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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
In just about every one of Kevin Hart's scenes in Ride Along, there's a joke that is just aching to find its way out of the diminutive, rascally comic actor. Hart is a small-scale physical comedian — of the same ilk as Jack Black — who puts nuclear-degree energy into his facial contortions, anatomical outbursts, and the delivery of every gag in general. If only he had material that was crafted with the same energy.
Unfortunately, nothing else about Ride Along seems at all "hard at work." Not the script, which pads a lifeless story with lazy comedy, and certainly not his screen partner Ice Cube, whose only stage direction seems to be "frown, and be taller than Kevin Hart." So lifeless is Ice Cube that even his machismo-obsessed straight man bit doesn't really work. Instead of the virile and intimidating "bad cop," he comes off as a disapproving middle aged dad without much to show for his own life.
But the script pairs the wily, overzealous high school security guard and video game junkie Ben (Hart) with no-nonsense lawman James (Ice Cube) on the titular ride along, with the scrappy cop-wannabe hoping to prove to the force veteran that he's good enough to marry the latter's younger sister. In earnest, he's not. Ben never puts any respectable effort into learning the tools of the trade, insisting on employing his amateur style and controlling the radio despite his proclamations that he wants, and deserves, James' trust. And James is no saint either — he's irresponsible on crime scenes, violent with perps, and disgruntled to the point of being unable to work with anybody else on the force. These are not good police officers... of course, you'll say, this is a comedy. But where are the laughs, then?
They're not absent entirely, you just have to look for them. In a movie so focused with big, broad humor, it's the smaller comedy that actually lands best. Hart's background mutterings and fumblings, his emoticon-laden texts to girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter, whose only stage direction seems to be "smile, and never wear a full outfit of clothing"), and a bizarre repetition of the word "weird" from supporting player John Leguizamo. All good for unexpected chuckles, while jokes like Hart facing off with a pre-teen or being blown backwards into a brick wall after firing a large gun are all lazy, familiar, and flat.
Structurally, the script is a mess. Ride Along spends far too much time on set up — we get it, Hart and his soon-to-be-brother-in-law Ice Cube don't get along — and far too much time on wrap-up — there's a gigantic, dramatic warehouse shootout that, in any other movie, would be the climax, but there's plenty more to go after that — without any cohesive middle to make the movie feel like... a movie.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
Hart, who leaps at every comic opportunity like a kangaroo (wallaby would be more appropriate), is suited just right for a buddy cop comedy, but he needs something fresh with which to work — a real character, an interesting story, actually funny jokes. Even just one of these would be fine!
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
Over the last 14 weeks, we’ve watched a pool of 64 talented artists shrink to only three: Cassadee Pope, Terry McDermott, and Nicholas David. (Little-known fact: Charles Darwin devised his theory of natural selection after watching the 1838 season of The Voice.) Last night each finalist performed three songs: a new cover, a reprise of an earlier “breakout” performance, and duet with his or her coach.
The episode opens with a somber, candlelit rendition of “Hallelujah,” in tribute to those lost in the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut last week. Each member of the chorus — composed of contestants from throughout the season and all four coaches — holds a card with the name and age of a victim. It’s a beautiful gesture, and an uncharacteristically tasteful one.
Team Cee Lo’s Nicholas David — soul man, family man, bearded man — is the first finalist to perform. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that Cee Lo was the only judge to press his button for Nick in the blind auditions.
Nick offers a medley (isn’t that cheating?!) of Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire” into Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” — I guess they limited him to two songs, or the Jonas Brothers’ “Burnin’ Up” would surely have come next.
I love this performance. Nick has metamorphosed into a true showman, with all the “swagger” he once worried that he lacked. He breaks out some Elvis-esque pelvis gyrations, and his leg kicks like it has a mind of his own as he pounds away on his flaming — of course — piano. If this is what we can expect from Nicholas David: Live, I’m setting up a Google Alert for tickets right now.
Cassadee Pope chooses to revisit “Over You,” the single that skyrocketed her to the top of the iTunes charts. Her voice is as gorgeous as ever, and this is arguably an even more nuanced, soulful version than her earlier cover.
She’s apparently trying to appeal to the attention-deficit crowd, decked out in a mirrored dress that must weight at least as much as she does. Adam sums it up best. “So shiny,” he comments, before elaborating a few seconds later: “Really shiny.” Also, there are gems glued to Cassadee’s hair, which I guess is a thing we can do with science now.
In the next pre-recorded segment, Blake has invited Terry and his family over to his home. “It’s pretty big of a house,” Terry’s son Liam astutely notes. Blake reveals that he’s flown in Terry McDermott, Sr. from Scotland as a surprise — Terry hasn’t seen his father in years. Hugs! Tears! Family! God bless us, every one!
Back before the live audience, Terry and Blake team up for “Dude (Looks Like a Lady).” It’s a smart song choice for McDermott, combining high, melodic verses with a grittier chorus — and because no one in their right mind doesn’t love Aerosmith.
I love Terry and Blake’s playful dynamic. At this point, I’d be perfectly happy if all two hours of the finale were devoted to footage of the pair trading friendship bracelets and braiding each other’s hair. The song’s guitar solo is performed by none other than an unnecessarily shirtless Adam Levine, in a long brown costume wig and glasses — he looks like the unholy offspring of Cassadee Pope and Garth from Wayne’s World.
Nicholas David returns with a reinterpretation of “Lean on Me,” the cover that brought Cee Lo to tears a few weeks ago. Tonight’s is a slightly funkier version — less emotional than Nick’s first, but successful nonetheless. Of the finalist’s old-man blazer, Adam jokes, “You look like a principal… principal of the School of Funky Stuff.” Then he pauses, caught up in a rare moment of self-awareness: “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever said.” I’m so glad to have taken this journey with you, Adam.
Terry takes on Mister Mister’s “Broken Wings,” his son’s favorite song. It’s good, not great (and we’ve come to expect no less than great from Terry) — he actually sounds a little flat at the beginning. In fact, it turns out this may have been the result of a technical malfunction beyond his control. Adam argues that Terry’s grace under pressure is the ultimate proof of his performing chops.
After Cassadee’s family sits down with Blake, she and her coach duet on Sheryl Crow’s “Steve McQueen” — like Crow herself, Cassadee deftly navigates the rock-country genre divide. Freshly changed into a plaid overshirt and jeans, she gleefully commandeers a megaphone for the spoken-word bridge. The fun is infectious.
To my initial disappointment, Terry passes over his many classic rock triumphs and instead revisits “I Wanna Know What Love Is.” But after hearing his version a second time, I’ve really come to appreciate it. I also enjoy the brief montage that summarizes Terry’s time on the show — it’s an unintentional time-lapse version of the mysterious de-dorkification of his mullet. The change is subtle but incredibly effective: I think they had someone lighten it? It’s that or witchcraft.
Nicholas’s parents and family join Cee Lo for a visit. Nick’s surprisingly clean-shaven father is named David, which would be delightful if their last name was actually David as well — alas, it’s really Mrozinski.
For their duet, Nick and Cee Lo play the funky music that is “Play That Funky Music.” Even as he shares the stage with caged go-go girls and a break-dancing child (costumed exactly like Cee Lo… don’t ask), Nick manages to remain the center of attention.The last performance of the finals is Cassadee’s. As they rehearse, she reveals to Blake that her long-absent father has recently contacted her in the hopes of reuniting. I’m concerned, as a recent Key & Peele sketch comes to mind—don’t let him hurt you again, baby girl.
Once the frontwoman of pop-punk band Hey Monday, Cassadee still has the unfortunate forearm tattoos to prove it. But once again, she goes full country with Faith Hill’s “Cry.” The song definitely plays to her strengths, giving her ample opportunity to belt with a woman-scorned intensity. Papa Blake says he’s never heard her sound better; I’m inclined to agree.
The Voice is back tomorrow night with a two-hour finale featuring Rihanna, The Killers, Bruno Mars, and Kelly Clarkson. Follow Molly on Twitter at @mollyfitz.
[Image Credit: NBC (2)]
The Voice Recap: Of Moonshine and Men
The Voice Recap: Bublé, Please Come Home
The Voice Recap: Pretty Girls and Unicorns
From Our Partners:
’The Hobbit’ Cast: A Who’s Who New Character Guide (Moviefone)
’Les Miserables’ Unscripted: Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway On Singing And Being Modest
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
The Tourist is about as difficult to get through as spotting the vowels in the name of its director. Florian Henckel von Donnersmark was last seen receiving a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2007 for The Lives of Others which was about a couple living in East Berlin who were being monitored by the police of the German Democratic Republic. Its positive reception made way for the assumption that Donnersmark would continue to populate the USA with films of seemingly otherworldly and underrepresented themes. But his current project is saddening in its superficiality and total implausibility.
The film’s only real upside is its stars: two of our most prized Americans. Johnny Depp plays Frank Tupelo a math teacher from Wisconsin who travels to Europe after his wife leaves him presumably because of his weakness and simplicity. While en route to Venice he meets Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie) who situates herself in his company after she receives a letter from her criminal lover Alexander Pearce (who stole some billions from a very wealthy Russian and the British government) with instructions to find someone on a train who looks like him and make the police believe that he is the real Alexander Pearce to throw the authorities and the Russians off his track. Elise picks Frank and after they are photographed kissing each other on the balcony of Elise’s hotel everyone begins to believe Frank is the real Pearce and so begins the chase.
While Donnersmark could not have picked two better looking people to film roaming around Venice his lack of faith in the audience is obvious. Every aspect of the characters is hammed up again and again as if Donnersmark felt burdened with the task of making us see his vision. Doubtful that we’re capable of getting to where he wants us he has crafted a movie completely devoid of subtlety. Elise’s strength and superiority over Frank are portrayed by close-ups and repeated instances of men burping up their lungs upon seeing her (as if her beauty is in any way subjective?). And in case we forgot that Frank is the victim in this story -- even though he’s been tricked chased and shot at - Donnersmark still felt the need to pin him with a lame electronic cigarette to puff on. Frank and Elise somehow manage to lack mystery even though we get very few factual details about each of them.
Nothing extraordinary comes to us in the way of the film’s structural elements either. There is very little of the action that The Tourist’s marketing led us to believe and the dialog is often painful. The plot itself is almost shockingly unbelievable especially when we’re asked to believe that Elise falls in love with Frank after a combination of kissing him once and her disclosed habit of swooning over men she only spent an hour with (yes that was on her CV).
The Tourist is rather empty and cosmetic. It’s worth seeing if you’re a superfan of Jolie or Depp but don’t expect to walk out of the theater with anything more than the stub you came in with.