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Shin Godzilla (2016)

First things first: Shin Godzilla is here! There’s a new Japanese Godzilla film currently playing theaters in the United States and it is pretty spectacular. With a franchise that has lasted over six decades and twenty nine films, audience members will obviously approach it with a wide variety of expectations, so it’s best to know going in that it is a film much more in the vein of the original Godzilla (or 1984’s The Return of Godzilla) than the sillier alien invasion epics that characterized the 60s & 70s. It’s a film with seriousness of purpose, with the most frightening depiction of the title monster in the entire franchise (with the possible exception of the original). But it’s also a deeply eccentric film, with a strain of satire running throughout, and extremely propulsive and idiosyncratic filmmaking choices that render a talky, procedural story breathlessly involving (it’s the Contagion or Apollo 13 of Godzilla movies, or The Martian if Matt Damon was roughly 35 stories high and oozing radioactivity). The story is certainly familiar to fans of the genre, but the presentation can be dizzyingly unfamiliar. Presented in this country with subtitles, it’s an incredibly dense film, with whip fast dialogue (sure to be too talky to some) sometimes fighting for room with other onscreen text (including a running gag where every character with a line is identified by name and title/rank/governmental position, including some characters who get multiple titles as their position changes during the story). It’s a very political film, with some material that will be easily grasped by western audiences and some material that will (and, no doubt in my case, did) fly over their heads. Oh, and the monster sequences are beautiful, thrilling, and full of images that left this Godzilla fan’s jaw on the floor. So, that’s the short of it. Go see the movie! But there’s a lot more to talk about. So, if you want to go deeper, let’s get to it.

(NOTE: I’m going to talk about the story of the film in some detail below. But I’m only going to put another big spoiler warning before I discuss some details about the film’s depiction of Godzilla himself because there was some stuff there that genuinely surprised me!) Continue reading Shin Godzilla (2016)

Godzilla: King of the Hollywood Trends

For one week, starting today, fans in America and Canada will be able to see Shin Godzilla, the first new Japanese Godzilla movie in twelve years. The film was a smash hit this summer in its native country, and is already proving controversial (mostly sight-unseen) with western fans for both its politics and its portrayal of the title monster. While controversy is certainly not new to the series, its existence surrounding the twenty-ninth(!) entry offers promise that there is still room to try something new as Godzilla enters his seventh decade on screen.

One area that Shin Godzilla seems to be striking new ground in the series is that it is apparently a completely fresh start, establishing its own continuity and not functioning as a sequel to any prior film. That’s right, Shin Godzilla is a reimagining/remake/hard reboot/what-have-you. It’s all the more surprising that his hasn’t happened before when you look and see that so many of the other storytelling trends that Hollywood studios have been chasing over the last fifteen years have been well covered in the Godzilla series. Godzilla wasn’t always there first, but he was usually there early, and I needn’t tell you how big those footprints are.
Continue reading Godzilla: King of the Hollywood Trends

TRACK MARKS: “Kiss” by Prince

In April of 2001, the struggling Arizona Top 40 radio station 104.7 ZZP  was getting ready to relaunch as 104.7 KISS-FM. The station’s format was undergoing a transition from Mainstream Top 40 to Rhythmic Top 40, and the change would be punctuated by three days of “stunting.”  Stunting is a common radio practice of abruptly airing something unusual, often used when stations change formats or owners as a way of generating listener interest and publicity. From 6pm on April 20th to noon on April 23rd, 104.7 would play Prince’s “Kiss” on a loop.

I didn’t know any of this radio business background at the time. And I didn’t even really know much about Prince. Sure, I’d seen the Batman movie with his music, missed this Animaniacs joke going right over my head as a kid, and knew Purple Rain was a thing that existed, but I didn’t have particularly cool musical tastes and couldn’t have told you much beyond that. I’d flip around hunting for songs I liked on the radio, but I didn’t buy many albums or go see much live music. What I did do, as a high school senior in Apache Junction, AZ, was go to the park on weekend evenings to goof off and play racquetball with friends until the park closed. Then maybe we’d go back to my folks’ place and bake some cookies before watching a movie or SNL. I was Not Cool, I wasn’t particularly self-conscious about that, and this isn’t a story about how Prince changed my life or anything. But one thing that was really special about him was that he made a world that was cool and sexy and kind of dangerous accessible to even a square kid sitting in the parking lot at Prospector Park, listening to that song one more time (okay, maybe two more times) before getting out to play.

I left the dial tuned to 104.7 that entire weekend. “Kiss” is pretty immediately arresting, with its stripped down arrangement, that jangly guitar lick right before the last word in the chorus, and Prince’s slippery falsetto lead vocal. It was so different, and I admit I genuinely wasn’t even sure at first whether I was listening to a man or a woman. The song is funky as hell and doesn’t even have a bass line. It also felt sexier than anything I’d ever heard on the radio, and he was mostly just singing about getting a kiss.

I don’t know how many times I listened to that song in those three days, but I do know I was genuinely disappointed on April 23rd when the world went back to normal.

The Frankenstein Studies: Frankenstein (2016)

OK, Nathaniel, it’s time to talk about this Frankenstein 2016 redo that’s just come out on Blu-ray. I really should’ve sent this movie over to Rob and Sabrina with the probably foolish hopes that their contributions to the discussion could keep us from devolving into Josh Hutcherson fan fiction and analysis of the comic strip Luann, but we’ll do our best. This is such a new version of Frankenstein that it hasn’t even been added to the Wikipedia page of Frankenstein In Popular Culture (if you’re the one who updates this, please do), and it’s pretty stripped down. I’m sure some of that has to do with its direct-to-video origins, but I did see some value — perhaps more theoretical than actual — in doing up a “modern-day Frankenstein story” on pedestrian-looking city streets and sets that look a bit like redressed high school basements. Did the low-budget angle work for you, the Frankenstein enthusiast?

Yeah, I’m often skeptical of that kind of low-budget (and modern day) approach for stories like this. But here, in restricting the adaptation and point of view primarily to the portions of the story where the creature is off on his own learning the ways of the world, they found a way in to the story that actually feels fresh for a while, and kind of appropriate spending tons of time in vacant lots and empty irrigation canals or whatever generic concrete-and-chainlink environs they shot in. It’s definitely an immersive approach, dropping you right in with a POV camera and little in the way of exposition. And I dug the way that, since this version of the creature remains pretty inarticulate, they incorporated some of the text of the novel as voiceover (or at least voice over clearly meant to invoke the novel, since some seemed tailored specifically to what we see onscreen and I didn’t have a copy on hand to compare it). But placing us so fully in the creature’s perspective, and extending his “cast out & beset upon by the cruelty of the world” period to make up the entirety of the film, ended up making it feel punishing to me. The grubby grisliness of it all (and how about the gore in this movie?) makes for some pretty memorable imagery, but it also ends up a little monotonous. And it felt a little weird rubbing up against the numerous homages to the Karloff films. Xavier Samuel really goes for it (perhaps because we watched this shortly before the Academy Awards, it brought to mind DiCaprio playing another revenant, at least in terms of drooling, screaming, and dirt eating), but he’s no Karloff. So the winky stuff made me miss the pathos of Karloff’s performances as the last half hour of the film heaped even more misery on the monster. Did that bother you at all? Or did that stuff even read as specific homage anymore?
Continue reading The Frankenstein Studies: Frankenstein (2016)

HALFTIME REPORT: Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

With Halftime Report, your good friends at revisit some of their favorite films from the first half of this decade.

Hang me, oh, hang me. I’ll be dead and gone.
Hang me, oh, hang me. I’ll be dead and gone.
Wouldn’t mind the hanging, but the laying in the grave so long
Poor boy, I’ve been all around this world.

In 2013, Inside Llewyn Davis was met by film fans with an enthusiastic array of reactions that has become fairly familiar for a new Coen Brothers film (particularly the films they’ve released since 2007’s No Country For Old Men). There’s the poring over their meticulous technique, the debates about where the latest film ranks among the brothers’  oeuvre, speculation about how much the film can be read as personal expression by the famously puckish filmmakers, the debates about how despairing or cynical the film’s worldview truly is AND the attendant speculation about how much of that is sincere and how much is a joke on audiences. This last one is something of an evolution of the charge levied against them from the beginning of their career that they hold their characters (and possibly their audience) in contempt. Like A Serious Man, with its story about midwestern Jews in the 1960s that gave critics the purchase to finally analyze a Coen picture with an eye to their biography, Inside Llewyn Davis‘s story of a man adrift after losing a close friend and artistic partner offered a critical approach that allowed people to sidestep whatever lingering questions they still have about the Coens’ sincerity. Here was a movie working through the guys’ feelings about an imagined scenario where one of them died, leaving the other to muddle on alone. It’s a pretty satisfying reading of the film, and it suggests that we can perhaps also map the movie’s take on art, commerce, and the life of an artist as a similarly personal exploration by a couple of filmmakers who have a strange and interesting outsider relationship with Hollywood. But watching it now, after those initial conversations have subsided, I was struck by the way that it employs a classic Coen Brothers shaggy dog comedy of errors structure to tell their most emotional story, crystallized in perhaps the most devastating moment in any of their films. Continue reading HALFTIME REPORT: Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

HALFTIME REPORT: Four Lions (2010)

With Halftime Report, your good friends at revisit some of their favorite films from the first half of this decade.

It’s become part of the conventional wisdom about Paddy Chayefsky’s great 1976 satire Network that modern viewers will miss the comic exaggeration in its depiction of a craven and amoral American media landscape. The darkly absurd predictions it makes about ratings-hungry producers and networks have been rendered commonplace (or even quaint) by reality in the last four decades. I had this in mind when sitting down to watch the woefully under seen terrorism comedy Four Lions again for the first time in a few years. I figured the character comedy would still work, but I wondered if the recent horrifying attack in Paris and incredible brutality of ISIS, along with their bizarre success in recruiting westerners, would render the film’s group of buffoonish Al-Qaeda dead-enders similarly quaint or outdated. Continue reading HALFTIME REPORT: Four Lions (2010)

HALFTIME REPORT: Attack the Block (2011)

With Halftime Report, your good friends at revisit some of their favorite films from the first half of this decade.

For monster fans, creature design in the 21st century has been something of a mixed bag. Digital animation has freed designers from the shackles of the human form, limitations in terms of textures and fur, and even the bounds of physics altogether. In order to provide a grounding in reality for all these pixels, designers and animators often talk about looking to real animals for physiognomic principles and behavior. Reality is the goal, and much effort is expended in simulating the way joints interact or how skin stretches across muscles. This is maybe best exemplified by Neville Page’s muscly multi-limbed creatures for movies like Cloverfield, Super 8, Avatar, and Star Trek. But these impressively realistic creatures often place an emphasis on the Real over the Iconic. It seems silly to use a word like mundane when discussing such weird and impressive creations, but these creatures (with the feelings of sameness they can sometimes inspire) can miss that special charge that a truly iconic monster design can carry. Obviously, creating an iconic monster is much easier said than done, but it’s still worth celebrating when somebody pulls it off. And the aliens in Attack the Block, with their uncanny movements and simple-but-clever silhouette-and-glowy-bits aesthetic, stand out as the best of the decade so far. Using an inspired blend of suit acting (with invaluable work by movement coach and performer Terry Notary) and animation (both to enhance the puppetry and to create the aliens’ inky black, almost two dimensional look), Attack the Block‘s monsters are still so great they’re nearly enough to make it one of the best films of the 2010s on their own.

But watching the film in 2015 America reveals greater relevance than even a few years ago. The film is set in south London and directly addresses the specific cultural ways that young, mostly black, kids who live in council estate tower blocks (Americans, think housing projects) are vilified, and the societal issues at play are startlingly universal. After the opening, a mugging that wouldn’t be out of place in any reactionary genre movie from decades past, with a gang of black kids menacing a pretty white woman, it’d be easy to imagine the version of the movie that kills off these thugs in a pre-title sequence to establish the threat. Instead, when Moses and his gang run into the building where they’ve cornered a mysterious creature, they aren’t just slaughtered off-screen but instead emerge victorious, establishing a very different dynamic for the rest of the film. Instead of just following the story of the gang’s victim, Jodie Whittaker’s Samantha (a nurse who lives in the same tower block as the kids), the kids emerge as the heroes of the film. Cornish and his actors do a wonderful job of humanizing these characters, making them funny and hugely lovable without ignoring or excusing their worst behavior. This simple extension of empathy and respect feels almost radical when viewed in an America where we’ve had a truly horrible number of opportunities to witness the awful spectacle of the American news media greeting each new police shooting of an unarmed black guy with attempts to determine just how much the deceased had it coming based on their thuggish appearance or potential criminal background. The understanding and mutual respect that develops between Samantha and Moses is even more moving in this context, as is the conversation the kids have speculating about the government having “bred those things to kill black boys.” It’s not the case, but getting to know these kids we can see why it would feel like a possibility to them.

While it feels a little frustrating watching Attack the Block now knowing that Joe Cornish hasn’t yet directed another feature, there’s some solace in seeing ads for Star Wars: The Force Awakens that feature John Boyega front and center. His performance as Moses, which has that movie star thing of combining real acting and seemingly effortless charisma even when he spends so much of the film not saying much, marked him as a young actor to watch for anybody who saw Attack the Block in 2011, so it’s gratifying to know that a much bigger audience is about to see what he’s got.

Why I Love Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Quick, name your favorite “part four” in a movie series. For every Conquest of the Planet of the Apes or Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol or Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, there’s a Jaws: The Revenge or Batman and Robin or Terminator Salvation. It’s a tricky thing to pull off (maybe trickier still after the Star Wars trilogy created a template for shaping your movie series in sets of three), but studios still try it out with some regularity. Just this year, moviegoers can run out to see George Miller’s foray back to the Wasteland (with Tom Hardy filling in as Max Rockatansky in lieu of Mad Mel Gibson), followed weeks later by a fourth trip to Jurassic Park, and – at the end of the year – a return to that Galaxy Far, Far Away (the seventh Star Wars film, but the fourth to feature our old friends Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, and Han Solo). With those high profile (and much anticipated in the old offices) fourth movies due out this year, what better time to make a case for a much maligned Part Four that I happen to really like. Continue reading Why I Love Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Best of 2014

Here it is, you’re one stop place to see all of’s Best of 2014 posts!


We wrote about 14 of our very favorites here, including not-so-usual suspects like We Are the Best! and Obvious Child.

Our very favorite movie of the year, The Grand Budapest Hotel, deserved its own write-up.

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies was never in contention for our Best Of list, but it does have the most variety in animals that are ridden, so we did a podcast about it.


We counted down the top ten best TV shows. This year will be remembered as a year of comedy!

We provided alternatives for those who are so sick of hearing the rest of us gush about our No. 1 pic.

We noted that Comedy Central has really been living up to its name lately.

We lamented that no one else was watching Peaky Blinders (well, at least one of us complained about that).

We recorded a podcast about The Newsroom. How that show smarmed its way into a best-TV round-up is anyone’s guess.


We crowned St. Vincent’s St. Vincent as the best album of the year, doing a track-by-track analysis of her greatness (and also a quick study of her magnificent hair).

We also celebrated four other albums as the best of the yearTeeth Dreams by The Hold Steady, The Voyager by Jenny Lewis, Complete Surrender by Slow Club, and Lost in the Dream by The War on Drugs.

We called out the best-of-the-best, our very favorite songs from our very favorite albums, including “Blue Moon” by Beck,  “Goshen ’97” by Strand of Oaks, “Nothing but Trouble” by Phantogram, “Lazerray” by TV on the Radio, “Seasons (Waiting on You)” by Future Islands, “Your Love Is Killing Me” by Sharon Van Etten, and “Lights Out” by Angel Olsen.

We stumped for our favorite songs that didn’t come from our favorite albums, including “I’m Not Part of Me” by Cloud Nothings, “Bury Our Friends” by Sleater-Kinney, “Water Fountain” by tUnE-yArDs, “Mr. Tembo” by Damon Albarn, “Lariat” by Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, “Bright Eyes” by Allo Darlin’, “Backseat Shake Off” by The Hood Internet, and “Scapegoat” by The Faint.

Is there a Spotify playlist for all this?” you ask. Of course there’s a Spotify playlist.


Rob picked out the best of ourselves, with his favorite contributions from the gang here at