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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While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
Hey everyone, it’s that time again! No, not another CPA column, although thanks for reading. We’re in the midst of the best time of year, the Fall TV season, where hope is kindled anew and we patrons of the idiot box are treated to a dearth of new shows. Some reach phenomenal heights, becoming a part of the fabric of pop culture; others, no matter how critically lauded or devoted a fan base, linger in mediocrity for several seasons. And still more are just downright deplorable and cancelled faster than I can write a column about cancelled shows. “But sometimes, just sometimes, the crow can bring that show back to set the wrong things” – never mind, maybe that’s getting too meta. (I’ve been catching up on Community and Abed might be my new hero.)
Sometimes, shows are cancelled no matter how awesome they are. And then there are those shows that don’t seem to understand the meaning of the word “cancelled.” Thanks to undying fan devotion, these series (see: Family Guy) return from cancellation and endure more years of fun for everyone. Sadly, too many shows aren’t as lucky – they are cancelled way before their time and are never heard from again. These series are axed for poor ratings, network management turnarounds, or several other reasons. But one thing’s for sure, their cultish fan bases are never going to give them up.
Shows Cancelled Without Resolution
When good series die young, it just plain stinks; we’ll never get to know what happens next. Shows end on cliffhangers to build up suspense for the next season, or even the next episode. But when the network lowers the boom, we’re left wanting more simply because as a devoted fan we deserve more – we deserve closure.
Soap (ABC, 1977–1981)
I’m not quite sure how many of you out there have heard of this late-70s gem, but we’re going to begin our rundown with it, because Soap paved the way for or jumpstarted several careers (see: Billy Crystal, Ted Wass, Robert Guillaume, Katherine Helmond, Richard Mulligan, Robert Urich), not to mention blasted down the doors of night time TV comedy and expanded sitcom boundaries. The show focused on the well-to-do Tate family and their ne’er-do-well in-laws, the Campbells. Soap was aptly named, as the entire series parodied the extraordinarily madcap daytime soap opera genre and many of its wilder tropes, such as murder, mystery, cults, demonic possessions, wrongly convicted murders – the list is never ending and Soap always made it all hysterical. Due to the show’s cliffhanger in every episode, the show was cancelled as Jessica (Helmond) was about to be saved from, or executed by, a Communist firing squad.
The 4400 (USA 2004–2007)
As a former comic book nerd, I was a huge fan of J. Michael Straczynski’s Rising Stars. The yarn was about a group of children all conceived while a mysterious light hangs above the town of Pederson, Illinois. The babies are blessed (or cursed) with super powers, are all raised by a kind doctor and taught how to use their abilities. Do any of these elements sound familiar or reminiscent of Heroes? Well, The 4400 did it all and worlds better. The series centered on a massive group of people (and no we do not get to meet all 4400) who were abducted from the future at various points during the 20th Century and all mysteriously returned to Mt. Rainier, Washington. The group had to face many obstacles, like reconnecting with a world they have not seen in some cases for over fifty years. Eventually the series went from a “4400 of the week” format to crafting a deep mythology that became better than anything Heroes would ever do. The show also gave us the character of Jordan Collier (Billy Campbell), a messiah/Magneto-like 4400 who establishes his own society. Unfortunately, the show was a casualty of so-so ratings, budgetary constraints, and the Writers’ Guild strike, and we’ll never get to see the promises of Promise City.
Lights Out (FX, 2011)
I know a few people who bemoan the cancellation of Terriers, but for my money, if ever a series got the shaft after just one season, its FX’s Lights Out. Take Rocky’s retirement at the beginning of Rocky V, add The Fighter, multiply it by The Sopranos and you get Lights Out. After premiering strongly in Jan. 2011, the show told the story of Patrick “Lights” Leary (Holt McCallany), a former world champion who retired after losing his title and after poorly mismanaging his finances, is forced to get back into the ring. With strong performances from McCallany, Pablo Schreiber (Lights’ brother, Johnny), and the incomparable Stacy Keach (the Leary patriarch, Robert) there is no conceivable reason why this show was canned so early. Great boxing action coupled with a mob story, and a family tale of woe involving Boxer’s Dementia season, the finale had a great finale twist. Like many others on this list, we’ll never get to find out what happened to the Champ next.
Shows That Got The Axe Way Too Soon
They might not have been ratings darlings, but these dearly departed shows never left us hanging.
Arrested Development (Fox 2003–2006)
This is quite possibly the most popular cancelled series ever. The story of the dysfunctional Bluth family aired for an all too brief 53 episodes and introduced to us all to a cast of some of the wackiest characters ever. How loved was this series? Rumors of its revival by both fans and stars alike have never tapered off since the show’s cancellation. Luckily, it looks like fans are getting their wish: earlier this month it was reported the show is heading back from the grave, all leading up to what should be a monumental film.
Better Off Ted / Mr. Sunshine (ABC 2009–2010 / 2011)
Ted Crisp (Jay Harrington) is a single father and the most respected and beloved head of Research and Development at Veridian Dynamic. With a comedy, there are all kinds of wacky things for a company like Veridian to be researching and developing, like cryogenics. The affable Crisp was Don Draper with a conscience. His boss, Veronica (Portia de Rossi), was an ice queen who comically knew it would behoove her to be nicer to people (like giving Phil an award for bravery in hopes of not getting sued). Better Off Ted’s subversive and satirical blend of comedy sadly got lost in the shuffle of ABC’s other popular comedies like Cougar Town and the gargantuan genre-crossing Modern Family, and there was simply no room for a series like this. The alphabet network would try it again with Matthew Perry’s Mr. Sunshine, which is essentially the same show, except with a less likeable Ted (Perry’s Ben), a more mean-spirited boss (Allison Janney) and its arena setting with circuses performances, Smurfs on Ice, and sports teams. ABC saw the hyped show dwindle faster than the Titanic – it tanked it after nine episodes.
Mad Love (CBS, 2011)
It seemed like a good idea at the time. The affable Jason Biggs, along with the adorable Sarah Chalke, along with the biting wit of Judy Greer and Tyler Labine, who has become a bit of a TV curse (see: Reaper, Sons of Tuscon). Biggs’ Ben and Chalke’s Kate meet and start dating as the perfect couple. Anyone who watched could see the “mad love” chemistry between oddball Connie (Greer) and Larry (Labine) as the respective best friends who loathe each other. While it was always good for cutsey laughs, the series couldn’t pick up enough steam for a full season order and was cancelled. But considering the show’s How I Met Your Mother style humor, Mad Love had potential, which is why its cancellation was a bit of surprise.
Honorable Mention: Married…With Children
Yes, this show was on for 11 years, but while while the Bundys did entertain audiences all that time and along with The Simpsons helped to put the once fledgling Fox network on the map, Fox decided that the good faith the show built up for many a year wasn’t good enough to let the cast and crew know that there wouldn’t be a twelfth season. Poor ratings and progressively sillier stories would end the series’ run. But with the now fairly well-known story of Ed O’Neill learning of the show’s cancellation from a fan instead of from the network is just a downright deplorable way to do business.
Obviously, there are plenty of shows like The Critic and Deadwood that did not make this list. It doesn’t mean that I’m not aware of them, or of their greatness. But we’ve only got so much time. There’s a bevy of reasons networks take our favorite TV shows from us, and they’re all unfair because the bottom line is that we need great TV to watch, whether it’s That’s My Bush! or Flashforward or Jericho or some other series, a cancelled TV show is like a lost friend we only just met. Well it may not be that melodramatic, but you catch my drift.
So far this season, we’ve lost The Playboy Club, How to be a Gentleman, Free Agents, and Charlie’s Angels luckily none of these will raise the ire of fans. However, The Playboy Club (even if it was actually good) was dead on arrival due to all the negative publicity and How to Be a Gentleman moved to the death-sentence Saturday night slot before CBS flat out nuked it. Here’s hoping that any of the shows that we love this season aren’t unceremoniously cancelled before their time – note to Fox, leave my Fringe alone!