The Color Out of Space and Richard Stanley’s Return

It’s been some time since we’ve seen something directed by the infamous Richard Stanley, once slotted to helm the tragic Island of Dr. Moreau, now the subject of a popular and mythical documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau by David Gregory. While he’s been writing screenplays, Color Out of Space is the first film Stanley has directed since 2013, and guess what? It’s fabulously strange, creepy and, yes, colorful for so many reasons.

Nathan (Nicholas Cage) is a father and husband who, needing to get away from the big city, decides to take over his deceased father’s farm and make a go of raising alpacas, the animal of the future. His wife (Joely Richardson) is recovering from breast cancer and trying her best to deal with high powered clients on a farm via Skype and sketchy internet service while trying to raise her teenage children:  Wiccan-obsessed daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), nerdy Benny (Brendan Meyer), and her youngest, Jack (Julian Hilliard). There also might be a problem with their water supply, so a handsome hydrologist Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight) checks out the surrounding area and also takes a liking to Lavinia.  When a meteor crashes onto their front yard, a strange series of events occur, and it’s up to Nathan and Ward to figure out what might be transpiring as this alien object slowly changes the landscape and all their mental states.

Color Out of Space was an efficient treat and my only TIFF viewing this year. With pacing that unexpectedly ramps up, stunning visuals and a whole lotta Cage, Stanley shines with his director’s hat firmly in place. Along with my rage-daddy Cage, the entire cast was excellent from little Hilliard to the charmingly nuts Tommy Chong as the resident mystical weed man Ezra. Adapting a story written by H. P. Lovecraft so that it’s relevant in these times is not an easy feat when this particular story has been done a few times over the decades, but Stanley, along with his long-time collaborator and writer Scarlett Amaris, manages to do it while broaching current environmental issues. I also loved that the film’s narrator, played by Ward’s character, is black, perhaps a thumbing of the nose to Lovecraft’s notoriously racist views.

Brendan Meyer, Madeleine Arthur, Julian Hilliard, Nicolas Cage, Richard Stanley, Joely Richardson, and Elliot Knight at an event for Color Out of Space (2019)

The digital effects were stunning and I’m glad I was able to see it on an IMAX screen even though the film wasn’t shot in that format. It really emphasized the colors and landscape well, immersing the viewer into this special world of madness. For the record I know there are comparisons to Alex Garland’s Annihilation, but to be honest, I prefer Color Out of Space because although it’s also a visual spectacle and an environmental morality tale of sorts, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  And those of you who want some practical effects will not be disappointed. Stanley serves up some mutant creepy crawlies that will surely make you squeal with delight.

I highly recommend seeing Color Out of Space, not only to celebrates Stanley’s return to the director’s chair, but also because horror never looked so good.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters Fights For Some Balance

I’m always down for a good monster movie, and Godzilla is one of my favorites.  After seeing the 2014 Godzilla and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, the anticipation for the next chapter was excruciating. It’s been a long wait, but director Michael Dougherty has brought the radioactive kaiju back to us with some of his closest frenemies in Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

Animal behaviorist Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) has thrown himself back into his work after his family was shattered with the loss of his son during Godzilla’s epic San Francisco battle in 2014.  He is a former employee of The Monarch Agency, a cryptozoology outfit researching Godzilla and other animals they call massive unidentified terrestrial organisms (MUTOs) or titans, hibernating beneath the earth’s surface for millions of years. His estranged wife Emma (Vera Farmiga) still works for them and is devising a machine to communicate with the titans. An eco-terrorist group has different ideas for the device and kidnap Emma and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) to use the device to awaken the beasts so they can take back the world from the most destructive force on the planet: humans. Mark is enlisted to find his estranged wife and daughter and save the world.

Madison (Brown) and Emma (Farmiga) captured by the eco-terrorists.

I can’t say I enjoyed the story of Godzilla: King of the Monsters much.  With such a heavy-handed script, there wasn’t much to like. We have to remember Godzilla’s origins through his many iterations – to simplify, he is a creation of the post-nuclear attack fears of the Japanese. To make him and his nemesis monsters a global concern is of course important as nuclear threats have no borders, but I felt the fabulous Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa needed more Japanese backup, so-to-speak.  As far as diversity though, I was happy to see some familiar faces front and center like Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Elizabeth Ludlow, and Ziyi Zhang.

The theme of wanting to help rid the earth of us pesky humans was a concept I could get down with but it was conveyed in such a pedantic way it became tiresome, and the family melodrama seemed like saccharine filler. Director Michael Dougherty, the man behind Trick r’ Treat and Krampus, gave us plenty of eye-popping visuals but none of the substance of his previous films because there was too much talking and not enough monster time. Too much exposition, “‘splaining”, emoting and platitude after platitude; along with some aggressively comedic moments hammed up by Bradley Whitford of Get Out and West Wing fame. In fact, there was so much talking, some weirdo came into our cinema off the street and shouted at the screen.

Godzilla and Ghidorah battling for the earth.

Godzilla himself was simply glorious. The fights, animation and sound design created an immersive experience on the IMAX screen. The scoring by Bear McCreary payed homage to Godzilla’s epic theme originally written by Akira Ifukube, and Ghidorah, Mothra and Rodan all had their time in the spotlight. Godzilla’s concept design was true to his historically cranky “Hey, you kids just woke me up from my nap and I’m gonna whup your asses” look. With radioactive blue beams and his signature giant stomping foot, it was worth enduring all the human hot air to see him rise and fight his monster enemies.

There’s not much else to say except see Godzilla King of the Monsters for, well, the monsters. Pay the extra to see it in 3D and IMAX so you’ll at least appreciate the top-notch visuals amidst all the jibber-jabber, but don’t expect much more. Here’s hoping the next chapter has a better story and script when Godzilla meets Kong.