Best Monster in a Supporting Role: Gary Westfahl Reviews Godzilla, King of the Monsters

Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla, King of the Monsters is not the worst Godzilla movie ever made, and when referring to the American films, that constitutes a high compliment; for after watching the first American Godzilla (1998), I personally thought that it was the worst Godzilla movie ever, until I watched the 2014 American Godzilla (review here) and concluded, somewhat controversially, that it was even worse. Nevertheless, any list of the top ...Read More

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No Devils in the Deep Blue Sea: Gary Westfahl Reviews Aquaman

Yes, I will admit, I would have preferred to see fewer brutal fistfights accompanied by the amplified sound of crunching lettuce and more leisurely attention to the imaginative underwater environments that mostly serve as backdrops for the film’s incessant free-for-falls; and yes, the film would have benefited from some judicious editing to reduce its two-and-a-half hour length to two hours. But overall, Aquaman qualifies as a successful superhero film, persuasively ...Read More

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Practically Imperfect in Every Way: Gary Westfahl Reviews Mary Poppins Returns

Since Mary Poppins Returns was one of those rare films falling within my area of expertise that was of interest to my other family members, I watched it in the company of my wife and granddaughter, and I should report that six-year-old Serena Michelle Kong thoroughly enjoyed the film, explaining that she found it just as delightful as its esteemed precursor Mary Poppins (1964). And perhaps, that is the only ...Read More

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London Rolling, or, The Empire Slides Back: Gary Westfahl Reviews Mortal Engines

I must first admit that I enjoyed Christian Rivers’s Mortal Engines far more than I thought I would, and the film’s first hour definitely qualifies as a marvelous piece of entertainment. Unfortunately, this story about motorized, traveling cities starts to sputter and run out of gas as it progresses, at the precise time when the filmmakers evidently believed that they were ratcheting up the excitement to an even greater level. ...Read More

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One Small Step for a Family Man: Gary Westfahl Reviews First Man

Some people may wonder why a science fiction film reviewer is discussing a completely realistic film about an actual man and his actual accomplishments. But I can offer a simple explanation: I am reviewing, reasonably enough, a remake of the film that won science fiction’s Hugo Award as the “Best Dramatic Presentation” of 1969: namely, “News Coverage of Apollo 11.” (For even though, as I have noted elsewhere, space travel ...Read More

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An Awful Warning, in More Ways Than One: Gary Westfahl Reviews The Darkest Minds

If anyone is glancing at this review for advice on which films to see this weekend, my recommendation would be to avoid The Darkest Minds. For while it is competently executed and offers some superficial novelties, it is a film that most people have already seen several times, and since two similar franchises to be discussed have failed to generate expected sequels, it may be that many filmgoers are growing ...Read More

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It’s Not Over Yet, Baby Blue: Gary Westfahl Reviews Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

No one goes to a Jurassic Park movie to experience brilliant acting performances or profound explorations of complex human relationships; they want to see dinosaurs, lots of dinosaurs, and in its two hours and eight minutes Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom provides more than enough of them. Further, after a slow-paced and meandering first hour that emphasizes the menace of an erupting volcano more than the menace of ravenous dinosaurs, the ...Read More

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Some Modest Blows Against the Empire: Gary Westfahl Reviews Solo: A Star Wars Story

Despite all the negative publicity surrounding the film, I think I actually enjoyed Solo: A Star Wars Story more than Disney’s other recent additions to this venerable franchise. For one thing, in contrast to other Star Wars films, the fate of the entire universe does not hinge upon whether this film’s heroes escape from their latest predicament, so there are no portentous auras to dampen the film’s sense of humor; ...Read More

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Midnight at the OASIS: Gary Westfahl Reviews Ready Player One

Audiences will probably enjoy watching Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, but they won’t necessarily feel proud of themselves for doing so. Rather, they will recognize that they have paid some money to participate in a thrilling, fast-paced, but essentially empty adventure – much like the arcade video games that, in the film, have eventually engendered the immense virtual universe of OASIS.

The film has been faithful to the basic ...Read More

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Once More Out of the Breach: Gary Westfahl Reviews Pacific Rim: Uprising

If you are delayed by inclement weather while traveling to see Pacific Rim: Uprising, do not be overly dismayed, because the film might actually be more enjoyable if you walk into the theater an hour after it has started. True, you will struggle to understand some aspects of the plot, but when you are watching enormous, human-controlled robots (jaegers) battling against loathsome reptilian monsters (kaiju) in brilliantly choreographed sequences ...Read More

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No Wrinkles, and Some Wasted Time: Gary Westfahl Reviews A Wrinkle in Time

When reviewing a film, I’ve always strived to avoid reading anything about it, so I can evaluate the film while untainted by others’ opinions. Today, however, that is no longer possible. In a world where people are starving in Venezuela, and innocent civilians are being slaughtered in Syria, the breaking news each week is the anticipated fortunes of the major films about to be released. So, simply by glancing at ...Read More

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Damaged Goods: Gary Westfahl reviews Annihilation

Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel Annihilation is a magical and mysterious book, and the simplest way to criticize Alex Garland’s film of the novel is to say that it is not a magical and mysterious film. To be sure, director and screenwriter Garland might protest that he did the best he could to convey the essence of VanderMeer’s novel while working within the confines of contemporary Hollywood filmmaking, but the bottom ...Read More

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The Omega Boy: A Review of Maze Runner: The Death Cure, by Gary Westfahl

Although I haven’t read any reviews of the film, I suspect that Wes Ball’s Maze Runner: The Death Cure (simply entitled The Death Cure in the opening credits) will be praised, or condemned, as a routine action film, with a series of exciting, well-executed sequences pitting likable protagonists against impossible odds, stitched together by quieter scenes to advance its plot and develop the characters. In sum, if you like the ...Read More

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The Knack of the Puppet People: A Review of Downsizing

An introductory disclosure: when I was in graduate school, I became the friend, and occasional roommate, of Jim Taylor’s older brother Doug Taylor, and I met and talked with Jim a few times when he was a student at Pomona College. I particularly remember a final conversation when Jim reported that, after graduating, he had moved to Los Angeles to pursue, so far unsuccessfully, a career as a Hollywood screenwriter. ...Read More

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Is It Time to Let Old Things Die?: A Review ofStar Wars: The Last Jedi, by Gary Westfahl

Since Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi contains almost all of the elements that have made the franchise so popular – likable heroes, implacable villains, superb special effects, colorful aliens and robots, the requisite number of space battles and lightsaber duels, and a rousing John Williams score – it will undoubtedly prove enormously successful and thoroughly satisfying to diehard fans. However, as time passes, I suspect that those fans ...Read More

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The Creature Waltzes Among Us: A Review of The Shape of Water, by Gary Westfahl

As has happened before, I face the dilemma of reviewing a film that I have been clearly instructed to like, yet did not actually like. But, one might ask, what is there is dislike about The Shape of Water? It is the work of an author-director, Guillermo del Toro, who has repeatedly demonstrated his knowledge of, and fondness for, science fiction films, as well demonstrated by the excellent Pacific ...Read More

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Six Characters in Search of an Auteur: A Review of Justice League, by Gary Westfahl

Much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed watching Justice League, which can be appreciated as unpretentious fun, featuring likable characters and some moments of genuine humor. To be sure, it is not an ideal film, but the concept of bringing together popular superheroes to battle against common foes is appealing enough to overcome the recurring infelicities that have marred almost all of the recent films in the DC Extended ...Read More

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A Satisfactory Replicant: A Review of Blade Runner 2049

To get the heresy out of the way: I have never been all that enamored of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). Yes, the film is well made and visually stunning, and it certainly stands head and shoulders over all the other, usual lamentable adaptations of Philip K. Dick stories in the three decades after its release. But it remains the prototype for a sort of science fiction film that sadly ...Read More

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“This Is Going to Be a Lot of Fun”: A Review of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

For the most part, I found Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets to be an enjoyable space adventure, deploying consistently dazzling visuals in support of an involving story that never becomes entirely predictable. And while serious issues are intermittently raised, the film is refreshingly unpretentious, in contrast to other recent films, as the director’s primary aim was clearly to entertain audiences, not to enlighten or inspire ...Read More

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The Apes of Wrath: A Review of War for the Planet of the Apes

To my knowledge, there are no announced plans for a fourth film in the recent Planet of the Apes prequel series, and everything about Matt Reeves’s War for the Planet of the Apes thankfully suggests a desire to bring its series to an end as a trilogy. True, much of the film simply carries on the apes-versus-humans saga unveiled in the second film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ...Read More

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A Working Model for Superhero Films: A Review of Wonder Woman

Without a doubt, Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman is the very best of the recent “DC Extended Universe” superhero films – yet the praise doesn’t mean as much as it should, inasmuch as its undistinguished precursors – Man of Steel (2013 – review here), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016 – review here), and Suicide Squad (2016 – review here) – set the bar very low, to put it mildly. ...Read More

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Contractual Obligations: A Review of Alien: Covenant

In contemporary Hollywood, the announced information about a film often conveys an implied contract – a covenant, as it were – between filmgoers and filmmakers: if you buy a ticket to see this movie, you are guaranteed to experience certain desired forms of entertainment. Thus, a picture with the word “Alien” in its title, directed by Ridley Scott, promises potential viewers that they will observe numerous images of H. R. ...Read More

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Back to the Retrofuture, Version 2.0:A Review of Ghost in the Shell

by Gary Westfahl

One personal revelation garnered from watching the new, live-action version of Ghost in the Shell is that it is possible to admire a film without really liking it. Director Rupert Sanders and screenwriters Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, and Ehren Kruger have unquestionably crafted an intelligently-written, fast-paced, and visually stunning adventure, and as the events unfolded, I kept thinking that I should be enjoying the experience. Instead, I ...Read More

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Mutiny of the Unknown Alien Slime: A Review of Life

by Gary Westfahl

From one perspective, Life represents yet another example of a recent Hollywood trend that I find heartening – a renewed interest in realistic depictions of humanity’s probable future in space (which I term “spacesuit films”) that contrast sharply with the appealing fantasies of the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises. The film takes place on the actual International Space Station, and it involves a long-researched project – ...Read More

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Bungle in the Jungle: A Review of Kong: Skull Island

by Gary Westfahl

Kong: Skull Island actually begins quite promisingly, as we are introduced to a diverse and generally appealing cast of characters, and they gather together to journey to the mysterious Skull Island and confront the enormous, and initially hostile, King Kong (also glimpsed in a prologue). One briefly imagines that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has finally achieved what John Guillermin (in 1976) and Peter Jackson (in 2005) could not ...Read More

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The Boy Who Fell to Earth: A Review of The Space Between Us

by Gary Westfahl

Like a NASA rocket slowly rising from the surface, The Space Between Us takes a long time to achieve escape velocity and soar through space; however, if you can endure one of the most boring opening sequences in any film I can recall, and about an hour of trite melodramatic sequences interspersed with inauthentic personal drama, its last thirty minutes are actually quite enjoyable, even moving. Whether ...Read More

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Starshipboard Romance: A Review of Passengers

by Gary Westfahl

There are several reasons to admire Passengers: it addresses a topic that is usually avoided in science fiction films – how humanity might colonize the galaxy without the magic of faster-than-light travel; its starship is filled with imaginative visual touches; and its story is genuinely unpredictable, consistently holding one’s interest despite a small cast and limited sets. And yet, there is also something strangely incongruous about ...Read More

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“I Have a Bad Feeling About This”:A Review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

by Gary Westfahl

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story provides precisely what it promises – a professionally-rendered, authentic Star Wars story – and enthusiastic devotees of the Star Wars universe will probably be pleased by the results; indeed, in the theatre where I watched it, its conclusion was greeted with scattered applause. However, filmgoers who are not diehard fans, and who were not entirely thrilled by Star Wars: The Force ...Read More

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Two Thousand Translations: A Speech Odyssey: A Review of Arrival

by Gary Westfahl

Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is a film that will be properly praised as an unusually intelligent and sensitive science fiction film, derived from an unusually intelligent and sensitive science fiction story, Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life” (1998). In many respects, it is faithful to Chiang’s novella: linguist Dr. Louise Banks, enlisted to translate the enigmatic spoken and written languages of visiting aliens, finds that as she masters ...Read More

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Another Day, Another Dinosaur: A Review of Shin Godzilla (aka Godzilla Resurgence)

by Gary Westfahl

Because the Japanese film Shin Godzilla (also known as Godzilla Resurgence) was unexpectedly given only a limited American release, beginning on October 11, it is inevitably a film that will take quite a while to achieve its full audience, as it gradually becomes more accessible via Netflix, cable television, DVDs, and network television; in this case, then, a promptly posted, day-after-release-date review did not seem important. ...Read More

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Dawn of Injustice: A Review of Suicide Squad

by Gary Westfahl

It is not a critical term that often comes to mind, but David Ayer’s Suicide Squad strikes me as a very meh kind of film – a hodgepodge of characters and moments that work, and characters and moments that don’t work, tossed together in a story line that sometimes makes sense and sometimes doesn’t. Further, the film cannot escape the perception that it is a stopgap measure, ...Read More

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Steady As She Goes: A Review of Star Trek Beyond

by Gary Westfahl

To a remarkable extent, Star Trek Beyond is a film designed to appeal to aging fans of the original series; certain moments – the repeated references to the late Leonard Nimoy’s portrayal of the elderly Ambassador Spock, a photograph of the original cast, the sound of the first series’ fanfare, and the concluding recital of the iconic Star Trek oath (“Space …. the final frontier ….”) by ...Read More

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