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Four Short Reviews: ‘Civil War’ is great potential farewell, ‘Monkey Man’ thrills

1. “Monkey Man”  

“Monkey Man” (2024) is directed by Dev Patel, who also stars as the film’s lead character Kid. Sobhita Dhulipala, Sikandar Kher and Pitobsh Tripathi also portray supporting characters in the film. The film is about a young man named Kid (Patel) who, after years of keeping his rage suppressed, decides to get his revenge on the man who murdered his mother when he was a little boy. 

Based on its title alone, “Monkey Man” is destined to at least interest most moviegoers by making them ask what the film could be about, and the result is a good one.

As for directorial debuts, Patel has proven he is a distinct voice in the vast world of filmmaking with this film. No one but Patel could create this movie, and his fingerprints are all over it.

Not only does Patel play the main character and direct, but he also co-wrote the screenplay and served as a producer for the film. “Monkey Man” is a one-man show from Patel, but it is not without its flaws.

The first half of the movie is a nightmare when it comes to camera angles. The camera is all over the place during intense fight scenes, making it hard to know what is happening.

The first half also subjects the audience to a large amount of close-ups and out-of-focus shots. The camera will cut to a single character (or multiple) and hold onto their face for just a little too long. This is not to say close-ups shouldn’t be used in films, but they should be used sparingly. Unfortunately, those shots occur in every other sequence. 

The movie’s second half is a lot better in terms of acting and storytelling while eliminating most of the first half’s problems. Since it is Patel’s first movie, the audience could potentially look past these issues.

In terms of what the movie does well: it has an interesting character to follow, sharp cinematography and good fight scenes.

Patel as Kid is likable and viewers are always on his side. There hasn’t been any mention or rumor of a potential sequel, but Patel returning as Kid would be quite delightful.

Unlike the similar “John Wick” (2014), the fight scenes in “Monkey Man” are entirely hand-to-hand combat with knives being the only weapon used. The second half of the movie comes alive when it shows these fight scenes. 

“Monkey Man” is an excellent directorial debut film from Patel. It has its problems, but is a splendid experience. The film is currently playing in local theaters. Fans of Patel’s acting and action movies are sure to enjoy the movie. 

Rating: 3.5/5

2. “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” 

“Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” (2024) is directed by Adam Wingard and stars Rebecca Hall, Dan Stevens, Kaylee Hottle and Brian Tyree Henry. The film serves as a direct sequel to the events that happened in “Godzilla vs. Kong” (2021) and “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters” (2023). 

The film follows Godzilla and Kong in a team-up to defeat a new “Titan” called the Skar King, his army of enslaved giant apes and Shimo, another villain, before both take over Earth and destroy humanity.

Unlike its predecessor, “Godzilla vs. Kong,” failed to have, “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” has a strong theme. Many movies in the “MonsterVerse” have also struggled with that in the past, and most feel like an excuse to have giant monsters fighting each other, occasionally cutting back to the forgettable human characters. With this new film, there is at least an attempt to deliver a somewhat interesting message.

The movie begins with Kong being alone and having to hunt and kill other creatures in the Hollow Earth by himself. Through visual storytelling, the audience can see how much Kong feels alone and longs to find others of his kind. Kong finally meets other giant apes, but they are hostile toward him at first due to their loyalty to the Skar King. By the end, Kong becomes the new leader of the apes and gains the trust of Shimo, a Titan with the power to create another ice age. Kong finally becomes King Kong. 

Kong’s story of finding the parallels between him and the other giant apes mirrors Jia’s (Hottle) discovery of finding her people, the Iwi tribe. For context, Jia is the only person who can communicate with Kong and is adopted by Dr. Illene Andrews (Hall). Jia was believed to be the last of her tribe, but it turns out the remaining Iwi people live in the Hollow Earth.

The Iwi are exposed to the Earth’s surface as a warning by the Skar King, forcing Jia to decide whether to stay with her tribe or be with Dr. Andrews. She picks the latter because Dr. Andrews was the first to raise her. 

Aside from its message, the film does a good job of establishing new Titans and environments within the Hollow Earth. All the fighting between the Titans is well choreographed, and there are plenty of moments where the Titans (and the audience) are given time to catch their breath.

The weakest aspect of the whole movie is the science behind how certain things work, such as the dynamic between the Hollow Earth and human characters. The character arc of Jia is also pleasant, but the rest of the humans still feel stale and not worth the screen time they’re given.

“Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” is a movie that does a handful of things pretty well but isn’t special. However, it doesn’t need to be. It’s a fun movie with stellar fight scenes and deeper themes than previous “MonsterVerse" movies. It is currently still playing in theaters. So, if you want something to do this weekend, you should watch “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire.” 

Rating: 3/5 

3. “Civil War”

“Civil War” (2024) is the latest film from director Alex Garland and stars Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Cailee Spaeny, Stephen McKinley Henderson and Nick Offerman. The film is about a small group of war journalists traveling to Washington, D.C., so they can photograph and interview the president (Offerman) of the U.S. The only obstacles they face are different secessionist movements and divisions as America is on the brink of another civil war. 

“Civil War” is an interesting film for many reasons. For one, this may be Garland's final film as a director because he stated in an interview he wants to focus the future of his career on writing. Second, the movie’s main characters are war journalists, and the audience gets to experience a compelling story filled with jaw-dropping visuals.

There are many times in the film where a character takes a picture of action taking place and the film will freeze on the specific image for a few seconds. The audience is placed in the photographer’s shoes and gets to see the picture captured on camera. It was a brilliant move by Garland to include this element in the movie.

“Civil War” sees Dunst play Lee Smith and Spaeny play a woman named Jessie Cullen. The two are war photojournalists with Lee being more experienced than Jessie. At first, Lee hesitates on allowing Jessie to join her on the trip to Washington, but Lee’s colleagues Joel (Moura) and Sammy (Henderson) agree to have Jessie on the trip. Lee reluctantly goes along with it, which causes Lee and Jessie to grow closer to each other as the film progresses. Their growing bond leads to some sweet scenes between the two actresses. 

In contrast to those scenes of warmth and levity, “Civil War” also presents scenes thick with tension. The best example is a scene where our main group comes across an unnamed character played by Jesse Plemons in an uncredited role. Plemons’ character is best described as an ultranationalist. He holds our characters at gunpoint and asks them where they are from. Plemons plays the role of someone willing to kill others because they are not American.

The third act is where most of the action takes place; it is glorious to watch. Garland is a talented filmmaker when it comes to directing action scenes, and, unfortunately, this could be his last film. Garland also does a great job incorporating the main characters, who do not feel out of place in the chaos.

In terms of performances, Dunst delivers one of the best of her career. Moura is extremely likable as Joel and Henderson is charming as Sammy. Spaeny, fresh off her great portrayal of Priscilla Presley in Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla” (2023), is the movie’s standout. She starts reserved but eventually establishes herself as someone confident in her work. Jessie is a completely relatable character, and Spaeny plays her perfectly. 

Garland’s “Civil War” is looking to be one of the best movies of 2024. It contains great performances and some amazing action set pieces. If you have a free Friday or Saturday evening this week, I recommend you watch it.

Rating: 4/5

4. “The First Omen” 

“The First Omen” (2024) is directed by Arkasha Stevenson and stars Nell Tiger Free, Ralph Ineson, Sônia Braga and Bill Nighy. The film is the sixth film in “The Omen” franchise and serves as a prequel to Richard Donner’s “The Omen” (1976). The film tells the story of an American nun, Margaret (Free), who is sent to Rome to work for an orphanage. While there, she gradually uncovers a dark secret hidden by higher-ups in the Roman Catholic Church. 

In previous years, the horror genre has been making a comeback. In 2023, 46 horror movies grossing $789 million at the box office were released. “The First Omen” adds to the chain of well-produced and effective horror movies leaving audiences uneasy. The film does a lot right, beginning with Free’s outstanding performance.

Free as Margaret creates a wonderful character to root for, especially once you figure out exactly what she goes through in the movie. Free deserves to be cast in future projects after her performance.

The film also does a good job of distancing itself from “The Omen.” While it directly sets up what happens in its predecessor, “The First Omen” still feels like its own movie. 

“The First Omen” is the perfect kind of horror movie to be made today. It doesn’t contain cheap jump scares meant to easily startle the audience. Instead, it relies on a slowly growing dread that seems to suck the oxygen from the characters’ lungs.

One thing also worth noting is the representation of certain members of the Roman Catholic Church in the film. Without giving away spoilers, nuns, a priest and a cardinal are not portrayed in the best light. However, it’s best to separate this fictional portrayal from real Catholicism. If the audience understands this, movies like “The First Omen” can exist.

“The First Omen” is a movie you should watch blindly. A good suggestion after the viewing would be to watch Donner’s “The Omen,” so you can get the complete story. It’s currently still being played in local theaters.

Rating: 3.5/5 


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