Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection
With only a week and change having passed since the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we no doubt feel the question living fresh in our minds: can we ever judge a remake without considering its predecessors? The conversation about the stark contrast in critical favor between Marc Webb's release and Sam Raimi's trilogy (the second installment of his franchise in particular) buzzed loudly, and we imagine the volume will keep in regards to Gareth Edwards' Godzilla. But it'll be a different sound altogether.
The original Godzilla, a Japanese film released in 1954, reinvented the identity of the monster movie, launched a 30-film legacy, and spoke legions about the political climate of its era. The most recent of these films — Roland Emmerich's 1998 American production — is universally bemoaned as a bigger disaster than anything to befall Tokyo at the hands of the giant reptile. With these two entries likely standing out as the most prominent in the minds of contemporary audiences, Edwards' Godzilla has some long shadows cast before it. And in approaching the new movie, one might not be able to avoid comparisons to either. It's fair — by taking on an existing property, a filmmaker knowingly takes on the connotations of that property. But the 2014 installment's great success is that it isn't much like any Godzilla movie we've seen before. In a great, great way.
This isn't 1954's Godzilla, a dire and occasionally dreary allegory that uses the supernatural to tell an important story about nuclear holocaust. A complete reversal, in fact, first and foremost Edwards' Godzilla is about its monsters. Any grand themes strewn throughout — the perseverence of nature, the follies of mankind, fatherhood, madness, faith — are all in service to the very simple mission to give us some cool, weighty, articulate sci-fi disaster. Elements of gravity are plotted all over the film's surface, with scientists, military men (kudos to Edwards for not going the typical "scientists = good/smart, military = bad/dumb" route in this film — everybody here is at least open to suggestion), doctors, police officers, and a compassionate bus driver all wrestling with options in the face of behemoth danger. The humanity is everpresent, but never especially intrusive. To reiterate, this isn't a film about any of these people, or what they do.
Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection
The closest thing to a helping of thematic (or human) significance comes with Ken Watanabe's Dr. Serizawa, who spouts awe-stricken maxims about cryptozoology, the Earth, and the inevitable powerlessness of man. He might not be supplying anything more substantial than our central heroes (soft-hearted soldier Aaron Taylor-Johnson, dutiful medic and mom Elizabeth Olsen, right-all-along conspiracy theorist Bryan Cranston), but Watanabe's bonkers performance as the harried scientist is so bizarrely good that you might actually believe, for a scene or two, that it all does mean something.
Ultimately, the beauty of our latest taste of Godzilla lies not in the commitment to a message that made the original so important nor in the commitment to levity that made Emmerich's so pointless, but in its commitment to imagination. Edwards' creature design is dazzling, his deus ex machina are riveting, and the ultimate payoff to which he treats his audience is the sort of gangbusters crowd-pleaser that your average contemporary monster movie is too afraid to consider.
In fairness, this year's Godzilla might not be considered an adequate remake, not quite reciprocating the ideals, tone, or importance of the original. Sure, anyone looking for a 2014 answer to 1954's game-changing paragon will find sincere philosophy traded for pulsing adventure... but they'd have a hard time ignoring the emphatic charm of this new lens for the 60-year-old lizard, both a highly original composition and a tribute in its way to the very history of monster movies (a history that owes so much to the creature in question). So does Godzilla '14 successfully fill the shoes of Godzilla '54? No — it rips them apart and dons a totally new pair... though it still has a lot of nice things to say about the first kicks.
Oh, and the '98 Godzilla? Yeah, it's better than that.
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"That snail is fast!" This tagline sums up all you need to know about Turbo, the rather ironic tale of a garden snail who races in the Indy 500. The latest computer-animated flick from Dreamworks tells a typically predictable underdog story, with the proper doses of humor and heartwarming moments. It's totally cliché, but still great family fun.
Voiced by Ryan Reynolds, Turbo (née Theo) is a simple garden snail who is fed up with his humdrum life in the tomato patch with his overly cautious brother Chet (Paul Giamatti). When he isn't working with overripe fruit at "the plant," the ambitious little snail watches old car race tapes and dreams of being fast like French-Canadian Indy 500 champion Guy Gagne (voiced by Bill Hader). Then one fateful night, Turbo is exposed to nitrous oxide and effectively transformed into a car, equipped with a radio, alarm, headlights, and best of all, super speed. Turbo's newfound abilities quickly come into play when he rescues Chet from a crow attack, but the two brothers are then snatched up by a taco truck driver named Tito Lopez. Just when they think they're about to become escargot, Chet and Turbo are surprised to find that Tito only wants to enter them in a snail race.
Tito and his brother Angelo operate the struggling Dos Bros taco stand in a ramshackle strip mall with a hobby shop, nail salon, and auto repair shop. The owners are friends, racing snails together to take their minds off their failing businesses. But when they discover Turbo's incredible talents, they decide to show him off to the world. With hopes to win the Indy 500 and put their strip mall on the map, the shop owners and their snails band together to travel to Indianapolis. Then, it's all up to Turbo and his supersnail speed.
With a star-studded cast boasting the likes of Maya Rudolph, Samuel L. Jackson, Snoop Dogg, Michelle Rodriguez, Luis Guzmán, Michale Pena and Richard Jenkins, Turbo is an adorable film about a little snail with big dreams. While some animated movies focus solely on entertaining the kids, and others devote too much energy to appeasing the adults, Turbo manages to achieve a nice balance of humor that will have parents and their children laughing together. And it promotes the inspiring messages that we want our children to be exposed to: 1) Follow your dreams, no matter how outlandish they may be. 2) Your heroes may disappoint you, but you can become your own hero. 3) Taco trucks are awesome.
Indeed, Turbo features some nice contemporary touches, like the ever-popular food truck, a viral video subplot, and a French-accented car-racing villain à la Talladega Nights. Still, there is absolutely nothing surprising about this movie, which isn't necessarily to its detriment but certainly makes for a less exciting viewing experience. There's comic relief (most notably Ken Jeong's voice performance as a feisty female manicurist) and a bit of suspense, but we're never too worried that things won't turn out okay in the end. Is it realistic? Of course not. But is it fun? Most definitely. In effect, it's an easy movie to watch and enjoy for 90 minutes or so, but you probably won't find yourself hankering for a repeat viewing. While Turbo is nothing groundbreaking, it's a charming film with a lot of heart.
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I'm glad that Bryan Singer's new film, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures re-imagining of the "Jack and the Bean Stalk" tale, is finally coming together. Since breaking out with The Usual Suspects in the mid 90s, Singer has established himself as a versatile visionary who has a knowledgeable understanding of what makes cinema such a powerful medium. He now turns his energies to unexplored territory - the fantasy genre - with Jack and the Giant Killer, but although the film has now been officially greenlit by the studio, little else is known about the project.
It's common knowledge that Christopher McQuarrie has re-written Mark Bomback and Darren Lemke's original script and Deadline is now reporting that Kick Ass star Aaron Johnson may be taking the title role. The development is hardly a surprise for those who have been following Singer's activity: Johnson was rumored to be playing young Cyclops in the filmmaker's X-Men: First Class (on which he is a producer) and he supposedly held casting sessions for both projects at the same time (which could have been the cause of the plethora of false information that surrounded that film's casting process). Now, with First Class well underway and no news about Johnson being involved, the probability of him working with Singer on Giant Killer is looking good.
In my opinion, the actors won't make or break this film: it's all about Singer's direction. He's proven himself capable of handling both massive action sequences of quieter character driven moments, so I don't think that there's anything to worry about. Johnson seems like a fine young performer; I have no doubt that his career is on the fast track to success. But the major story that will surround Jack and the Giant Killer will be Singer's return to the big screen after a pretty lengthy absence - by the time the film is released, presumably sometime in 2012, it will have been more than three years since his last film (2008's Valkyrie); the longest we've ever had to wait for a new movie from the talented auteur. That means that expectations will be high, but I doubt that he'll disappoint.
Update: Well, it looks like Sam Raimi managed to clear his schedule for this one. Yesterday we reported that Disney was courting the director to take the reins of Oz, the Great and Powerful, a proposed prequel to the original The Wizard of Oz, but that he had other commitments (World Warcraft) to consider before accepting. Now, Nikke Finke over at Deadline Hollywood is reporting that Sam Raimi has in fact agreed to take the directors chair in a meeting that went down with CAA (Creative Artists Agency) reps last night. Raimi will direct Robert Downey Jr. in the title role as a circus wrangler who gets whisked away by a tornado to the land of Oz, where he somehow manages to finagle his way onto the throne in the Emerald City.
Original story (June 14): Vulture is reporting that Disney has reached out to Sam Raimi to helm Oz, the Great and Powerful, a prequel to the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Although it had been rumored that Sam Mendes and Adam Shankman were also in the running for the gig, insiders are now reporting that Raimi received an official offer for the project this weekend.
However, it's not yet clear whether Raimi's schedule will allow him to accept. The director of the Spider-Man trilogy had planned on shooting a live-action adaptation of the popular video game World of Warcraft after wrapping Spider-Man 4, but since Sony has dumped Raimi and ordered a Spider-Man reboot, the director's next project has been a matter of speculation. World of Warcraft is now in pre-production, with a planned release date some time in 2013, but Disney is interested in beginning principal photography on Oz, the Great and Powerful sometime this year.
Even if that leaves time for Raimi to direct Oz, the Great and Powerful, Warner Bros. has been concurrently developing two competing Oz-based films of their own. One, called Wizard of Oz, is connected with studio producer Basil Iwanyk and scribe Josh Olson (A History of Violence); the other project, Oz, is being developed by Twilight producers Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey and writer Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After) for Warner's New Line Cinema. Both would have to contend with British filmmaker John Boorman's straight-up CGI adaptation The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which is due sometime this year.
While it's not unusual at all for competing studios to be in development of similar subject matter (especially when said subject matter is now public domain, as the original L. Frank Baum novel has been since 1956), pressure from Warner Bros. may force Disney's hand; if World of Warcraft becomes a major commitment for Sam Raimi, I wouldn't be surprised if the studio moves ahead on Oz, the Great and Powerful without him.
Warner Bros. Eyeing a New Trip Down the Yellow Brick Road?
The Los Angeles Times reports that Warner Bros. is mulling a new trip down the yellow brick road. The studio is said to be examining two existing Wizard of Oz projects, with an eye toward giving one of them a modern gloss.
One project, Oz, currently lives at Warners' New Line label. The Temple Hill production has a script written by Darren Lemke, a writer on the upcoming Shrek Forever After.
A second Wizard of Oz project, set up at Warners proper, skews a little darker, says the LAT. It is written by A History of Violence screenwriter Josh Olson and focuses on a granddaughter of Dorothy who returns to Oz to fight evil. Producer Basil Iwanyk and his Thunder Road Pictures are behind that one.
Although still in the early development stages, the idea of a new Wizard of Oz movie is said to have been advanced seriously enough that representatives for some of Hollywood’s top directors have been briefed.
With its Harry Potter series drawing to an end, Warners likes the idea of a franchise, and Wizard of Oz and the many books L. Frank Baum wrote featuring many of the same characters fit the bill nicely, notes the paper.