On DVD & Blu-Ray: August 27, 2019

The “pictures” have always been about spectacle and spectacle, especially in this day and age, is what we have come to expect from our picture shows. Spectacle isn’t a dirty word and is often the reason to pay more to be immersed in the movies, but spectacle is best served with a meaningful narrative. There are and can be a lot of variations on the word "meaningful" mind you, but when it comes to movies about giant monsters it doesn't seem to be asking for much for said narrative to at least try and find meaning in the smallest of details, character moments, or even just in the knowing indications of the filmmaking that own up to the fact that the movie itself knows what the audience is really in attendance for; if the focus is going to be the titans at least have a little frivolous fun with the extraneous elements. What is maybe most disappointing about Godzilla: King of the Monsters though, is the fact director Michael Dougherty (Trick 'r Treat, Krampus) touches on the potential meaning through each of those aforementioned examples in his screenplay yet never takes them far enough to where any of them connect. Instead, Dougherty’s sequel to Gareth Edwards' 2014 Godzilla doubles down on the spectacle so as to please the masses who are coming to this movie looking for more of what they didn't get in that previous film. Again, there’s nothing wrong with spectacle and if that's all you’re hoping this new Godzilla flick delivers then you’re in luck, but if you need the human element to help enhance your investment in the monsters then you'll likely be somewhat disappointed-especially considering the grade-A cast in place here. It’s not even that the characters aren’t likable or endearing, but rather that they don’t tend to be consistent in their intentions and/or as intelligent as they’re obviously supposed to be. Dougherty is a guy who knows how to deliver extravagance with a sly side of brazen as has been exemplified in his past works and while there was hope that this unique flavor might be able to transcend the big studio blockbuster system it seems Dougherty's special brand of schlock has been watered down to fit this pre-ordained plan of plain characters doing plot-convenient actions so as to bring these monsters together for a smackdown rather than being allowed the space and freedom to find meaning in any of these elements surrounding Godzilla that might have assisted in his presence feeling both more natural and impactful. That "spectacle" is admittedly grand in moments, but it can't help but feel empty; devoid of any real feeling and therefore not eliciting much of one either. Full review here. Video review here. C-

“I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues” is one of my favorite songs of all time. Like, I would rank it as being among one of the best song's ever written...that's how much I love it. My mother's side of the family being from England I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know who Elton John was. It’s not so much the lyrical content itself that moved me as a young man for I couldn’t have grasped what Bernie Taupin was expressing through his lyrics, but there was always something about the tone of the music and the clarity of the melody in an Elton John song that would inherently move myself and countless others, obviously. I don’t know what exactly was meant by, “And it won't be long before you and me run-to the place in our hearts where we hide,” but I know how it made me feel; I know that it made me stop and take more time to recognize what was happening in my life at that given moment and realize that no matter what stage of life I’m in that it won’t be that way for long and to cherish those moments as life isn’t measured by how long we have, but by what we do with the time we’re given. A little deep, right? To say that I was hoping for the same type of emotional reaction to director Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman is accurate and while it would be largely impossible for a two-hour visual interpretation of Elton John’s life to measure up to such high hopes there was the optimism that Fletcher might be able to pull it off as the opening moments of the film suggested this wasn't your typical musical biopic. Sure, we begin with the Elton John of the early eighties entering rehab with it serving as a platform for John to reflect on the entirety of his life, but while the framing device may be familiar you've never quite seen it service the story as it does in Rocketman. Fletcher's film is a full-on fantasy in many regards meaning this isn't a movie about Elton John's life as it actually happened, but the story of Elton John's life as Elton John remembers it. This setting of expectations paired with the flashing through of John's childhood that culminates in "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" and a full-on, flat-out, undisputable musical number complete with dance interludes gives the impression that Fletcher mastered how not to just convey the events of his subject's life, but capture the essence of what it might have been like to live as Elton John. From this moment on though, Rocketman never gains the same momentum that it bubbles over with during "Saturday" and though it offers some technically inventive filmmaking and creative interpretations of several Elton John classics the film itself is never as emotionally moving or rousing as the songs themselves. Full review here. Video review here. B-

While the first The Secret Life of Pets didn't really live up to the whole "Toy Story, but with animals" concept that the marketing promised, the second film falls even further away from that rather than try to improve upon it. Instead, The Secret Life of Pets 2 leans more into the "how much humans affect pets" angle established in the first film for better or worse. The better is that the movie allows for the owners of these marquee pets, namely Max (now voiced by Patton Oswalt), to grow up which in turn forces the pets to mature as well. In the interim between the first and second film Max's owner meets someone, gets married, and has a child and as we all know-children change things. Much of the film clings to the joke of playing the pets as parents themselves with Max immediately defaulting to the overprotective type, but gets serious when he goes on a journey of self-discovery with a little help from Rooster (Harrison Ford) as he gains the experience that teaches him that if he can learn to be brave that he can help teach his little human counterpart to be brave as well.

There's a nice little commentary in there about parents being more afraid of letting their child experience the world than the child is to actually experience it while conveying the always welcome lesson of *balance* being the key to success with anything in life and does so in such a genial way that it's hard not to appreciate the movie. The worse though, is that the product as a whole ends up feeling more like creator and Illumination Entertainment mastermind Chris Renaud struggled to find a way to integrate the entirety of his original cast of characters into a single narrative and thus turned this sequel into a melding of three different character shorts that he collides into a more nonsensical conclusion than the entirety of Snowball's (Kevin Hart) completely nonsensical story arc. I mean, I like Tiffany Haddish as much as the next person, but her addition as Daisy here feels as if she was added just so she could be added to the cast roster.

Also, I'm not one, but I imagine cat people are severely offended by how their feline friends are represented here. C-

Writer/director Joe Talbot's feature debut, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, tells the story of a young man searching for home in the changing city that seems to have left him behind. I wasn't able to catch this when it played on a single screen for less than a few weeks in my area which is depressing considering the trailer is stunning, but I am anxious to catch-up with what feels like should be a bigger "under-the-radar" A24 gem than it actually is. 

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