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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Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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The Bond fans' Web site, www.bond20.com, dedicated to provide information about the latest James Bond movie, has failed in its mission, the producers told Reuters on Wednesday.
Eon Productions, responsible for the upcoming Bond film, said the script featured on the Web site does not belong to them. The production company added that the plot was the product of a fan's overactive imagination.
"The film hasn't got a name yet. It's only in the very beginning of pre-production," a spokeswoman for Eon Productions said.
Controversial Nazi-era film maker Leni Riefenstahl, recently told German magazine Bunte that she was taking morphine to relieve the pain for her severe back pain. She survived a helicopter crash in 2000 while vacationing in Sudan, Africa where she was taking photographs. Riefenstahl turns 99 on Wednesday.
The Early Show host Bryant Gumbel and his wife June Gumbel, ended their 27-year marriage on Tuesday. Accusations that the talk-show host cheated on his wife with a series of mistresses surround the proceedings, the Associated Press reports. Details on the agreement were sealed.
Academy Award winning actress Angelina Jolie will be named United Nations Goodwill Ambassador in Geneva next Monday, the U.N. refugee agency told Reuters on Wednesday. Jolie has already visited refugee camps in Sierra Leone and Cambodia, and is currently in Pakistan.
Former Survivor contestant Richard Hatch was arrested in Middletown, R.I. on Tuesday for a domestic dispute with his boyfriend, reports television entertainment show Access Hollywood. After turning himself in, Hatch was released on his own recognizance and was ordered to be in court on Sept. 7 to face misdemeanor charges of assault.
Kate Hudson's former personal assistant, Margaret Miller, is planning to counter-sue the film star for wrongful termination and defamation, her lawyer Arthur Barens told Reuters on Tuesday. Hudson has sued her assistant for spending $63,000 on limousines, hotel rooms, plane tickets, and other personal expenses.
ABC anchorman Jack Ford says he is going elsewhere if the network doesn't make him a host of Good Morning America or give him another high-profile anchor slot, the Associated Press reports. During his initial negotiations with ABC, Ford was told co-host Charlie Gibson was going to be on the show with Diane Sawyer temporarily to increase ratings, but the coupling turned out to be a match made in ratings heaven, removing the temporary tag from Gibson's assignment.
Backstreet Boy Brian Littrell and his wife, Leighanne, have formed BriLeigh Prods., a music label and entertainment production company in association with Insight Entertainment Group, reports Reuters. The main focus is to launch a recording label, but the company has plans to produce both films and television shows by the end of 2002.
Pop group Destiny's Child recently purchased a recording studio in Houston from Texas Justice star Larry Joe Doherty. "This town is thirsty for something natinal and what Matthew Knowles [DC's manager] has going is international," Doherty told the Los Angeles Times last month.
Tony Danza will host the 81st annual Miss America Pageant, airing Sept. 22 at 8 p.m. on ABC. Bob Bain, the producer of the telecast, told The Associated Press that Danza's charm, enthusiasm and energy would complement the format changes of the show. This year the contest will feature quiz shows, reality TV, and an opportunity for contestants to vote for the winner.
Brendan Fraser will next be seen playing the role of Brick in the Tennessee Williams classic A Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, when the play opens in London next month, reports Reuters. Ned Beatty will join Fraser on the British stage.
Having closed in 1996 after Burt Reynolds lost the property due to bankruptcy, The Burt Reynolds Museum might come to life again. Florida town council members gave the museum a new, temporary home in an old bank building, says The Associated Press. Reynolds' 160-acre estate, which served as the old museum, was bought by a Palm Beach County school district for $3.85 million in 1999. All the memorabilia has been in storage ever since.
Did you know that Eminem has Scottish roots? Neither did we. But Betty Kresin, the controversial entertainer's grandmother, told the Daily Record (Kansas) newspaper that she was thrilled the rapper was giving a concert in the land of his forebears.
Steven Spielberg is set to direct and produce Catch Me, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. According to Reuters, the film is based on Frank Abagnale's 1980 memoir about the youngest man ever placed on the FBI's Most Wanted List. The project is eyeing a January production start.
Howard Stern is being considered for immortalization at the Madame Tussaud Wax Museum in New York City, the shock jock told his listeners on Tuesday's show. "Why would someone do this unless their ego is massive?" Stern said.