Charles Dance

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019, Michael Dougherty)

I wonder if, much like that one immortal monkey divining Borges’s dreams and half-dreams at dawn on August 14, 1934, one could assemble a list of all the action beats in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which are mostly from Aliens and Jurassic Park 1 and 2, and arrange them to figure out the story to this film. Once the film hits the second act, I think it’d be more—I’m forgetting the stuff with Vera Farmiga, which is more out of a Mission: Impossible or James Bond. I’m sure Borges’s immortal monkey could do it, but I guess there is something more to director Dougherty and Zach Shields’s script than just stringing together the action scenes, fitting in the right amount of product placement for the studio (turns out it’s a lot and then a lot times twelve), and making sure there enough possible toys. See, you don’t just get Godzilla merchandise from this one, there’s also the other monsters, plus the stupid giant-sized stealth bomber-thing the good guys fly around in because Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a desperately joyless adaptation of a crappy eighties Godzilla cartoon.

Complete with annoying teen Millie Bobby Brown running around. Brown’s not just a mechanical engineer and accomplice to premeditated omnicide, she also knows how to run a ballpark sound board, which is maybe her most impressive trait.

She’s daughter of mad scientist Vera Farmiga (hashtag feminism), who has betrayed Monarch—the good guys with the giant flying fortress who tell the governments of the world to eat it while they study giant monsters, called Titans because someone wanted a trademark and this Godzilla movie tries as much as it can to forget Japan exists so you know they’re not calling them kaiju—and teamed up with eco-terrorist Charles Dance to release all the giant monsters who will once again rule the Earth.

But Brown’s also daughter of Kyle Chandler, who left Farmiga and Brown because their other kid died in the first Godzilla—unseen and stepped on, confirming it did kill a bunch of civilians but whatever. Chandler lives a simple life with a nineties movies alpha male cottage on a lake where he studies wolves nearby. He doesn’t seem to have a problem with Farmiga raising Brown in isolation at the giant monster facilities around the world.

As bad as you think Dougherty and Shields can get with the script, they somehow manage to go even lower. And not just when they’re reusing quotable lines from Alien and The Abyss. It’s all the time. They’ve got nothing good going on here. Nothing.

Obviously things don’t go well with Farmiga’s plan to give the world over to the monsters because it turns out they used frog DNA in the… sadly, no. Nothing quite so good. They really do just hinge it all on Farmiga’s ability to deliver a mad scientist speech and she fails at it utterly. She’s terrible, Brown’s terrible, Chandler’s pretty bad (his part is written as a Die Hard part for Bruce Willis, which would be amusing if Chandler were acting it that way, but he’s not), Ken Watanabe is downright hacky, Sally Hawkins somehow manages not to know how embarrassed she should look during her thankless scenes but someone doesn’t, which just makes it more embarrassing. Not to mention the stunt cameos.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters, more than anything else, reminds of the first American attempt at a Godzilla, not because of plotting, but because of the film’s inability to tell an honest scene as well as the stunt casting. Zhang Ziyi gets… one hell of a thankless part, but she’s better than Hawkins for sure. Zhang’s as good as it gets in Monsters. Same goes for—shockingly because the part is so atrociously written—Bradley Whitford. He’s got the scientist slash medical doctor slash airplane pilot slash submarine pilot maybe part. It’s a really poorly written part, but Whitford manages not to be too bad. It’s the function of his part to make the film worse—kind of like how, in addition to being terrible, Thomas Middleditch literally has this recurring thing about making O’Shea Jackson Jr. seem either stupid or dickish. Jackson’s playing one of the soldiers, Middleditch is some useless company man (Monsters basically thinks Paul Reiser is the good guy in Aliens), Jackson’s Black, Middleditch’s White, Jackson’s likable, Middleditch’s a dipshit… it’s bad. And weird. Because Middleditch is apparently going to go on to become Chandler’s offscreen bro. They act like they’ve had a big bonding thing throughout, even though they never have any real scenes together because the script’s terrible and no one has any real scenes.

Unless you count the Joe Morton going and looking for someone scene. Joe Morton and David Straithairn somehow get through this one unscathed. And CCH Pounder. It’s very nice to see her in something… especially since she’s in the first scene so you could just turn it off after she’s done.

Also bad is Aisha Hinds. Not sure how much of it’s her fault but whatever her agent convinced her was going to happen because of this part… the agent was incorrect.

Terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible music from Bear McCreary. There’s not even a lot of it. It’s sparse. But ungodly awful when it comes in. The movie ought to give some kind of warning so you can steel yourself.

Umm, what else. The editing’s not good, but Dougherty’s direction is awful so it’s not like there’s much the editors—all three of them—could do. Lawrence Sher’s photography is similarly not noteworthy. Monsters’s “mise-en-scène” is broke—Dougherty doesn’t know how to direct a single scene in the movie, giant monster or not—so what’s Sher going to do to fix it. What’s anyone going to do.

There are a handful of other things—okay, maybe a dozen but then like five things (plus the dozen)—I’d really like to enumerate but I can’t. If I list these silly, silly things, it might encourage someone to watch Godzilla: King of the Monsters because it would seem like you couldn’t not have some kind of fun with the goofy things on the list. I don’t even want to tease them.

So instead I’ll just mention Doughterty’s “Brodie Bruce” type obsession with kaiju banging—Mothra and Godzilla are (apparently unrequited) soulmates but there’s a good chance Monsters is implying Ghidorah bangs Rodan. It comes up in a lousy attempt at a joke but then at the end the plot perturbs in just the right way for it to seem like a thing, even if it’s just the movie being cheap or expedient or whatever.

Once upon a time, Charles Dance wore a t-shirt with “Cheaper than Alan Rickman” on it, referring to his casting in a film. King of the Monsters—the entire production, the entire cast, the entire crew, everyone, everything, every frame—is wearing a “Cheaper than Alan Rickman” t-shirt.

It’s an astonishingly silly movie and it’s mortifying the filmmakers weren’t able to at least make a fun, astonishingly silly movie.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Dougherty; screenplay by Dougherty and Zach Shields, based on a story by Max Borenstein, Dougherty, and Shields; director of photography, Lawrence Sher; edited by Roger Barton, Bob Ducsay, and Richard Pearson; music by Bear McCreary; production designer, Scott Chambliss; costume designer, Louise Mingenbach; produced by Alex Garcia, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Brian Rogers, and Thomas Tull; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Millie Bobby Brown (Madison Russell), Vera Farmiga (Dr. Emma Russell), Kyle Chandler (Dr. Mark Russell), Ken Watanabe (Dr. Ishiro Serizawa), Charles Dance (Alan Jonah), Ziyi Zhang (Dr. Ilene Chen), Thomas Middleditch (Sam Coleman), Bradley Whitford (Dr. Rick Stanton), Sally Hawkins (Dr. Vivienne Graham), Aisha Hinds (Colonel Diane Foster), O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Chief Warrant Officer Barnes), Anthony Ramos (Staff Sergeant Martinez), Elizabeth Faith Ludlow (First Lieutenant Griffin), David Strathairn (Admiral William Stenz), CCH Pounder (Senator Williams), and Joe Morton (Dr. Houston Brooks).


Alien³ (1992, David Fincher)

Alien³ is a strange film. Some of its problems inevitably stem from its post-production issues, but there's also the question of intent. It's three films in one; first is a sequel to Aliens. That storyline takes about an hour. Then it's its own film for about forty-five minutes. Then it's the final film in a series for the last ten or so. Characters move between these phases, but not necessarily subplots and the filmmaking techniques even change.

Disjointed might be the politest description; incredibly messy also works. Gloriously messy might be the best, however, because Alien³ is glorious. Fincher does an outstanding job directing–and his composition techniques also signal changes in the film's phases–with wonderful Alex Thomson photography. But the Terry Rawlings editing really brings the whole thing together. It's a lush, dark, dank film.

All of the acting is great, especially Charles S. Dutton and Charles Dance. Sigourney Weaver is fantastic (of course, it wouldn't work at all if she wasn't). She and Dutton occasionally get some terrible, trailer-ready lines and they push through them. It's in the quieter moments Weaver really shines; it's simultaneously too obviously on her shoulders and just right.

The special effects are fine. The practical ones are outstanding and the production design is phenomenal.

Additional good supporting turns from Danny Webb, Ralph Brown, Brian Glover, Pete Postlethwaite. Paul McCann's good even if he inexplicably disappears (one of those post-production issues).

Great Elliot Goldenthal score.

In pieces, Alien³ is excellent. All together, it's still good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Fincher; screenplay by David Giler, Walter Hill and Larry Ferguson, based on a story by Vincent Ward and characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Terry Rawlings; music by Elliot Goldenthal; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Gordon Carroll, Giler and Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Charles S. Dutton (Dillon), Charles Dance (Clemens), Paul McGann (Golic), Brian Glover (Andrews), Ralph Brown (Aaron), Danny Webb (Morse), Christopher John Fields (Rains), Holt McCallany (Junior), Pete Postlethwaite (David) and Lance Henriksen (Bishop).


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Last Action Hero (1993, John McTiernan)

Though pre-Internet, one can still find all sorts of trivia about why Last Action Hero supposedly failed. Apparently the studio rushed the release, not allowing for editing or proper post-production. That rush might explain why some of the special effects appear far cheaper than one would expect (I’m thinking of the magic beams appearing drawn and the gunfire lacking definition). But those excuses don’t refer to the film’s real problem–the child star in the lead, Austin O’Brien, gives one of the worst mainstream child actor performances ever. Forget the Episode I kid… O’Brien makes you wish someone would run him over just so the movie could stop.

Otherwise, Last Action Hero still isn’t very good, but it’s far from terrible. Michael Kamen’s score is amusing, aping the composer’s other action movie scores. But the score does signal the film’s problem–it’s not really aping Joel Silver movies or most Schwarzenegger movies, it’s aping even lesser works. It’s a Joel Silver movie without Joel Silver. It clearly needed him.

McTiernan’s direction is subpar. He does well with the action sequences, making them exciting against the odds (they’re intentionally absurd and have no dramatic weight)… but when it comes to the emotional, he’s got that awful O’Brien performance and can’t defeat it. The magic stuff is just awful.

It’s too bad because Hero‘s probably Schwarzenegger’s best performance. And Charles Dance is amazing as the villain. His performances alone almost recommends it.

But I can’t. Not with O’Brien’s depthless awfulness.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John McTiernan; screenplay by Shane Black and David Arnott, based on a story by Zak Penn and Adam Leff; director of photography, Dean Semler; edited by Richard A. Harris and John Wright; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, Eugenio Zanetti; produced by Stephen J. Roth and McTiernan; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (Jack Slater), F. Murray Abraham (John Practice), Austin O’Brien (Danny Madigan), Art Carney (Frank), Charles Dance (Benedict), Frank McRae (Lieutenant Dekker), Tom Noonan (Ripper), Robert Prosky (Nick), Anthony Quinn (Tony Vivaldi), Mercedes Ruehl (Irene Madigan) and Ian McKellen (Death).


Scoop (2006, Woody Allen)

Scoop starts out on awkward footing. The film follows Ian McShane’s recently deceased reporter on the boat across the Styx, where he gets a great scoop. McShane’s great and Woody makes the scene a lot of fun. Unfortunately, when Scarlett Johansson and Woody the actor show up in the next scenes, they can’t compare to the McShane scenes. For the first act, Scoop doesn’t work right. Woody can’t decide whether Johansson’s a ditz or not. When she is the ditz, it’s good stuff, the most realistic ditz I’ve seen in a while, but the character alternates during the scenes. Even more, during the first act, Woody and Johansson don’t act well together. At first, I thought it was because I couldn’t separate Woody the actor and Woody the director, but then he started masquerading as Johansson’s father in English society and I was too busy laughing to think about it anymore.

Woody plays a complete jackass, embarrassing the mortified Johansson over and over. She’s being romanced by Hugh Jackman during these scenes, which just makes it more horrifying. From this point, the film gets a lot better, getting itself on a firm narrative. Johansson comes off as less of a Woody muse in Scoop than she did in Match Point (he gives himself just as much to do) and, while appealing, her performance is kind of flat–if they’d been going for the character as a ditz, she’d be great, but they don’t. Woody’s hilarious, fully comfortable now in the non-romantic goof-ball lead. As the possible bad guy, Hugh Jackman’s great. I already mentioned McShane’s great performance…

At ninety-six minutes, I suppose Scoop takes too long before it gets started–and that accelerating isn’t the most pleasant–but it’s steady once it gets going, even getting better as it enters the third act. Still, I prefer it when the “light” Woody Allen films have a little more meat.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Woody Allen; director of photography, Remi Adefarasin; edited by Alisa Lepselter; production designer, Maria Djurkovic; produced by Letty Aronson and Gareth Wiley; released by Focus Features.

Starring Woody Allen (Sid Waterman), Hugh Jackman (Peter Lyman), Scarlett Johansson (Sondra Pransky), Ian McShane (Joe Strombel), Charles Dance (Mr. Malcom), Romola Garai (Vivian), Kevin R. McNally (Mike Tinsley), Julian Glover (Lord Lyman), Victoria Hamilton (Jan) and Fenella Woolgar (Jane Cook).


Alien³ (1992, David Fincher), the assembly cut

So, I guess David Fincher wasn’t that upset about the “Assembly Cut” Fox did of Alien³ for their moronically-titled “Alien Quadrilogy” DVD set a few years ago, because he left his name on it. Fincher’s always badmouthing Alien³ but hasn’t got the balls needed to Alan Smithee a film (like Michael Mann has). Now, was Fincher smart not to reedit the film for DVD? Well, he couldn’t do anything to improve on the existing Alien³ theatrical cut (he’s simply not a capable enough artist), so I guess it doesn’t matter.

I’ve been hearing about this damn cut for years, probably since 1997. Everyone who loved Fincher (from Seven) and thought he was a genius (for Seven!) talked about this magic cut. Most of what’s in this “assembly cut” is in the novelization (I used to read novelizations, then I started listening to film school snobs. I’m not sure which was worse) and none of it helps the film. This cut runs about a half hour longer and includes some different scenes and shit, but mostly it just uses up the viewer’s patience. I need to watch Alien³ the regular version in a few weeks to properly grade it, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t so poorly paced. There’s a full hour of red herring here, which the studio wisely cut the hell out of. Fox was not always a terrible, inhuman studio. That happened, I’m pretty sure, after NewsCorp bought it. According to IMDb, Fincher walked before editing began, which seems to be a good thing, because this “assembly” cut does little but show how much good editing can improve a film.

Now, this cut is and has been lauded around the internet and film snobs (how much of a film snob can you be if you like Panic Room, however) have spewed praise… The fans of this cut think that calling something a “quadrilogy” is an acceptable human practice. I’m not that upset watching this cut–the DVD set was a Christmas gift and it’s not that bad, in the two and a half range, but it was a complete waste of time and did nothing but make me doubt the folks who recommended it.

Alien³, the longer cut, was supposed to be the holy grail of DVD (much like folks hope Warner will do an official, expanded Superman II). Oddly, off the top of my head, I can only think of three or four films that benefit from an expanded cut. The Big Red One, Blade Runner, Touch of Evil (to some degree, it was always great), and then it gets murky. No, wait, Star Trek: The Motion Picture became watchable. Anyway, if anyone out there has the Aussie/UK version of The Last of the Mohicans without Mann’s 2000 tweaks, let me know….

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by David Fincher; screenplay by David Giler, Walter Hill and Larry Ferguson, based on a story by Vincent Ward and characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Terry Rawlings; music by Elliot Goldenthal; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Gordon Carroll, Giler and Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Charles S. Dutton (Dillon), Charles Dance (Clemens), Paul McGann (Golic), Brian Glover (Andrews), Ralph Brown (Aaron), Danny Webb (Morse), Christopher John Fields (Rains), Holt McCallany (Junior), Pete Postlethwaite (David) and Lance Henriksen (Bishop).


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