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story.lead_photo.caption Octavia Spencer plays the title character, a seemingly harmless but ultimately murderous woman who has trouble letting go of her high school days in the Blumhouse horror film Ma.

Summer season has officially hit by now, which means after the first wave of relatively prestige tent-pole releases (Endgame, John Wick 3), we're settling down into the early doldrums, as studios release doomed, big-hype balloons week after week, only to see them pop into vapor after their opening weekends. Among the endless parade of capes, broad comedies, and teen dramas, we also have to contend with the obligatory, dreary rollout of "scary" movies. Anything to entice the young-uns to part with some of their parents' money to watch a litany of monsters get to their deadly business.

The idea of the monster is of course rooted deeply in the human consciousness, a primal fear our early hominid ancestors must have experienced, huddled deep in their caves, terrified of the unknown dangers lurking in the night. This weekend, a pair of films purportedly contend with such nightmarish creatures, one decidedly micro; the other about as macro as possible -- and both pretty much instantly forgettable.


78 Cast: Octavia Spencer, Allison Janney, Dante Brown, Diana Silvers, Dominic Burgess, Gianni Paolo, Heather Marie Pate, Juliette Lewis, Kyanna Simone Simpson, Luke Evans, Missi Pyle

Director: Tate Taylor

Rating: R, for violent/disturbing material, language throughout, sexual content, and for teen drug and alcohol use.

Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

76 Cast: Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Charles Dance, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Ziyi Zhang, Bradley Whitford, O’Shea Jackson Jr., David Strathairn, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds

Director: Michael Dougherty

Rating: PG-13, for sequences of monster action violence and destruction, and for some language.

Running time: 2 hours, 11 minutes

Ma (Octavia Spencer) is a fortysomething woman living in the same small Ohio town she grew up in. Now a lonely single mother of an especially weak and frail daughter, Genie (Tanyell Wavers), and working as an easily distracted veterinary aide, she still harbors the trauma from a horrible and very public sexual humiliation, perpetrated by a leering high school boy she hugely crushed on named Ben (as an adult played by Luke Evans), who also still lives in town. She is desperate in ways tangible and harrowing, with little or no outlet.

That is, until she meets the sympathetic Maggie (Diana Silvers, last seen in Booksmart), a teen just having moved to town with her despondent mother Erica (Juliette Lewis), outside a liquor store where Maggie and her new friends are trying to convince an adult to score them booze. With some initial trepidation, Ma complies, and soon Maggie, her new boyfriend, Andy (Corey Fogelmanis), and their other friends are hanging out in Ma's basement, partying up a storm.

When word gets out at their school, Ma's parties become huge teen events, with free-flowing booze and pharmaceuticals streaming in all directions (and, oddly, everyone grooving to "Safety Dance"). Naturally, things quickly begin to unravel, and as Ma gets more and more desperate to keep her newfound popularity, her painful feelings of rejection quickly morph into bizarrely bloody sadism.

Apart from a truly absurd script, director Tate Taylor's film performs ungainly political gyrations -- asking us to root against a survivor of sexual abuse and humiliation for trying to gain (albeit misplaced) revenge on her attacker. Sort of a rape-revenge thriller set upside down, such that nothing makes any ethical (or emotional) sense. It quickly becomes an awkward mishmash of impulses, wanting to provide cheap scares while fostering a deeply schizoid sense of sympathy, while managing to fail mightily at both.

Despite yeoman work from the always outstanding Spencer -- whose demeanor rockets between sweetly shy, abusively menacing, and party girl, like a little kid pounding on a toy xylophone -- she has almost nowhere to go with all the work she pours into the character. She's a vessel bereft of liquid.

Four decades ago, Brian De Palma's Carrie asked us to follow a similarly wounded and humiliated young woman -- albeit one with deadly telekinetic powers -- but, by placing us directly in Carrie's horrific life, with an abusive mother and the constant jeering of her peers, it addressed the idea of audience sympathy in intriguing ways (by the end, during Carrie's eventual psychic tirade, everybody -- bad, good, or indifferent -- suffer equally). Taylor has no such intentions with Ma -- a film whose psychological nuance goes about as deep as a whitehead -- which makes for pointless, ignorant slop. It doesn't just blame the victim; it lazily turns her into callous psychopath in the process.


Even such banal attention to character is avoided in Michael Dougtherty's Godzilla: King of Monsters, the frenetically stupid sequel to the surprisingly competent Gareth Edwards film from 2014. As far as this film in concerned, the giant, radioactive-flame-breathing lizard hasn't been seen since, but when a sudden influx of monstrous "titans" start raising up out of the mucky deep recesses of the world, the King steps off his hidden underwater throne to go top-side in order to mix it up with other giants, including the gruesome, three-headed Ghidorah, awakened from an Antarctic cocoon of ice by the evil-minded Jonah Allen (Charles Dance), for reasons at first unknown.

In a deeply unabsorbing concurrent story, scientists Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) and his estranged wife, Emma (Vera Farmiga), still lament the loss of their young son after the first Godzilla appearance, while also worrying about their teenage daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown). It is Emma, working for a government division called Monarch, designed to contend with such creatures, who designs a device that somehow reads the "bio-rhythms" of the creatures, which she can adjust to produce a calming effect on them.

There is no calming Godzilla, however, after he gets a load of Ghidora, who seems to be summoning all the other giant creatures (including a spider-type, a mastodon, and some sort of bird-beaked bat-like thing) to do his bidding, as if he were the reigning apex predator in what's clearly already the territory of Mr. Gojira.

Moving at constant breakneck speed, Dougherty's film lacks even basic lucidity or continuity -- it might be longest actual screentime (clocking in at over two hours) to the shortest amount of actual time elapsed I've ever witnessed in a summer spectacle. It feels as if all the events of the film take place within a half hour, with every countdown jumping ahead (things aren't even counted down from :10 seconds, they'll start at :07), and scenes rushed through at such an exhausting pace, the film never even tries to cohere. The creatures may clock in at millions of pounds, but this thing is light as a torn up Styrofoam cooler blowing down the beach.

What's actually depressing is seeing the talented cast (including Ken Watanabe, Thomas Middleditch, David Strathairn, and Sally freaking Hawkins) so thoroughly wasted, trying to speak lines as drippy as "Our planet will perish ... unless we set Godzilla free" with conviction, or contorting their mouths in aghast wonder staring up at an empty, green-screened soundstage, while imagining the CGI colossuses hurling themselves back and forth at one another.

Our sympathies might not be as torn as with Ma -- despite the movie's many other contrivances, Godzilla does at least pay lip-service to the idea that the monsters are actually a form of nature's balance, an eco-terrorist consortium designed to disrupt human beings' inevitable destruction of the planet -- but by the end, it doesn't even do justice to its own genre. For the film's climactic battle, Dougherty's ADHD camera keeps cutting away from the monsters' brawl (sorry) to showcase the idiot Russells, having highjacked a group of soldiers and a helicopter, frantically searching through the rubble of what was once Boston in order to be reunited with their daughter. Forget the millions of other inhabitants vaporized; at least we've got our Maddie back!

About the only bit of mischievousness in this overwrought mess is the absolute leveling of Fenway Park, as the creatures all battle for world supremacy in front of -- and through -- the Green Monster. Cities all over the earth have been leveled, millions of people killed, and giant beasties roam freely about the earth -- but one can only imagine the horror of what this catastrophe might do to the AL East pennant race.

From left, Jonah Alan (Charles Dance), Asaj (Tracie Garrison), Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), Sgt. Travis (Zac Zedalis,) Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), Asher Jonah (Jonathan Howard) and Sgt. Baker (Joshua Leary) team up with a giant lizard to save the world in Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

MovieStyle on 05/31/2019

Print Headline: Ma and Godzilla: King of the Monsters


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