Tag Archives: Manchester by the Sea

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

29 May

‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’: Reunion time for earth-shaking titans, humans underfoot

Image result for godzilla king of the monsters

Who knew that “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” was a Boston movie? I won’t say how much it is, but I will say that the oldest ballpark in the country (RIP Bill Buckner) and that iconic high-rise so eloquently framed in a semi-famous short story by John Updike make it in there – and then some. The Japanese-launched franchise has matured to full CGI fury, improving on the effects in versions from 1998 and 2014 and certainly from its 1950s beginnings, when miniature models of Tokyo were stomped by a man in a rubber suit. (Let’s call those the MIRS years.)

The tagline is the same as in 1956, when American actor Raymond Burr (“Ironside”) lent his American mug to an early Japanese MIRS entry. Here, the film picks up five years from when “Godzilla” (2014) left off, namely the leveling of San Francisco, with all “titans” now neatly in hibernation. Some players from that chapter (Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe) reprise their roles as scientists, appearing before congress to try to derail plans to exterminate Godzilla and the other titans – while in hibernation, a cryptozoological agency known as Monarch has pretty much put all the beasts in an electronic lockdown. We also meet the Russells, a family of Monarch scientists fractured by the loss of their son in the stomping of San Fran. The father, Mark (Kyle Chandler, so good in “Manchester by the Sea” and “Zero Dark Thirty”), unable to cope with the grief, has gone off to film wolves in the wilds, while wife Emma (Vera Farmiga) and daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown, from “Stranger Things”) are nestled in a forest abode near one such titan bunker where they witness the larval birth of Mothra.

Before the flaming pterodactyl Rodan and three-header King Ghidorah – aka Monster Zero – make it into the mix, of course we need some zany zealot to bring down the boom. In this case that’s a former British special ops officer played with charm and menace by Charles Dance, who has had an awakening of his own and sees the only way to right humankind’s environmental wrongs being to raise the titans and let them cull the population. Much philosophical talk is made early on about man being an infection, and the titans something like white blood cells to take care of it. Sure, okay, nothing new: The original Godzilla was an incarnation raised by man’s use of nukes and nuclear energy, so the themes imbued here by writer/director Michael Dougherty seem in line. And a little biorhythm device Emma has made (the thing everybody wants) has the monster-whispering effect that the two thumb-sized Japanese twins had in the old MIRS flicks.

But this is a big CGI flick, seen to good effect as Brazil gets bowled over by Rodan and Ghidorah (which, given all the talk of infections and viruses, sounds even more like an STD) gets awakened from his icy crib. Boston, home of the Russells, hosts a Godzilla-Ghidorah smackdown – and if some of those new high rises in the Seaport irk your aesthetic eye, here’s a shot at some virtual schadenfreude.

The film does what it needs to. The trio of lead actors manage to elicit enough emotion and Godzilla, a hero whose mission and morals are as straightforward as Clint Eastwood’s indelible “Man with No Name,” gets to don the superhero cape, if just for a small while. It’s bang-bang fun that clicks by with smart, rapid pacing, all the while reminding us of just how much a mess we’ve made of this planet.

Ben is Back

14 Dec

‘Ben Is Back’: This addict son’s homecoming takes bad turns from family drama to thriller

Image result for ben is back

It’s a family affair as dad Peter Hedges directs son Lucas Hedges in “Ben Is Back,” an edgy if overwrought melodrama about a family caught in the crosshairs of addiction. Similar material was explored this year in “Beautiful Boy,” a based-on-real-life yarn that worked inner sentiments with solid fervor but somehow failed to kick it over the moon.

The result’s about the same here, but the film moves in very different strokes. For one, “Ben Is Back” is much grittier and edgier in texture and context. The addicted son, Ben (Lucas Hedges, nominated for an Oscar for a “Manchester by the Sea”) makes a surprise return home from rehab as Christmas nears and becomes an immediate source of tension between his mother (Julia Roberts) and stepfather (Courtney B. Vance). His presence is a clear code red. Sure, they’re fearful Ben will use again – but there seems to be something more. Holly (Roberts) puts down some hard rules and Neal (Vance) agrees reluctantly. There are other kids in the house whose welfare is at stake: Ben’s sister Ivy (Kathryn Newton) and Neal’s two children from a prior union. It’s something of a “Brady Bunch,” but there’s no laugh track and nothing funny in what’s to come.

Holly and Neal’s concerns seem a bit over the top initially. Holly won’t let Ben go to the bathroom or try on a shirt in a retail store without her constant supervision. After a group meeting you realize why: Ben’s not only at risk to use again (“all addicts lie,” he forewarns Holly), but was an active dealer in the upstate New York hamlet that’s a harried mix of sugar plum nice and badass vice – the tentacles of which threaten to drag him back in. Neal and Holly’s quaint homestead is soon burglarized, the dog’s gone missing and unsavory sorts start to lurk out from the dark shadows of Main Street. A wonderful life this is not.

By the third act the film shifts into thriller mode – something of a tough-love saga by way of “Breaking Bad.” It’s too bad, too, because the homestead dynamic between the father who bought into this little shop of horrors and the protective mother caught in conflict gets lost. The film comes out of the gate wobbly, and just when it find its feet and we begin to get invested, Hedges the writer and director takes one mean street turn after the next. Only the first few might be plausible.

The fraught chemistry between Roberts, Hedges and Vance sells much of it for a while – the whole ensemble is quite convincing – but what they’re given to work with is palpable, unbridled anger without ownership or remorse. As Holly sees it, her family’s troubles are tied to one person, and when she gets her moment of confrontation, it’s ugly, with little upside. Addiction’s no doubt nasty and impactful beyond the veins of the person using, but bleak tales close to the edge don’t necessarily need to go over it. Sometimes family affairs need to just be more intimate.

Manchester by the Sea

23 Nov
Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck star as exes in Manchester by the Sea

 

Heartbreak and resentment fill nearly every frame of Kenneth Lonergan’s emotionally charged drama that delves into redemption and atonement in ways that are so bleakly real and to the bone, it lingers with you days later — something few movies have done so far this year with the notable exceptions of Moonlight, Loving, and The Handmaiden.

Manchester by the Sea begins with the tedious anguish of unclogging a stopped up toilet. It’s immediately apparent that the handler of the plunger, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), suffers from more than just the stench of the task at hand. Lee’s a quiet inward man who toils as a handyman/janitor in Boston until his brother’s weak heart beckons him back to the town of the film’s title — a 40 minute scoot north —where we learn that Lee had existed before in happier and more prosperous times. The gorgeous seaside town itself becomes a story of two sides, the well-to-do living in stately green-lawned manses while the working class fishermen nestle up in cozy, but cramped cottages along pot-hole marred lanes. Lee’s past there is a ghost he doesn’t want to confront and the cold chalky grey of winter descending poetically underscores his aching dread. Continue reading