Godzilla to the rescue, 2 films about pets

By Tom Von Malder | Sep 02, 2019
Photo by: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Godzilla faces off against King Ghidorah in "Godzilla: King of the Monsters."

Owls Head — Godzilla: King of the Monsters (Warner Bros., Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 131 min.). This overstuffed sequel to 2014’s “Godzilla” relaunch as part of the Legendary Pictures-produced “MonsterVerse,” along with King Kong, has moments of wonder and some thrilling historical tie-ins, as well as a lot of monster – they are called Titans in the films – battles. It fares less effectively with its human characters, although several are brought back from the first film.

The core family is the Russells, with dad Mark (Kyle Chandler) and mom Emma (Vera Farmiga) now divorced and apart for three years, as it is five years after their son Andrew was killed during the Titan battle that ended “Godzilla.” Daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown in her feature film debut) is hanging with Mom, but Mom now has some bad new friends. Having developed ORCA, sort of a Titan controller/communicator that uses their own sound waves, Emma is working with the secret Monarch agency, headed by Charles Dance as ecoterrorist Alan Jonah, to awaken many of the Titans. Jonah feels mankind is the planet’s disease and the Titans will correct things by wiping out much of humanity.

Directed by Michael Dougherty (“Krampus,” “Superman Returns”), the film brings out the long-absent Godzilla to battle King Ghidorah, the three-headed dragon, which the film implies may be extraterrestrial, and Rodan, the volcanic-spawned giant Pteranodon. On Godzilla’s side is Mothra, a giant moth with an almost spiritual quality, but which also can fire beta-wave bioluminescence as a weapon.

Locales range from China’s Yunnan Rainforest, Monarch’s Castle Bravo underwater lair in Bermuda (very reminiscent of a James Bond film), the Antarctic, the Isla de Mara volcano in Mexico and Boston. Ultimately, nearly every location gets destroyed, including Boston’s iconic Fenway Park. We also are shown for the first time, Godzilla’s “re-charging” station in the ruins of an underwater city that just might by Atlantis. (As soon as I saw it, my reaction was, oh no, it is going to be destroyed. Too bad, it would have been wonderful to explore further in another film.)

During the closing credits, there are newspaper headlines about improvements to the ecosystem, but they go by too fast to read. There also is a hint at a return to Skull Island, home of King Kong, which would make sense as the next film will be “Godzilla vs. Kong” in 2020. One of the strong parts of the film is Bear McCreary’s wonderful music score.

The release is packed with extras, starting with an audio commentary by director Dougherty, producer Zack Shields – Dougherty and Shields co-wrote the film -- and actor O'Shea Jackson Jr., who plays Chief Warrant Officer Barnes. The commentary includes shout-outs and homages to earlier Godzilla films, casting, visual effects, Easter Eggs, the on-set experiences, re-shoots, cut scenes, and music and sound design. There also is a four-part look at the film’s main Titans, with brief comments and technical specs (5:43) and a broader making of, “Evolution of the Titans,” that discusses use of motion-capture to give the Titans personalities and how Dougherty went back to the 1998 film for Godzilla’s more impressive-looking back spikes, plus enlarging his claws (27:24). Also very good is a look at Monarch and its various outposts (32:56).

Shorter featurettes look at actress Brown (4:07); Monarch tech (8:34); the MonsterVerse (3:42); two deleted and one extended scene (5:01); and monster stories throughout history (14:18.). Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 4 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

The Secret Life of Pets 2 (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 86 min.). From the wonderful folks at Illumination Entertainment, creators of “Despicable Me” and the “Minions,” comes this sequel in which we humans are let in on what are pets are up to when we are not around. The film, which brings back most of the first’s characters, including “hero” Max (voiced by Patton Oswald, who takes over for the scandal-mired Louis C.K.), is basically three concurrent stories.

In one, Max, who now has to deal with a young child as his owner Katie has met and married Chuck, who had his own big shaggy dog in Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet), and they have had baby Liam, goes off with the family to Uncle Shep’s ranch for a few days. This brings Max’s insecurities even more to the forefront; he already has been taken to the vets and now wears a cone to stop him from scratching due to stress. On the farm is a solid new character, farm dog Rooster, voiced by Harrison Ford (his first animation voice work), who helps prove to Max that he can be more of a hero.

The second story deals with pampered Pomeranian Gidget (voiced by Jenny Slate) being asked to take care of Max’s toy Busy Bee, which she promptly loses as it falls into an apartment filled with a couple dozen cats. Gidget has to go undercover as a cat, after learning the proper behavior from portly Chloe (voiced by Lake Bell), to retrieve Busy Bee. This is the film’s funniest part.

The third story has little bunny Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart) believing he is superhero Captain Snowball. He gets his first job when Shih Tzu Daisy (voiced by Tiffany Haddish) asks him to help rescue Hu, a young tiger being brutalized by its new owner, Sergei (voiced by Nick Kroll; for some reason dressed as if he was the Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wizard of Oz”), who runs a circus. A highlight is when Snowball fights Sergei’s monkey helper, aka Little Sergei.

Each story has its lead character learn that it can do more and be greater than it thought, and all the characters come together for the action finale that is a bit violent for young children.

There are quite a few extras, even though most are short. Best are two mini-movies: “Super Gidget” (3:49), in which she has to rescue Max from a squirrel; and “Minion Scouts” (4:04), in which four of the Minions go to Badger Camp and try to earn merit badges with disastrous results. As usual, the Minions are hilarious. Along with the films is a making-of the mini-movies featurette (4:59). For the main feature, there are four deleted scenes, two of which are unfinished animation (2:19). The film making-of featurette (7 min.) is about facing one’s fears. There are 10 character pods with the voice actors talking about their characters (16:40).

Instructional extras show how to draw Max, Snowball and Chloe (7:40) and how to create a flip-book (4:25), both with Eric Favela, head of story; how to hold a party for pets (7:19); how to give pet massages with three of the voice actors (4:21); and how to train a puppy with Hart (2:28). A motion comic shows further adventures of Captain Snowball (6:32). Other featurettes look at pets with jobs (7:10); the filmmakers’ own pets (5:56); and a pet character “Yule Log” (2:13). There also are two lyric music videos, including Snowball’s mid-closing credits rap video, “Panda,” and “A Lovely Day.” Grade: film 2.5 stars; extras 3 stars

A Dog’s Journey (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 108 min.). This film, which continues the story of heroic dog Bailey (again voiced by Josh Gad), was a struggle for me. It has a very depressing start, is often manipulative and has far too many unlikely coincidences, but I also really liked several of the characters – and in fact was rooting strongly for Trent -- and the film’s emotion and wonderful dogs got to me.

As the film opens, Ethan (Dennis Quaid of “The Intruder”) has married sweetheart Hannah (Marg Helgenberger) and still lives on his Midwestern farm. “Boss Dog” Bailey, a Great Pyrenees Bernese Mountain Dog, is older but still active. Also living at the farm is Gloria (Betty Gilpin), the widow of their son Henry, and her child, CJ (Clarity Jane), born after Henry’s death. Young CJ is played by Abby Ryder Fortson, while older CJ is played by Kathryn Prescott, both of whom are fine. Ethan, at one point has told Bailey to look out for baby CJ, which he does, both in his current life, which is soon to end, and three other reincarnations. However, Gloria – not the best mother, with her drinking problem and later, a parade of boyfriends -- takes CJ away from the farm.

Bailey’s spirit first inhabits cute Beagle Molly (yes, female, even though Gad continues his heavy narration), whom CJ adopts, despite her mother’s dislike of dogs. CJ’s best friend Trent (Ian Chen as the young version; Henry Lau as the older) also adopts a dog. CJ’s character ages/changes actresses as she plays a song; CJ wants to be a singer-songwriter, but she is afraid to perform in public. She also has bad taste/luck in boyfriends and ignores the obvious romantic interest that Trent has in her.

At one point, CJ is given community service and through that, Molly is trained as a cancer sniffing dog – something that, of course, will come into play later (as well as help CJ realize all her dogs were one and the same in spirit). After a really harsh death for Molly, Bailey’s spirit inherits an English Mastiff that lives in Joe’s Quick Stop, setting up a brief encounter with CJ, who is headed off to New York City. Bailey’s next reincarnation is as a very small dog, Max, who manages to find CJ, whose current boyfriend has a big dog named Duke. (Yes, the same names as the two dogs living together in “The Secret Lives of Pets 2.” The films also share the dog’s purpose of taking care of a child.)

Extras include audio commentary by director Gail Mancuso (TV’s “Rosanne,” “Modern Family,” “Gilmore Girls”); nine deleted and extended scenes (10:32; six involve Molly); a gag reel (7 min., with some fun); a look at working with dogs, showing training and tricks (5:35); on dogs as friends and the actors’ own dogs (3:55); the actors talking about their characters (5:13); a bit on reincarnation and death (3:09); and a look at the score by Mark Isham and the piano playing of Emily Bear (3:22). Grade: film 2.5 stars; extras 3 stars

The Sun Is Also a Star (Warner Bros. DVD, PG-13, 100 min.). This appealing urban romance is made very timely by the fact that the female half is about to be deported back to Jamaica along with her parents and brother as illegal aliens, even though they have been living in New York City for nine years. Her father was caught in an ICE raid. The male lead, while legal, also is from an immigrant family.

The girl is Natasha Kingsley, played by Yara Shahidi of TV’s “Black-ish” and “Grown-ish.” She does not believe in romance or love because it cannot be scientifically proven. The boy is Daniel Bae (Charles Melton of TV’s “Riverdale,” who is very much a romantic and would rather be a poet than the doctor his parents intend him to be. They meet on the day Natasha is trying to get her family’s deportation case reopened and Daniel has an interview to get a recommendation so he can attend Dartmouth. In the film’s most overt coincidence, Daniel’s interview is with the lawyer (John Leguizamo) Natasha is trying to see for help.

In addition to her beauty, it actually is a coincidence that draws Natasha to Daniel’s attention. When Daniel wakes up, he writes “deus ex machina” in his notebook. While waiting at Grand Central Terminal he sees the back of Natasha’s jacket, which reads “deus ex machina.” The Latin phrase means an unexpected power or event that saves a seemingly hopeless situation, especially as a contrived plot device in a play or novel, which it literally is here.

The two leads are attractive and appealing and they generally have a wonderful day together, a day that also makes New York City very attractive. We see a little bit of how each immigrant family lives, at different ends of a spectrum. Daniel’s parents own a black hair care store – this leads to a sidebar on the history of the wig trade in South Korea. Daniel also has an older brother (Jake Choe of “Front Cover” as Charles), who is trying to downplay his heritage.

As the pair start chatting – a bit reluctantly on Natasha’s part as she is literally running out of time before deportation – Daniel starts flirting and soon bets Natasha that he can make her fall in love with him by the end of the day. Naturally, the viewer knows he is going to succeed, only the film gets very melancholy towards the end, as it appears they will have just that one day together. That would have been a horrible, but natural ending. However, director Ry Russo-Young (“Before I Fall”) and screenwriter Tracy Oliver (“Girls Trip”) go for a somewhat awkward coda, set five years later. The film is based on the Nicola Yoon novel of the same name and Yoon appears in the short “Love Is a Universe” bonus featurette (2:28). Grade: film 3 stars; extra ½ star

Aniara (Sweden, Magnet/Magnolia, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 105 min.). In this science fiction film, we follow the passengers on Aniara, literally the last spaceship to leave a doomed Earth, as they are knocked off course to Mars by space debris and the guidance control is damaged. The story then centers on the experience of ship’s employee Mimaroben, aka MR, played by Emelie Jonsson of “Gentlemen & Gangsters.” MR oversees Mima, the sentient computer that allows humans to experience memories of Earth. It is very much a spiritual experience and one that becomes more and more in demand as Aniara wanders through space with no hope of finding a destination. During the third year, Mima self-destructs.

Aniara is a wonder, a vast (8,500 meters long) but very flat ship that is like a luxury hotel or a cruise ship. It has 21 restaurants. However, the stored food will last only two months and then have to be replaced by the algae grown on the spaceship. As the years pass, the viewer sees the changes in life on the spaceship. For example, in the fourth year, cults arise and it is noted that 48 suicides occurred within one month.

On a personal level, MR finally connects with pilot Isagel (Biabca Cruzeiro), but their relationship eventually culminates in an emotionally devastating incident. One interesting sequence has the ship maneuver to capture an Earth probe, with the hope it might have fuel and a way to turn Aniara around.

The film’s story originated as a 1956 Swedish epic poem by future Nobel Laureate (1974) Harry Martinson. It was adapted into an opera by Karl-Birger Blomdahl in 1959 and was previously made into a film in 1960. It also has inspired two albums: a 2012 album by Swedish musician Kleerup; and “The Great Escape” by Swedish progressive metal band Seventh Wonder, which contains the whole poem in a 30-minute track. The title comes from ancient Greek ἀνιαρός, "sad, despairing," plus special resonances that the sound "a" had for Martinson.

The extras are minimal: behind-the-scenes looks at visual effects (2:54), production design (2:33) and sound design (2:23); and a conceptual design/art gallery (4:07). Grade: film 2.75 stars; extra 1 star

Star Wars Resistance: Complete Season One (Disney, 4 DVDs, TV Y7 FV, 462 min.). This was the Disney animated series that followed “Star Wars Rebels.” It takes place before and then concurrent with events in the film, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” The story centers around hotshot pilot/would-be racer Kazuda “Kaz” Xiono, who is recruited by Poe Dameron to spy on any First Order activity on the Colossus aircraft refueling station on the ocean planet of Castilon. Accompanying him is his droid, BB-8. The series is inspired by Japanese anime and utilizes a cel-shaded look. There are 21 episodes.

Kaz is voiced by Christopher Sean (TV’s “Days of Our Lives”). Although he is not a very good mechanic, he is assigned to the repair team of Jarek Yeager (voiced by Scott Lawrence of TV’s “Mr. Mercedes”), who, he later learns, fought in the rebellion against the Empire. Other members of Yeager’s team are racer Tam Ryvora (Suzie McGrath) and Neeku Vozo (Josh Brener). A second, final season is slated to begin in October.

Extras include 12 bonus shorts (15:36), which are like deleted scenes; supervising director Justin Ridge and the cast looking at how the show fits into the Star Wars universe and timeline (8:28); and “Resistance Rewind,” a background look at each episode, each about a minute long. There also are audio commentaries by cast members Sean, Myrna Velasco (voice of Torra Doza), Lawrence and Brener for four episodes: “The Higher Tower,” The Platform Classic,” “Bibo” and “No Escape: Part 2.” Grade: series 3.25 stars; extras 3 stars

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