With the release of GODZILLA VS. KONG (2021) right around the corner, what better way to celebrate than to feast your eyes on an image from the original Kong vs. Godzilla rumble, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962).

Any way you slice it, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA— at least the American dubbed version— is one silly movie. Yet, I loved it as a kid, and truth be told, I still love it as an adult! It has lots of comic relief— “my corns!”— , memorable characters— who can forget Tako?— and of course, the biggest title bout of the 1960s that didn’t involve Muhammad Ali!

If you love giant monsters, especially King Kong and Godzilla, you would be hard-pressed not to enjoy KING KONG VS. GODZILLA. Both monsters fare very well in this flick, and since this was still an early Godzilla movie, he hadn’t quite made the change to good guy superhero monster. He’s still the villain here, and the Godzilla scenes, especially early on, are quite good.

Kong doesn’t do as well, at least in the looks department. For my money, Kong in this movie is the worst looking King Kong ever in the movies! He is absolutely ridiculous looking! That being said, he does enjoy some fine scenes.

The best of course, and the best scenes in the movie, are the battles between Kong and Godzilla. And there are two of them. The first is brief, almost a teaser, but the second is well worth the wait. It’s one of the better giant monster skirmishes ever put on film, although it’s not my favorite Godzilla battle. There are some in the series which top this one.

And if you’ve seen the movie, one of the more indelible images is the pagoda, which Godzilla and Kong absolutely pummel towards the end of their bout. While nowhere near as memorable as the image of the Empire State Building in the original KING KONG (1933), it still makes its mark. I can’t think of KING KONG VS. GODZILLA without picturing that scene pictured above.

Another reason KING KONG VS. GODZILLA is a silly movie, which fans have known for years, is that the original Kong stood about 40 feet high, while Godzilla towered at 400 feet high. Kong grew a few inches for this movie. He also developed a re-charging tool courtesy of the Frankenstein Monster. See, in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, Kong gets strength when he’s zapped by lightning! Imagine that! Lightning pretty much kills the rest of us, but for Kong, as they say in the movie, it’s like spinach for Popeye! And Kong needs the extra strength, because as we all know, Godzilla breathes radioactive fire, and so after he zaps Kong with this, nearly killing him, thankfully, mother nature intervenes and strikes Kong with some lightning, and the wrestling bout continues!

I love the power writers wield. Hmm. Kong will never survive Godzilla’s fire…. wait, lightning, that will do it. Lightning will make him stronger. Who knew?

And while I am fairly excited about the new GODZILLA VS. KONG, and I will definitely watch it, I have to admit, I just haven’t enjoyed any of the new Godzilla or Kong movies. They’ve all lacked soul and personality, and they simply haven’t been fun. Worst of all, they’ve all suffered from really bad scripts.

So, I fully expect GODZILLA VS. KONG to be pretty bad, or worse, mediocre. I always go in with an open mind, so I’m hoping I will be pleasantly surprised.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying looking back and thinking fondly on the original battle between these two behemoths, featured in the silly yet satisfying KING KONG VS. GODZILLA.

With that in mind, I eagerly await GODZILLA VS. KONG.

May the best monster win!


COMING 2 AMERICA (2021) – Eddie Murphy Sequel Amiable But Not All That Funny


COMING 2 AMERICA (2021) has “2” things working against it.

It’s a sequel, and it’s a comedy.

I’m telling you, the hardest movies to make these days are comedies. Good ones are really hard to find.

That being said, this sequel to COMING TO AMERICA (1988), a John Landis comedy which starred Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, while it struggles to be both funny and tell a worthwhile story, it at least remains playful throughout. I had fun watching COMING 2 AMERICA. I just didn’t laugh all that much.

COMING 2 AMERICA, available now on Prime Video, reunites Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall in a movie for the first time in thirty years, as they last starred together in HARLEM NIGHTS (1989). As a big fan of Eddie Murphy, he’s the main reason I wanted to check out COMING 2 AMERICA. I remember liking COMING TO AMERICA back in 1988, although I wouldn’t list it as one of my favorite Murphy movies. And Murphy was outstanding in the recent DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (2019), a Netflix original which I thought was Murphy’s best work in years. While I didn’t expect the same quality here in this sequel, I was excited to see Murphy in a movie again all the same.

And that’s pretty much how COMING 2 AMERICA played out. As a movie, it’s okay. The fun was watching Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, as well as Wesley Snipes, Tracy Morgan, John Amos, and James Earl Jones on screen. All of these folks have their moments, although none of these moments are all that uproarious.

The story told in COMING 2 AMERICA is rather simple and not terribly important, other than a nod to equality for women here in 2021 which was nice to see but predictable.

Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) becomes King Akeem of the African kingdom of Zamunda when his father King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) passes away. And he rules this kingdom with his wife Lisa (Shari Headley) and their three daughters, which poses a problem for Akeem. He needs a male heir to take over the throne after him. When he learns he has a bastard son living in America, he decides to return there to find him. So, Akeem and Semmi (Arsenio Hall) return to New York and there find Akeem’s son Lavelle (Jermain Fowler) who agrees to return with them to Zamunda, where he learns the ways of becoming a prince. Meanwhile, in the film’s only relevant moments, Lisa attempts to point out to Akeem that he was the one who was supposed to make sweeping changes in the kingdom but instead has become like his father and changed nothing, and she points out that their oldest daughter has been training her whole life to succeed her father in leading the kingdom, but he has bypassed her because she’s a woman. As one would expect in a comedy sequel, these words do make their mark on Akeem and he eventually comes around to 2021 thinking.

Again, COMING 2 AMERICA is likable enough, but it just isn’t all that funny. By far, the funniest parts are the barbershop scenes, where both Eddie Murphy and Arsenio hall reprise their old barbershop characters from the first movie. These scenes are funny, very funny, but there’s only a couple.

Eddie Murphy is enjoyable to watch, but the role hardly gives him anything to do. In fact, he’s almost the straight man throughout to other characters’ antics, and Eddie Murphy as the straight man to others’ comedy is never a good thing. If you want to see Murphy really strutting his stuff, you want to check out DOLEMITE IS MY NAME.

Likewise, Arsenio Hall’s moments are also few and far between. The same can be said for Wesley Snipes as General Izzi, who had never made a movie with Eddie Murphy before DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, and now he’s appeared in two movies with Murphy in two years.

Tracy Morgan probably fares the best as Lavelle’s uncle Reem. Then again, Morgan can just stand there and by his presence alone crack me up. Morgan made me laugh quite a few times in this movie, even though he’s been far funnier in other roles.

Jermaine Fowler gets lots of screen time as Lavelle, and most of the movie involves his character as he struggles to become prince. Fowler is very good, and Lavelle is a likable character, but like the rest of the movie, not all that humorous.

Leslie Jones does enjoy some fine funny moments as Lavelle’s mother Mary, and Shari Headley adds class to the story as Akeem’s wife and queen Lisa. Nomzamo Mbatha, Bella Murphy (Eddie Murphy’s real life daughter), and Akiley Love all do well as Akeem’s daughters.

Kiki Layne delivers one of the best performances in the film as Meeka, the woman who is tasked with helping Lavelle learn how to become a prince, and of course the two characters fall in love.

Screen veterans James Earl Jones and John Amos also each have their moments. You can’t go wrong with the cast in this one. Heck, even Morgan Freeman shows up!

COMING 2 AMERICA was directed by Craig Brewer, who also directed DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, which is a far superior film to this one. Not that it matters much, since this is a comedy, but the CGI effects here aren’t very good, both on the African animals which clearly look fake, and on scenes where Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall are made to look younger.

Kenya Barris, Barry W. Blaustein, and David Sheffield wrote the screenplay, and all I can say is if I wanted to make a funny comedy, I wouldn’t be hiring these guys. Not based on this screenplay, anyway.

COMING 2 AMERICA is an amiable comedy sequel that simply isn’t funny enough to justify a glowing recommendation, even with the likes of Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall in the cast. At the end of the day, it’s just all rather subpar.

Which, unfortunately, is just….

…2 bad.




I am a huge King Kong fan and have enjoyed pretty much every King Kong movie ever made, with the exception of KING KONG LIVES (1986), which in spite of the presence of Linda Hamilton, was pretty awful.

That being said, I just don’t like KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017).

Now, I know I’m in the minority here, as most folks are really high on this flick, but for me, it just doesn’t work.

The biggest culprit, as is so often the case, is the writing. The screenplay by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly is a snooze. The dialogue is rather bad, and the characterizations pretty much nonexistent.

I saw KONG: SKULL ISLAND when it first came out in theaters. I didn’t like it then, but I thought I’d give it another go for the purposes of this column. I still don’t like it.

For starters, the film takes place in the 1970s for seemingly no other reason than to show off Vietnam era soldiers and choppers on Skull Island. While it may make for some moments of cool cinematography, it adds nothing to the story.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND also wastes the considerable talents of its impressive cast, which includes Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, and Shea Whigham.

Bill Randa (John Goodman) sets out to lead an expedition to Skull Island in search of… well, the movie doesn’t really make that clear. Remember the old days when Carl Denham just wanted to make a movie, and then changed his mind when he saw Kong? Why can’t we have clear, concise, and simple plot points like that anymore? Ah, the good old days, when film writing was king! Sorry, Kong. Yes, Kong. I realize in a column about a King Kong movie you’re the only one who should be mentioned as king. Anyway…

Getting back to my point about the writing and character motivations, heck, even Charles Grodin’s Fred Wilson had an agenda in the 1976 remake of KING KONG, as he was looking for oil. Like the rest of the script in KONG: SKULL ISLAND, Randa’s motives remain murky and undefined. He’s looking for a giant monster because…. mumble, mumble, mumble. Yeah, that’s it! That’s the reason! Which is a writer’s code for not really having a good reason in the first place! Grrr!!!

Anyway, Randa assembles his team, which includes a tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and a photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), as well as a military escort led by Prescott Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) who is still bristling over the results in Vietnam. As a result, when Kong quickly makes short work of some of his men, Packard declares war on the giant ape and sets out to kill him.

The bulk of KONG: SKULL ISLAND follows Randa and his merry band of explorers as they deal with various carnivorous creatures as well as Kong himself, which all sounds much better than it really is.

Again, the biggest culprit is the screenplay. We know so little about these characters it’s difficult to care at all about them. Compared to the 1933 KING KONG, where we had Carl Denham trying to make a movie, Ann Darrow abducted by Kong, and Jack Driscoll falling in love for the first time in his life with Ann, the folks in this story have nothing going on that is as interesting. Worse yet, the dialogue is awful.

The direction by Jordan Vogt-Roberts isn’t any better. KONG: SKULL ISLAND plays like KING KONG MEETS TOP GUN, as that’s the kind of depth you have in this flick.

Then there’s Kong himself. Kong has always been larger than life in his movies. Like Godzilla, Kong has a personality and a presence. In short, he’s a major character in his films. And even when he is at his most brutal, he still is sympathetic. The Kong in this movie struggles to have any personality whatsoever. He’s the most uncinematic Kong yet.

The special effects are okay. I’ve seen better, and I’ve seen worse. The creatures on Skull Island, while fairly original, never really wowed me. I think because, like the human characters, they’re stuck in a lifeless soulless movie.

Is KONG: SKULL ISLAND as bad as KING KONG LIVES? No. But that’s not saying very much.

If you want to experience the horrors of Skull Island, you’d best stick to the original KING KONG. That film’s Skull Island’s scenes remain as intense now as they were back in 1933. The events in KONG: SKULL ISLAND pale in comparison.

Some have called KONG: SKULL ISLAND “mindless entertainment.”

I call it just mindless.


TYGER TYGER (2021) – Drug-Induced Love Story Example of Style Over Substance


TYGER TYGER (2021) is a perfect example of style over substance.

The film is beautifully shot by writer/director Kerry Mondragon and features a frenetic style that is both captivating and mesmerizing. Visually, this movie commands attention.

But in terms of story? That’s an entirely different matter all together.

In TYGER TYGER, a young woman Blake (Sam Quartin) and two of her friends rob a pharmacy for drugs. There is an unnamed pandemic wreaking havoc across the world, and Blake and her friends are stealing the drugs in order to distribute them to people who need them. During the robbery, a young man Luke (Dylan Sprouse) attempts to escape but is stopped, and when he is confronted by Blake, they share a moment. Later, Blake and her mute friend Bobby (Nekhebet Kum Juch) kidnap Luke in order to give him the prescription they stole from him during the robbery, but it turns out Luke is a drug addict who was selling the drugs.

The three of them then travel to a bizarre town where they are supposed to meet the contact who will distribute the drugs for them. But finding this person proves to be an ordeal, since the town is occupied by people who are either on drugs or wanting them.

That’s the plot of TYGER TYGER, and it actually sounds better here than it is. When the film opens, with the robbery scene captured with kinetic camerawork, there’s a vibe that is reminiscent of GOOD TIME (2017) and UNCUT GEMS (2019), two exceptional movies by writer/directors and brothers Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie. Those films both contained insane frenetic stories and camerawork, and the suspense and stress levels were off the charts as the films progressed. That’s not the direction taken by TYGER TYGER, which is more concerned with the relationship between Blake and Luke than its drug storyline. It’s basically a drug-induced love story.

Now, if there’s one thing that TYGER TYGER does well, is it definitely takes the viewer on a ride into a drug filled world, and the result is you really feel as if you are high as a kite and hallucinating while you are watching this flick. The whole thing plays out like a drug induced dream, which in fact, ultimately it is.

But for a story guy like me, the lack of a strong narrative here doesn’t do this movie any favors and really prevented me from liking this one all that much. Again, style over substance.

So, Kerry Mondragon scores higher as a director than a writer here. The film is a visual triumph, but its story struggles to get off the ground.

It also has a good cast. Sam Quartin is easily likable as the selfless thief who robs only to give to those in need. Her feelings towards Luke also come off as natural and real.

Dylan Sprouse is solid as Luke, the drug addict who Sam falls for. He also carries with him the poem “The Tyger” by William Blake, which is what the film’s title TYGER TYGER refers to. And Nekhebet Kum Juch shines as the quirky and sad mute Bobby.

The film is full of oddball characters who all make their mark in different moments in the film. There’s the slimy and scary Joe (Craig Stark), beautiful and mesmerizing Emerald (Thea Sofie Loch Ness), and the hypnotic and edgy Eggzema (Barbara Palvin), to name a few.

TYGER TYGER strives for deep philosophy on the human condition, but succeeds on the level of such a discussion when high on a mind altering substance. It’s the kind of thing that come the next morning you’re not likely to remember. Unless of course you opt for a second viewing.

And with such a threadbare story, that’s not something I have any interest in doing.


MOXIE (2021) – Teen Comedy Drama Has Moxie


MOXIE (2021) has moxie

MOXIE, a new Netflix original movie, directed by Amy Poehler, with a screenplay by Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer, based on the novel by Jennifer Mathieu, tells the story of a shy high school girl who rebels against the male-dominated culture of her school by creating a zine and eventual movement called Moxie that empowers and gives a voice to the girls at her school.

You can add this film to the ever increasing list of quality coming-of-age teen comedy dramas about high school girls navigating through uncertain times, films that include LADYBIRD (2017) , THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (2016), and BANANA SPLIT (2020). The script is full of poignant, moving moments that resonate, as well as some funny ones. Where MOXIE falls short is its ending, which becomes too neat and tidy, dealing with the serious topic of rape in a rather superficial way, which nearly sabotages the whole film because it almost trivializes the subject. But its heart is in the right place, and it’s hard not to really like this amiable, timely comedy drama.

Vivian (Hadley Robinson) and Claudia (Lauren Tsai) have been best friends since elementary school and now find themselves navigating through their junior year of high school, which mostly means keeping their heads down and ignoring what they view as simply annoying behavior by a lot of the boys at their school, behavior that includes publishing a list every year ranking the girls on various topics, such as “best butt” and “most bangable.” But when a new girl Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena) enrolls at the school, and refuses to back down to the aggressive behavior of handsome jock Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger), her behavior strikes a chord in Vivian. Lucy tells Vivian that she chooses to hold her head up high, not down like Vivian, and she adds that Mitchell isn’t just annoying; he’s dangerous.

Even though Vivian does not get along at all with her mom Lisa (Amy Poehler) she still manages to find inspiration in stories of her mom as a teenager and how rebellious she was. So, Vivian begins to anonymously publish a zine called Moxie, which surprisingly to her, catches on with the girls at her school, and the next thing she knows, she has created a movement, but it’s a movement that Mitchell and his friends do not take kindly to. And as Vivian and the girls find out, the rules at the school heavily favor the Mitchells of the world.

MOXIE isn’t perfect, but it largely succeeds in what it sets out to do, mainly because the screenplay by Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer is really, really good. There are a ton of moments that really work in this one. The dialogue is sharp and lively throughout, the characters authentic, and the situations realistic. For the most part. The best part is that Chestna and Meyer get the relationships right. The dynamic between Vivian and her mom Lisa works throughout, as they do not get along, and while Lisa continually tries to get closer to her daughter, she seems less perturbed by the chasm in their relationship than Vivian, which is a fresh take on this dynamic.

Vivian and Claudia’s friendship is poignant throughout and takes on the subject of race and culture, as Claudia is Asian and feels tremendous pressure to do right by her strict Asian mom who has worked hard to overcome racial obstacles in her own life. Then there’s the first love relationship Vivian has with Seth (Nico Hiraga), who seems to be the only boy sympathetic with their cause. The dinner scene between Vivian, Seth, Lisa, and Lisa’s date John (Clark Gregg) is a keeper. It’s both funny and in a few minutes of conversation, moving, as Vivian lashes out when John asks Seth about physics and she takes offense that he didn’t ask her, inquiring if he didn’t think she took physics because she’s a girl? Which is not what John meant by the question. It’s a brilliantly played brief scene that tackles some serious issues. There are many such moments throughout the film.

Where MOXIE falters is at times things come off as too simple and superficial, which works against what the movie is trying to say, especially the ending, which deals with rape. It’s handled so quickly it really doesn’t do the topic justice.

Hadley Robinson is very good in the lead role as Vivian. She’s the right combination of shy introvert, angry rebel, and eventually unexpected leader. Alicia Pascual-Pena is also excellent as Lucy, the new girl who’s refusal to back down sparks Vivian’s Moxie movement. Lauren Tsai is also moving as Vivian’s best friend Claudia.

Nico Hiraga is sufficiently sensitive as Vivian’s first boyfriend Seth, while Patrick Schwarzenegger nearly steals the movie as the golden boy jock Mitchell who seemingly can do whatever he wants. Schwarzenegger is the son of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver. He delivers a very memorable performance here.

Amy Poehler makes the most of her scenes as Vivian’s mom Lisa, and nearly every scene she’s in is a good one. And Marcia Gay Harden is also memorable as the very annoying Principal Shelly. She trivializes the girls’ concerns at every turn, and whether she intends to or not, she empowers the sexist cruel behavior of the boys, by falling back on the notion that as long as the boys aren’t breaking school rules, everything is fine.

I also enjoyed the way Amy Poehler directed this one. It is an energetic film from start to finish. It grabbed me in its opening moments with a creepy dream sequence, and then dove right in to its coming of age storyline.

While I can find fault with certain aspects of MOXIE, like the fact that its school depiction is rather broad and cliche, what it has to say about the treatment of girls by sexist boys is far too important to nitpick about. Is every male a monster? No. Are there males out there like Mitchell? Absolutely! Just like there are plenty of boys like Seth. Are there schools as poorly run and as blind and deaf to the plight of their female students as the school depicted in this one? Yes. Just read the news. And while there are most likely more schools that are better run than the one in this movie, that’s not the point. The point is that the behavior depicted in this movie should never be tolerated. Never.

I liked MOXIE a lot. It’s funny, yes, but more importantly, it covers a serious topic and does a tremendous job doing it, even with a too tidy superficial conclusion. And the reason it works so well is it is chock full of moving, memorable moments that will have your eyes tearing up, because that’s what happens when real people in real relationships pull for each other and stand up for each other.

With MOXIE, Amy Poehler has delivered the real deal.


LITTLE FISH (2021) – Love Story Amidst Deadly Virus Tells Somber Realistic Tale


With a pandemic now a universally shared experience, it’s relatively easy for a film like LITTLE FISH (2021) to resonate so effectively with today’s audiences, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a really good movie. It is.

LITTLE FISH is the story of two twenty-somethings Emma (Olivia Cooke) and Jude (Jack O’Connell) who meet, fall in love, and get married, but unfortunately for them, it’s at this same time that a deadly disease breaks out across the world, one that robs people of their memories until they eventually forget everything. When Jude begins showing symptoms, Emma rallies to save her husband, but as they find out, it’s seemingly a losing battle.

The “little fish” in the title refers to identical tattoos Emma and Jude have on the their ankles, a symbol of their relationship, since when Jude proposed, he didn’t have a ring, and so Emma said “buy me a fish.” So, they bought a goldfish, and later memorialized the moment with the tattoos.

LITTLE FISH resonates both with its pandemic angle and its memory loss disease, which mirrors Alzheimer’s, except in the movie, the disease affects people of all ages. Sometimes it happens over time, but for others, the memory loss is much quicker, sometimes instantaneous.

LITTLE FISH tell a somber love story. It has a sharp screenplay by Mattson Tomlin, based on a short story by Aja Gabel, that creates two realistic characters, thrusts them into a believable tragic situation, and then leads the audience on a journey of hope that in their guts they know is a long shot at best. The dialogue is also on target. Tomlin also wrote the screenplay to the recent Netflix sci-fi actioner PROJECT POWER (2020) about a pill that gives humans super powers and starred Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I liked LITTE FISH much more than PROJECT POWER.

The two main characters Emma and Jude are expertly acted by Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell. In fact, I was first interested in this movie because I enjoy Cooke as an actor and wanted to see her latest project. Cooke was a regular on the above average TV show BATES MOTEL (2013-17), also playing a character named Emma, and she was also memorable in a pair of horror movies, Hammer Films’ THE QUIET ONES (2014) and OUIJA (2014).

As expected, Cooke is outstanding here as Emma. She and Jack O’Connell get most of the screen time, and so it’s important that they have some chemistry, and they do. They genuinely seem like a couple in love and theirs is a moving love story. As things continue to grow worse, things become more painful, because you just don’t want to see these things happen to them.

And there are a lot of painful things. They sign up for a controversial cure which Jude learns is not a medicine but a surgery where a needle is stuck directly into the brain. This changes Jude’s mind about taking part in this trial run, but later when his symptoms get worse, he changes his mind only to find out he’s now been rejected for surgery. Instead, using a video posted online by a doctor, they debate whether to try the procedure at home.

They also witness their best friends Ben and Samantha going through the same ordeal, and in that relationship, things come to a head when Ben doesn’t recognize Samantha and attacks her with a butcher’s knife, mistaking her for an intruder.

And later, when Emma begins exhibiting symptoms herself, the situation grows almost unbearable.

Even though this one is a slow burn, director Chad Hartigan keeps it compelling enough throughout. I never lost interest.

There are a lot of memorable moments. Jude takes to keeping photos of Emma handy with her name on the back so he knows who she is. When he leaves home he needs his address written down so he doesn’t get lost. Memory tattoos become a thing, as people take to having relevant information tattooed on their bodies.

The film is also neatly framed from beginning to end, with opening shots and closing shots that bring the story full circle.

LITTLE FISH impressed me throughout. It’s definitely worth your time. But you will want the tissues handy.

It’s somewhat of a tearjerker, and I suspect tears will flow, enough perhaps to fill a fish bowl.