniform in Centerville.

And there’s more. The guy in the red ball cap that reads ‘Keep America White Again,’ Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi) has noticed that his farm animals have disappeared. TV anchors are talking of pets acting strangely, the radio keeps reporting something about polar fracking gone wrong and how it’s affecting the Earth’s rotation even though, as the TV reporter acknowledges, “Fracking has created great jobs,” and everyone at the diner keeps wondering why the sun hasn’t set. “This isn’t gonna end well, Cliff,” warns officer Ronnie.

It all adds up to one thing, of course. Zombies. And it begins with two of them. Sara Driver and Iggy Pop drag themselves up from the dirt then slowly stumble their way out of the graveyard and stagger over to the town’s diner. As with George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Jarmusch’s zombies appear to be drawn towards things or places they remembered when alive. Here the zombies stumble around town mumbling “Snapple,” or “Wi-Fi.” In the case of the first two who have entered the diner, their main interest is “Coffee.” At first, after inspecting the mutilated bodies of waitresses Fern and Lily left behind on the diner floor, Hank (Danny Glover) asks the chief and his officer if it could have been the work of wild animals. “I don’t know,” responds the chief, “But whatever it was, it even smashed the coffee pots.”

Played deadpan throughout, what may have been great fun for Murray and company to film – the lengthy cast of star names are all part of the director’s repertory – is hell to sit through. The po-face humor is initially mildly amusing, but once you realize that the self-referential barbs and the straight-faced elbow to the ribs remarks are not going to get any better, The Dead Don’t Die quickly loses the comic appeal of the trailer and the list of star names on the poster that enticed you into the theater in the first place.

Tilda Swinton plays oddball sword-wielding Zelda with an out-of-this-world payoff to her character that’s meant to come as a surprise but really doesn’t. “She’s strange,” states Officer Mindy (Chloë Sevigny). “She’s Scottish,” responds the chief as if the accent explains everything. And officer Ronnie’s mantra that things are not going to end well has nothing to do with detective guesswork or general morbid negativity. As he states while in the car with his chief, it’s because he’s read the script and knows how the movie ends.

Neither scary enough for a zombie horror nor funny enough for a comedy, the film opens with a shot of Centerville’s night of the living dead cemetery while the underused Selena Gomez and friends enter the town driving a vintage Pontiac Tempest. But in case you didn’t get the movie reference, local gas station worker Bobby (Caleb Landry Jones) nods to the car by the pumps and states, “Super cool ride, by the way,” adding, “Really George Romero.

As a present-day satire with occasional current but pat political overtones, The Dead Don’t Die feels late for the party.  It might be Night of the Living Deadpan, but the joke was over a few movies ago. Despite the film’s title, these zombies are clearly DOA.

MPAA Rating: R       Length: 103 Minutes

Posted in Film

Rocketman – Film Review

My name is Elton Hercules John, and I’m an alcoholic, and a cocaine addict, and a sex addict, and a…” The list continues, including, but not limited to, addictions to prescription drugs, weed, and a problem with bulimia. Plus, there’s the issue of shopping. He just can’t stop. And at this point in his life, he really needs help.

In director Dexter Fletcher’s new biographical film presented as a musical fantasy with all the warts, Rocketman is structured as a series of flashbacks told by John (Taron Egerton, who does his own singing) while attending a group therapy session. Looking as if he’s just walked directly off the stage after a performance, the musician, looking distraught, emotional, bursts into the meeting room dressed in full flamboyant concert costume. He pulls up a chair, sits, and proceeds to tell the story of his early life. If he’s wanting to exorcise any demons, he’s wearing the right apparel; flaming sequins, red devil horns, and a pair of large, red-feathered wings.

As with all feature film biographies, Rocketman is a series of highlights, a lengthy trailer to an eventful life jam-packed with conflicts, upsets, highs and lows, where certain events are either condensed or, due to how well Elton John’s life is already documented and known by fans, glossed over or not mentioned at all.

The film’s tone of fantasy is established the moment the first song begins. From within the seated circle of his group therapy, looking back at himself as a young boy, Elton, then Reggie Dwight, starts The Bitch is Back as the confines of the group meeting area opens up and becomes the streets of the northwest London town of Pinner where young Reggie was raised. The song develops into full film musical mode as friends and neighbors dance and join the boy in an exuberant big-screen take of the 1974 song.

Through memories related to everyone seated at the Alcoholics Anonymous styled meeting, Elton recalls his life as a boy, living with his not-so-bothered mum (a curiously cast Bryce Dallas Howard with an excellent north London working-class accent), his caring grandmother (Gemma Jones) and an emotionally absent dad (Steven Mackintosh), Elton recalls the challenges of just trying to be happy.  “When are you going to hug me?’ the boy asks his father, whose every word to his son sounds like a scold. “Don’t be soft,” he dad replies. And while seated at the kitchen table flicking through the pages of one of mum’s fashion magazines, his dad sternly orders him to, “Stop looking at that. You’re not a girl.

Rocketman may be a jukebox musical, but the film’s approach is not a simple case of having the catalog of known hits shoehorned in to fit an appropriate moment. This is that big screen rarity; a fully-fledged, old-fashioned movie musical where the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of all characters, not just its lead, are expressed through song and dance. The 2001 hit I Want Love begins as an emotional response by Elton as a little boy after another cold rebuke from his dad, then joined by his mother, his father, and his grandmother, as each gives voice to what they feel is missing in their lives.

Late at night, when sitting up in bed, the boy, his head now filled with the future possibilities of music, imagines himself conducting a full symphonic orchestra to a classical arrangement of Rocket Man, with young Reggie playing a solo on the piano. Occasionally, original lyrics are tweaked to fit the moment. When the song is later repeated, Elton, now heavily stoned on drugs and booze, sinks to the bottom of a swimming pool, he sings underwater of his loneliness and how things have changed, but instead of “… I miss my wife,” the line becomes, “… I miss my life.”

Early advice from an American singer becomes something Elton, still known as Reggie, takes to heart. “You’ve got to kill the person you were born to be to become the person you want to be.” In order to break free from the constraints set by family life, the budding musician takes those words to heart, beginning with the changing of his name to something a little more rock ‘n roll. The ‘Elton’ part paid homage to saxophonist Elton Dean (Evan Walsh), though the film alters the story behind the choice for his second name. In reality, singer Long John Baldry was an early mentor of Elton’s – the song Someone Saved My Life Tonight is dedicated to the blues singer – but due to the economy of time and writer Lee Hall not having to introduce a whole new character to audiences just to give sense to a reference, Elton glances at a picture of The Beatles hanging on the wall and focuses in on John Lennon.

The film covers Elton’s rise with lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), the Dirt Brown Cowboy to Elton’s Captain Fantastic, including their success and the wretched excess that followed. From a fan’s point of view, the most interesting moments surround the creation of the songs, as when Bernie hands Elton the lyrics to Your Song; it’s only moments before the musician has already formed a tune, underlining Elton John’s extraordinary talent. Plus, when Elton performs Crocodile Rock at LA’s Troubadour, there’s a moment when his feet leave the ground in slo-mo as if both he and his career are about to take flight, reflected by the appreciative and packed club audience whose feet also rise above the ground, ready and willing to take the ride with him. Like the opening number performed in the cul-de-sac of little Reggie’s London home, the Troubadour performance displays another moment of musical exuberance.

But as often happens in rock star musical biographies, once Elton’s life, his homosexual relationships, the booze, the drugs, and the unrestrained, wealthy lifestyle takes its toll, the film, like Elton’s career, spirals down. After a great opening and middle act, the film never fully recovers in the final third. There are no references to Elton’s love of soccer or his ownership of the Premier League team Watford Football Club (though he gets a header with a soccer ball during Honky Cat) and audiences never get to know his band where musicians like Nigel Olsson, Dee Murray, and Davey Johnstone played such a huge role in the creation of Elton’s albums. You don’t leave the theatre in quite the upbeat way that you might have done with the film that is guaranteed to draw comparisons, Bohemian Rhapsody (also directed by Fletcher once the film’s original director was dropped; you know the story), but Rocketman is an altogether different film with a different style. There’s no emotionally overwhelming Live Aid concert to conclude matters on a musical high, though there is a recreation of the music video I’m Still Standing, which basically sums up the musician’s current state of a happy existence and proves a positive moment on which to end the tale.

Maybe I should have been more ordinary,” the man reflects at the group meeting. Perhaps, but then Reggie Dwight would never have become Elton John, and we would be robbed of some of the greatest pop/rock work ever. Yes, full disclosure: I’m a fan, a huge fan, and I cherish those early albums. Rocketman may not fully deliver – frankly, for personal taste, I’m not entirely sure I wanted a thorough ‘R’ rated warts-’n-all version of the man’s life; being aware was enough – but at least, up until that final twenty minutes, under director Fletcher’s guidance, the film is a genuine musical crowd-pleaser, elevated further by Egerton’s surprising showstopping form as Reggie, the boy from Pinner who went on to become a cat called Hercules.

MPAA rating: R      Length: 121 Minutes

Posted in Film

Godzilla: King of the Monsters – Film Review

When a film leaves no impact, then a few years later a sequel follows, playing catch up while you watch can be difficult; you’re never quite sure what the characters are talking about. In the new early summer release, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, a sequel to the 2014 adventure called simply Godzilla, things are doubly confusing.

For the film’s first thirty minutes, characters you feel you should already know but can’t recall are standing around in groups, gathered together in poorly lit control rooms.  They’re either typing frantically into keyboards, staring at computer readouts, trying to figure out what Ken Watanabe as Japanese scientist Dr. Serisawa is actually saying, or looking at each other with dread while discussing all kinds of urgent-sounding issues regarding the unleashing of the monstrous Titans and the ecological damage they’re all causing around the world. “There are disasters (happening) that we don’t even have names for at this time,” declares Admiral Stenz (David Strathairn).  And while they’re all trying to work out what’s going on, so are we.

To make matters more confusing, characters not in the previous film talk about their story so far and how that last outing five years ago with Godzilla, king of the ‘B’ movies, affected them. Try as you might, you won’t remember Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) or his ex-wife, Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) from the last film, even though they talk about the roles they played in it. Evidently, their young son died while Godzilla was stomping the streets, and it’s an event that has understandably caused heartache, not to mention a family separation. But when the family backstory is revealed mixed in with all the other urgent sounding scientific babble, it’s as if it’s meant to be information we should already know, the kind mentioned casually to jog a few movie memories and to bring plot points up to speed. The thing is, the Russell’s were never in that last film, they just feel as though they were, and their family story only adds to the ever-mounting cacophony of the film’s first act.

Emma is the co-inventor of a machine called the Orca, a sound device that can be carried like a laptop. Through recorded sound waves, the machine enables communication with the Titans. It might even control them. But Dr. Emma’s ex-husband and co-inventor, Dr. Mark, is not so thrilled with the machine. “It shouldn’t even exist!” he insists. But it does, and now it’s in the hands of bad guy Colonel Alan Jonah (Charles Dance), once a British Army officer and now a murderous eco-terrorist who intends to unleash all the Titans and let them roam rampant on the earth’s surface. The dastardly colonel has also kidnapped Dr. Emma and her spunky daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown in her first film), which is why Emma’s ex is now involved. Only he knows what can be accomplished with the sonar Orca machine.

The ideas behind the former military colonel wanting to unleash all the monsters have something to do with saving the planet. By allowing the monsters to kill and destroy cities while they battle each other is all part of a leveling-the-global-playing-field master plan. He believes that mankind has ruined the planet. Bringing back these monsters will set things right again. Unfortunately, even though there’s an appearance of being kidnapped, Dr. Emma is actually on the same wacky page – “We are the infection,” she states – which now gives the film not one but two principal villains.

In his demented way, the colonel wants to make the world right by sacrificing everyone else, while the doctor wants the Titans to be able to roam freely. With the aid of her Orca machine, she might actually control them. She even believes that some of the giant creatures might be benevolent, including the deadly three-headed Ghidorah, referred to as “Larry, Moe, and Curly,” by the snarky Dr. Rick Stanton (Bradley Whitford). The best and most appropriate line that makes any sense is given to Millie Bobby Brown who looks at her nutcase mother and simply states, “You’re a monster.

If watching unbelievably huge, fire breathing, snarling creatures stomp over cities, destroying everything in their paths while constantly battling each other in a seemingly never-ending series of fights is what you’re there for, then this film is definitely yours. You’ll ignore the stupidity of the plot and the irrational behavior of the characters. Maybe you won’t even mind the film’s constant murky look where all the monster fights take place during thunderous, dark rainstorms, occasionally brightened up with explosions of blinding light. And you’ll possibly have no trouble with the frantic editing, thinking that actually not being able to see anything is all part of the chaotic you-are-there excitement. But others will, and should. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is an awful film.

MPAA rating: PG 13         Length: 132 Minutes

Posted in Film