Maestro of whimsy Wes Anderson returns to stop-motion animation nearly a decade after Fantastic Mr. Fox to tell a story of political corruption and grassroots rebellion starring a bunch of scruffy mutts and overzealous kiddos in the absolutely delightful Isle of Dogs. Draped in quirky Andersonisms, understated humor, and brassy real-world parallels, the auteur’s ninth film is an irreverent celebration of outsiders that’s steeped in Japanese culture and plopped within a dog-eat-dog political treatise on inclusion and the dangers of nationalism. Read More
You might not know by first looking at it but Last Flag Flying is actually a much, much, much belated sequel to the 1973 Hal Ashby film The Last Detail. In a way. That Oscar-nominated, Jack Nicholson-starring film followed two Navy Men who escort an offending enlisted man to military prison but decide to show him a good time along the way. The film was loosely based on the 1970 novel of the same name from Darryl Ponicsan and in 2005, Ponicsan produced a follow-up called, you guessed it, Last Flag Flying. Read More
Oh Bryan Cranston, how far the mighty can fall. The four-time Emmy winning actor and Academy Award nominee rose to stardom putting the meth in method acting as high school chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin Walter White. But Cranston was not always the one who knocks. Many will remember his stretch as the goofy Hal on 2000s sitcom Malcom in the Middle. Here Cranston was the antithesis of the mean-mugging Heisenberg as an indecisive and immature father figure. He was the Stevia to Mr. White’s ricin; proof in the pudding that Cranston can wear many hats (even if the wool pork pie fedora still fits best.) With his latest comedic endeavor, the mind-numbing Why Him?, some might say that Cranston has returned to his roots. Not that that’s a good thing. Read More
Since departing Breaking Bad, the great Bryan Cranston has been in need of a pole position worthy of his might. He’s cropped up in various big budget blockbusters, slumming it for some of those Heisenberg stacks of green. He even earned himself an Oscar nomination in last year’s somewhat-well-received Trumbo. Impressive though the performance was, the film itself was not much more than a by-the-numbers biopic told without much style or aplomb. Which brings us to The Infiltrator, another half-decent true life story led by Cranston that, while in-and-of-itself is no great wonder of filmmaking, gives the charismatic performer a role to sink his pearly whites into. Read More
Bryan Cranston is a treasure. Don’t forget that fact. As blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, he whirls his cigarette (like him, a captive in an ornate holder), sitting in still bathwater, raving about the inadequacies of American political structures in that manic brilliance that he so finely honed playing Walter White. That Trumbo is the brand of all-inclusive biopic that’ll leave you pining for less is disappointing but it doesn’t discount Cranston leading man prowess or make his performance any less tasty. Read More
Gareth Edwards just sucker-punched Guillermo del Toro in his Chewbacca face, punted him right in his spectacle-pushing schnoz, and gave him a big old titty-twister for the whole world to see. To return to 1995 lingo, Godzilla rules. Pacific Rim – the asthmatic cousin panting to keep up, the ADHD-striken, Ridilin child who can’t keep his stories straight – you can go back to your rift where you belong. Godzilla is the alpha predator, the white whale, the great reckoner.
While my throwing down the gauntlet and continued pointed admonishment of Pacific Rim might not be the best means to celebrate Godzilla, I think the two films are wholly representative of where I – and collectively we – should draw the line on monster movies. It’s the triumphant versus the trash; what works and what doesn’t.
Evan’s story begins with a fascinating opening credit sequence setting 1940s-era footage of nuclear testing, and a water-cloaked Godzilla, behind the names and titles of those involved with the production. This is usually a time to tune out but here the names are intersected with brief easter eggs and exposition that are hastily redacted by quick-draw movie ink; it’s Evans’ look at government sanitization meant to keep us “safe”. Peering from one portion of the massive IMAX screen to another to try to take it all in, from the very get go, we’re racing to keep up. Even in the short context of these opening moments, Alexandre Desplat‘s brooding score quickly sinks its hooks in, his foreboding strings painting immediately iconic soundscapes. The stage is set. Let the mayhem begin.
We soon meet Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) a seismologist working at a nuclear reactor site in Japan. It’s his birthday but he’s too wound up in a phone conversation with a co-worker to notice the happy birthday banner his son Ford proudly set up. Sad face. “We gotta shut it down,” Joe barks. Without much spurning, we know trouble is a brewing. Cue an “unnatural” geographical anomaly that knocks out the plant, smothers Joe’s wife in a cloud of toxic waste and makes for some heart-rending Craston tears while effectively turning the city the Brody clan occupies into a cordoned-off, toxic wasteland.
15 years later, Ford Brody (now Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is an army man – an elite soldier specializing in bomb disposal. He’s Sergeant First Class William James without as deep a chip on his shoulder and the boob-padding spacesuit. “How’s the bomb business?” his father tiredly, maybe scornfully, asks. “I diffuse them, not drop them.” Like the portended atomic bombs of Godzilla yore, Edwards squeezes ample allusions to Ishirō Honda‘s 1954 original. But they find their place naturally, settling into this modernization without feeling tacky or copy-pasted in.
And while the original is an exercise in metaphorical philosophizing that so happens to feature a man in a rubber suit stomping model cities, Evan’s Godzilla is about magical realism: what if a gigantic monster surfaced from the depths of the sea to wreck havoc on the world’s biggest cities? While lesser movies skimp on exploring the implications of destruction to shower FX-heavy candy a la wanton carnage – think Rampage World Tour: The Movie – Godzilla is all about implications. Before he emerges from the ocean, the tides ominously draw back, whipping into a tsunami that pummels the mainland. Before Godzilla even arrives on the scene, his wake is already collecting a body count. Like Honda’s film, Godzilla is no malevolent presence but a force of nature. In his notes, Evans has likened Godzilla to a God. Part the seas, for He is coming.
While Guillermo’s Rim job is happy to service you at the beginning – hell you paid for it, you’re getting the goods upfront – Edwards makes you wait. He’s like the girl you want to marry: he doesn’t put out on the first date. But he’s not above flirting.
Our first sneaking glances at the behemoth are shrouded by scale; a whipping tail, those imposing, prehistoric scales cutting through the waves; but it doesn’t take long for Evans to yank up on the scope and offer halting panoramas of the God lizard in his towering enormity. So what if Godzilla is a little fat, because good lord is he epic.
Bringing to life a towering deity of this size, Edwards cranks everything to 11. The sights, sounds and theater-shaking signature roar are the product of diligent planning and fiercely ambitious blueprints. With the support of Toho Co. (responsible for 28 Godzilla features) Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures – which first teamed up with Batman Begins – have taken a great risk on Godzilla. They’re betting audiences will be patient, that they don’t need each bite spoon fed to them robot-punch by robot-punch. For critics, the gambit has mostly paid off. Hopefully, general audiences feel the same. All I know is that I was won over. Hook, line and sinker. And even though the characters never transform into the complex people we hope to populate this otherwise consummate spectacle, Edwards is still a saintly architect.
Now with Monsters and Godzilla under his belt, Edwards is here to usher in a new era of monster movie. Long may he rein. He borrows heavily from his earlier work with creeping shots in the jungle essentially replicating the same sights and feel from his inaugural film. He’s a man who knows his talents, who’s confident enough to homage himself. But with so much more to play with from a budgetary stance, his sandbox is that much more fun and the result that much more jaw-dropping. But while he’s able to crank up the dial in terms of special effects, the intimate character study that characterized Monsters withers to something far more flat.
Taylor-Johnson is sufficient as the “hero” type but he has very little to work with outside of running around or looking scared. Playing the role of Asian scientist, Ken Watanbe is equally ineffective, more a stereotyped homage than a character in his own right. He’s having fun chewing through these lines but he’s no Cranston, who, for his limited role, is able to milk most. But no one gets the shaft more than Elizabeth Olsen who is relegated to a shamelessly customary wife in distress role. It’s tired characterizations like these that remind us that we’re watching a blockbuster but those complaints ought to be laid at screenwriter Max Borenstein‘s feet. His characters are archetypes; Army men with young wives and younger children. Anything else just wouldn’t do, would it?
Though the performances are often showed up by the 150-foot beast stomping through the midst of Evans’ film, it is still a certifiable triumph, an idol of what studio films should – and can – do. If Pacific Rim made you feel like a kid again, all the more power to you and your dated nostalgia. I’m quite happy watching Godzilla and cherishing my adulthood, marveling at modern technology. Thankfully, Godzilla is the rare sort of big-scale entertainment that doesn’t dumb down to middle schoolers.
Ever since last year’s Comic Con, fanboys have been going nutso for the upcoming Godzilla reboot. And while many, myself included, didn’t understand where all this enthusiasm was coming from, looking back at the history of the monster icon reveals why he’s had such a massive cultural impact throughout the world.
Originally made in Japan, 1954, Godzilla was a dressed up metaphor for nuclear warfare, achieved by a mostly immobile man dressed up like a monster in a big green latex suit. Since the 50s, Godzilla has been on a continuous silly streak, battling other big baddies like Mothra (literally just a big moth) and King Kong and has since had a run, backed by Japanese production studio Toho, that sees minor Godzilla movies ever couple years. At this point, there are 30 official Toho Godzilla films.
Roland Emmerich re-imagined Godzilla for American audiences, in his 1998 film that takes the name of the monster, as a big preggo lizard to not so glowing results. Gareth Edwards looks to right that wrong with a much more classic take on the Godzilla design.
With a cast that includes Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Juliette Binoche and Ken Watanabe, Edwards seems to be on the right track and this first trailer does exactly what a trailer should (but nowadays hardly ever does) – it teases. Instead of giving away the events of the first, second, and third act, it drops us into the situation and let’s us see the horror, confusion, and madness for ourselves. Surely, this doesn’t mean that Godzilla will be a guaranteed layup but it looks far better than I would have first thought.
Take a look at the trailer and see if, at this point, you’d be onboard to check it out in theaters.
Godzilla is directed by Gareth Edwards and stars Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Juliette Binoche and Ken Watanabe. It hits theaters May 16, 2014.