Earth's mightiest beasts come to blows in a chest-thumping blockbuster: BRIAN VINER reviews Godzilla vs Kong

 Godzilla vs Kong (12a) 

Verdict: Needs a big screen 


The notion of an irresistible force confronting an immovable object has excited storytellers for centuries, and now we have Warner Brothers to thank for abbreviating it to Godzilla vs Kong. We can doubtless expect this film title to pop up in the context of sport, politics, business and heaven knows what else for years to come.

In truth, it is not the first cinematic showdown between the Hairy One and the Scaly One. They first squared off in the 1962 Japanese film King Kong vs Godzilla.

This latest blockbuster, too, should have been well behind us by now, but not even Godzilla and Kong together were a match for the Covid-19 pandemic.

The notion of an irresistible force confronting an immovable object has excited storytellers for centuries, and now we have Warner Brothers to thank for abbreviating it to Godzilla vs Kong

The notion of an irresistible force confronting an immovable object has excited storytellers for centuries, and now we have Warner Brothers to thank for abbreviating it to Godzilla vs KongThe original November 2020 release was postponed; shortly after that Warners became the first Hollywood studio to snarl openly at the cinema industry, declaring that all their 2021 movies would be made available, on the day of release, to stream at home.

With Godzilla vs Kong, that policy might yet bite them where it hurts. On the other hand, box-office returns so far, where box offices are open, are looking healthy. Plainly, this is a film that needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible, so unless you have one that covers the living-room wall, I'd recommend hanging on until cinemas re-open.

As for the story, it's the usual formulaic nonsense, contriving a way for Kong to emerge from his rainforest-covered Pacific island, and Godzilla from the ocean depths, mainly so they can both start flattening skyscrapers. But, for once, America's great cities are spared. This time it's a Hong Kong ding-dong, as if that benighted former colony didn't have enough on its plate.

Rebecca Hall plays Ilene Andrews, an American scientist whose cute, deaf, adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle) has a unique rapport with Kong. Jia is the spiritual successor to Fay Wray in the 1933 classic King Kong: the pretty female who shows that a big, soft heart beats beneath that gruff exterior, even when Kong goes, well, ape.

Godzilla's fundamental decency is less easy to recognise, especially once he is provoked into an orgy of destruction by a fiendish corporate conspiracy, behind which lurks a powerful U.S.-based cybernetics company called Apex.

At the suggestion of another scientist played by Alexander Skarsgard, Kong is duly removed from Skull Island to help overcome the titanic lizard on behalf of all humankind.

He is sedated and transported on a suitably enormous ship, taking care not to venture into Godzilla's known territorial waters. Nor, presumably, through the Suez Canal. That's not a vessel anyone would want stuck.

For reasons both too complex and too silly to get into here, there is also a plan to reintroduce Kong to his ancestral home at the planet's very core, the entrance to which is in Antarctica. I expect director Adam Wingard and his writers would have quite liked to call this place Middle-Earth. That being taken, they have settled for Hollow Earth, which, as it happens, turns out to be something of a subterranean Jurassic Park.

In fact, knocking off ideas from other blockbuster franchises doesn't stop there. Soon there are Star Wars-style high-jinks going on, too, as futuristic aircraft whizz around in a flurry of special-effects which, like everything else in this film, are diminished by the small screen.

Meanwhile, in a parallel narrative, a spirited teenager (Millie Bobby Brown) and her hapless friend (Julian Dennison) team up with a snooping conspiracy theorist (Brian Tyree Henry).

In terms of the plot, the trio's aim is to uncover the shady goings-on at Apex.

But for the audience, more significantly, their adventures are intended purely to provide some kind of comic relief. In this objective they are only intermittently successful, just as Godzilla vs Kong as a whole (and this needs reassessing when it hits the big screen) roars loudly but lacks teeth.

  • Godzilla vs Kong is available on premium video-on-demand platforms now.

This gritty Guantanamo drama deserved an Oscars nod 

The Mauritanian

Verdict: Imperfect but powerful 


Minari (12) 

Verdict: Sweet, but overhyped


Kevin Macdonald, the Scottish director of The Mauritanian, can consider himself and his film well and truly snubbed in the recent Academy Award nominations.

It's a surprise, because his picture not only has irreproachable credentials in the liberal breast-beating department, it also has Academy favourites Benedict Cumberbatch and Jodie Foster. To be more precise, 30 years after The Silence Of The Lambs, it has Jodie Foster going back into a high-security prison to interview an inmate. It really ought to be a nailed-on Oscar contender.

Still, Macdonald, whose impressively eclectic credits include the brilliant 2003 documentary Touching The Void and the awards-festooned 2006 drama The Last King Of Scotland, and who is himself descended from movie royalty (his maternal grandfather was the great Hungarian-born filmmaker Emeric Pressburger), has the consolation of a raft of Bafta nominations, as well as a Golden Globe for Foster.

Better still, he has made an indubitably powerful (though not perfect) film.

Jodie Foster and Tahar Rahim star in a film about a man called Mohamedou Ould Slahi held in Guantanamo bay

Jodie Foster and Tahar Rahim star in a film about a man called Mohamedou Ould Slahi held in Guantanamo bayIt is based on the 2015 memoir Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, compellingly played by the French actor Tahar Rahim (pictured). Slahi was a 30-year-old electrical engineer who, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, was transported from his native Mauritania to the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba, folksily known in military circles as 'Gitmo'.

Slahi was suspected of having been Al Qaeda's key recruitment officer. Unhelpfully for him, his cousin was Osama bin Laden's spiritual adviser.

As his CIA captors try to get him to confess, the film chronicles Slahi's enduring torment, which includes some truly outlandish forms of torture. Along with more conventionally barbaric tactics, he is sexually assaulted by a female soldier wearing a nightmarish cat mask. He also suffers 'removal of bodily function privileges', one of those bizarrely coy American euphemisms that reached peak absurdity in another Gitmo 'procedural', the 2019 film The Report, in which a prisoner was forced to 'go to the bathroom on himself'. But never mind linguistic niceties. Subjected to these indignities, and many more, Slahi confesses.

However, where there is Foster, there is hope. Sporting a scary blow-dry and an even scarier slash of scarlet lipstick, she plays his lawyer, Nancy Hollander, with Shailene Woodley as her junior. Their adversary is military prosecutor Stuart Couch, played by Cumberbatch with good ol' boy Southern vowels.

In his briefing, Couch is told that 'this guy is the Al Qaeda Forrest Gump . . . everywhere you look, he's there'. That's all he needs to know. Moreover, he was friendly with one of the pilots murdered on 9/11.

He is determined to enforce the death penalty, which he has no problem reconciling with his strong Christian faith, until he starts finding evidence to suggest that maybe Slahi is a lot more sinned against than sinner. In fact, maybe he never sinned at all.

With the help of flashbacks, Macdonald keeps all this rattling along with pace and verve, but as a story it needs more nuance, making it more of a thriller and less of a moral statement. Nevertheless, it is superbly acted and I still think Rahim and Foster should be in the Oscars running.

n MINARI is the absolute opposite, up for more baubles than it really warrants. It arrives on streaming platforms preceded by a mighty reputation — no fewer than six Academy Award nominations, and lots of extravagant praise — but in my view it is undeserving of the momentum it continues to generate.

It's a slow-moving, nicely observed, largely autobiographical film by writer-director Lee Isaac Chung, about an immigrant South Korean family settling uncertainly in rural Arkansas in the Eighties.

There is tenderness, poignancy and slightly forced comedy in the story of Jacob Yi (a nice performance by Steven Yeun), an engaging paterfamilias who works hard to establish a small farm while holding down a job in a chicken-sexing factory with his wife, Monica, and trying to keep her, their two children and newly arrived mother-in-law all happy in challenging circumstances.

To buy wholly into the story, as many clearly have done, you need to find Monica sympathetic rather than tiresomely miserable (I didn't), and the grandma whimsically hilarious rather than persistently irritating (I didn't).

That said, the lovely cinematography makes the most of the wide-open landscapes, and it's a relief to find the locals broadly welcoming, not overwhelmingly hostile. A pleasant enough film, but by no means a great one.

  • The Mauritanian is available now on Amazon Prime Video. Minari is on digital platforms from today, and in cinemas from May 17.

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.