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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.
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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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Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Treading water at the very surface of RoboCop, there is an idea. A dense concept, ready and willing to provide no dearth of dissection for any eager student of philosophy, psychology, political science, physics — hell, any of the Ps. To simplify the idea on hand: What separates man from machine? It's a question that is not just teased by the basic premise of José Padilha's remake of the 1987 sci-fi staple, but asked outright by many of its main characters. And then never really worried about again.
We have principal parties on both sides of the ethical quandary that would place the security of our crime-ridden cities in the hands of automatons. Samuel L. Jackson plays a spitfire Bill O'Reilly who wonders why America hasn't lined its streets with high-efficiency officer droids. Zach Grenier, as a moralistic senator, gobbles his way through an opposition to the Pro-boCop movement. We hear lecture after lecture from pundits, politicians, business moguls (a money-hungry Michael Keaton heads the nefarious OmniCorp...) and scientists (...while his top doc Gary Oldman questions the nature of his assignments while poking at patients' brains and spouting diatribes about "free will"), all working their hardest to lay thematic groundwork. Each character insists that we're watching a movie about the distinction between human and artificial intelligence. That even with an active brain, no robot can understand what it means to have a heart. But when Prof. Oldman tempers his hysterical squawking and Samuel L. Hannity rolls his closing credits, we don't see these ideas taking life.
In earnest, the struggle of rehabilitated police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) — nearly killed in the line of duty and turned thereafter into OmniCorp's prototype RoboCop — doesn't seem to enlist any of the questions that his aggravated peers have been asking. Murphy is transformed not just physically, but mentally — robbed of his decision-making ability and depleted of emotional brain chemicals — effectively losing himself in the process. But the journey we see take hold of Murphy is not one to reclaim his soul, although the movie touts it as such. It's really just one to become a better robot.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Meanwhile, RoboCop lays down its motives, and hard: Murphy's wife and son (Abbie Cornish and a puckish young John Paul Ruttan) lament the loss of Alex, condemning his dehumanization at the hands of Raymond Sellars' (Keaton) capitalistic experiments, and sobbing out some torrential pathos so you know just how deep this company is digging. Weaselly stooges (Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, and Jackie Earl Haley) line the OmniCorp roster with comical wickedness. Overseas, killer combat bots take down peaceful villages, unable to work empathetic judgment into their decision to destroy all deemed as "threats." And at the top, figures of power and money like Sellars and Pat Novak (Jackson) speak the loudest and harshest, literally justifying their agenda with a call for all naysayers to "stop whining." Clearly, RoboCop has something to say.
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And when it's devoted to its outrage, RoboCop is terrifically charming. The buzzing political world is just a tiny step closer to ridiculous than our own; the pitch meetings at OmniCorp are fun enough to provoke a ditching of all the material outside of the company walls. And one particular reference to The Wizard of Oz shows that the movie isn't above having fun with its admittedly silly premise. But it loses its magic when it steps away from goofy gimmicks and satirical monologues and heads back into the story. We don't see enough of Murphy grappling with the complicated balance between his conflicting organic and synthetic selves. In fact, we don't see enough "story" in Murphy at all. First, he's a dad and a cop. Then, he's a RoboCop. But can he also be a RoboDad? With all of its ranting and raving about the question, the film doesn't seem to concerned with actually figuring out the answer.
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The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
This period piece takes place amidst the gossip of aristocrats in fascist Italy where the characters search for freedom passion love and self-identity. This is a straightforward tale and much like a good play it has plenty of witty dialogue and a well-paced story. The film opens with a bit of history but we soon enter a world of lust death blackmail and escape. It's an odd love story to be sure but it works. The chemistry between a beautiful English aristocrat (Kristin Scott Thomas) and an American playboy (Sean Penn) lights up the screen.
Scott Thomas and Penn are brilliant together utterly believable as romantic partners. Thomas' elegant demeanor combined with Penn's grittier charms will certainly keep audiences interested. Anne Bancroft's over-the-top princess is full of zest and wit much like her Miss Havisham was in the recent remake of "Great Expectations."
Philip Haas brings together a rich and sensuous blend of settings and characters. He skillfully combines the lushness of a Merchant-Ivory film with bristly more muscular storytelling.
Funnyman Mike Myers has been picked to play rock wild man Keith Moon in a new biopic charting the drummer's turbulent life.
The Austin Powers star was chosen by Moon's former The Who band mate Roger Daltrey, who is working on the film project with Nigel Sinclair.
Despite being 11 years older than Moon was when he died of a fatal overdose of Chlormethiazole in a London flat in 1978, 43-year-old Myers has been branded the perfect actor to portray the “Substitute” rocker's wild lifestyle on screen.
Sinclair says, "Mike looks very young and Keith, of course, looked much older than he was.
"Roger's dream was to have Mike as the creative force to pull the project together."
The film--See Me Feel Me (Keith Moon Naked for Your Pleasure)--is due for release in 2009.
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Mary-Kate's not dropping out of NYU, she says
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's freshman year at New York University is being so vigilantly dissected by the media that the diminutive millionaires can't buy a $2.50 cup of Tasty D-Lite soft-serve in the city without it making front page news. So it comes as no surprise that Mary-Kate's recent hiatus in Los Angeles is sparking rumors the brunette has not only dropped out of college, but also relapsed into an eating disorder. "She just got out of recovery when she came to New York," US Weekly editor-in-chief Janice Min said on NBC's Today show. "For anyone who has been to college, the freshman year is stressful, and when you are Mary-Kate Olsen and having the whole world watch your behavior and what you eat was too much." Mary-Kate's publicist, Michael Pagnotta, said in a statement Tuesday that Mary-Kate is in L.A. on personal business and is expected to return to New York and to school shortly, but denied reports the 18-year-old actress had suffered a setback. "Somehow there's a suggestion that she has relapsed into an eating disorder. That's just silly. She's in ongoing treatment for an eating disorder with an experienced team of professionals who are available to her on both coasts," he said. "She is working very hard at being well."
New charges filed against O'Reilly
A Fox News Channel producer filed new accusations Tuesday against O'Reilly Factor host Bill O'Reilly, claiming she has lost her job because she complained to the network about her alleged mistreatment, The Associated Press reports. According to court papers, Andrea Mackris, 33, told top executives about the alleged harassment by Sept. 29 and was told to call in sick while they investigated her complaint. But Mackris claims Fox officials have not discussed her job status since she met with Fox lawyers Oct. 5. A lawyer for O'Reilly and Fox denied Mackris has been fired or retaliated against in any way. Last week, O'Reilly filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court against Mackris and her lawyer, alleging they threatened him with a high profile sexual harassment case unless he and the network shelled out $60 million in "hush money." But Benedict Morelli, the lawyer named as a defendant in O'Reilly's case, turned around and filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox News and O'Reilly on behalf of Mackris.
Growing Pains star pleads not guilty to drunk driving charges
Former Growing Pains star Tracey Gold pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges she was driving drunk when her sport utility vehicle overturned in Ventura, Calif., on September 3. Tracey Gold Marshall, 35, did not speak as her attorney entered the pleas on her behalf to three felony counts, the AP reports. She is charged with driving under the influence of alcohol causing bodily injury, driving with a blood-alcohol level above 0.08 causing injury and felony child endangerment. Although Marshall wasn't hurt when the SUV flipped on a highway in Moorpark just before midnight and rolled down an embankment, her 39-year-old husband, Roby Marshall, injured his neck and their 7-year-old son suffered a broken collarbone and a cut above his eye. The couple's two other sons, a 5-year-old and 4-month-old, who were also in the SUV but were not hurt. Her lawyer declined to discuss details of the incident.
Private service for Reeve to be held at Julliard
Christopher Reeve's family will hold a private memorial service for the actor Oct. 29 at the Juilliard School in New York, where the Superman star studied drama, according to a statement posted Tuesday on his paralysis foundation's Web site. About 900 guests are expected at the event. Reeve, who was left a quadriplegic after a May 1995 horse riding accident, died Oct. 10 after complications from an infection caused by a bed sore. He was 52. Reeve's wife, Dana, posted a letter on the Web site expressing gratitude for the support the family has received. "We are moved by and sincerely grateful for all these gestures--large and small--for they do make a difference," she said in the letter.
Trump's moving ahead with Apprentice 3
As the wannabe moguls continue to duke it out on season two of NBC's hit realty show The Apprentice, host Donald Trump has confirmed the third installment of his hit reality series has already starting filming. "It's going very well," Trump told the AP yesterday. "It's a great group."
Godzilla will get Walk of Fame star
And why shouldn't he? It's been 50 years since the genetically altered dinosaur rose out of the sea to wreak havoc on the hapless Japanese, and the fire-breathing movie monster has certainly put in his dues as part of Hollywood monster royalty. The ceremony to honor the giant lizard will be held Nov. 29 to coincide with the world premiere of Godzilla Final Wars, the 28th Godzilla movie at Hollywood Boulevard's famed Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the AP reports.
Broadcaster will air only part of anti-Kerry docu
The Sinclair Broadcast Group said Tuesday it will only air part of a documentary critical of John Kerry because of pressure from critics demanding the broadcast be canceled altogether--or face legal action, Reuters reports. Sinclair said last week it planned to show the entire 42-minute documentary Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal, made by Vietnam veteran and former journalist Carlton Sherwood, which chronicles Kerry's 1971 testimony before Congress and accuses the senator of betraying fellow Vietnam vets. But the Democratic Party filed a complaint against Sinclair with the Federal Election Commission, claiming the broadcasting company was acting as a mouthpiece for the Republican Party rather than a legitimate news outlet. Sinclair operates in 39 markets that include Florida and Ohio.
Kit Bowen contributed to this report.
Brosnan turns in license to kill
Pierce Brosnan appears to giving up his 007 moniker, according to Entertainment Weekly. In an interview on the magazine's Web site posted Tuesday, the Irish-born actor said 2002's Die Another Day was his last mission for Her Majesty's Secret Service, he's turning in his license to kill. "That's it. I've said all I've got to say on the world of James Bond…another lifetime behind me," Brosnan said. Speculation on who will replace him include King Arthur co-stars Clive Owen and Ioan Gruffudd, as well as fellow Brits Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Gerard Butler, Jude Law and Ewan McGregor and Aussies Hugh Jackman, Heath Ledger and Eric Bana.
Hoffman aids bee sting victim
Dustin Hoffman and his wife, Lisa, rushed to the aid of a woman who was stung by a bee near the couple's Malibu, Calif., home two weeks ago, The Associated Press reports. The woman, Lydia Graham, began having a severe allergic reaction after being stung while walking on the beach. As a friend rushed to get help from the beach patrol, the Hoffmans, who witnessed the action from their deck, hurried to Graham's aid. Lucky break for Graham--Lisa Hoffman is also allergic to bee stings, and used her own emergency injection kit to combat the reaction. Graham, 36, told CBS's The Early Show, that as her eyes and lips were swelling up and her throat was closing she recognized a familiar face was on the sand with her. "I did recognize that it was Dustin Hoffman but I was sure that…I could possibly die," Graham said.
On-Air? More like, "Off-Air"
American Idol host Ryan Seacrest's syndicated talk show was canceled Tuesday, a day after reports surfaced that the Sinclair Broadcast Group had yanked On-Air With Ryan Seacrest from more than 20 of its TV stations. Twentieth Television, the show's Fox-owned distributor, said in a statement: "It was our desire that the program would appeal to a wide array of viewers, but unfortunately, the marketplace's response was not as strong as we had hoped." On-Air ends production Thursday but will continue to air until Sept. 17, the AP reports. Seacrest, meanwhile, will continue in his host duties on Fox's American Idol, which heads into its fourth season in January, and as morning disc jockey on Los Angeles' KIIS-FM.
Timberlake gets restraining order against stalking photographer
A Santa Monica, Calif., judge Tuesday barred a photographer from coming within 50 yards of pop singer Justin Timberlake for the next three years, City News reports. Timberlake, 23, filed a civil harassment suit on July 9, asking for a restraining order against Artemus Earl Lister, alleging the photographer had "stalked and continually harassed '' Timberlake since mid May. On May 26, according to the suit, Lister almost struck Timberlake's trainer, Robert Bonner, in the face with a camera. "When I am driving on the street, (Lister) drives recklessly, erratically and aggressively, and endangers the safety of myself, my passengers and innocent drivers on the roadway,'' Timberlake stated. Meanwhile, in other Timberlake court news, the singer also filed suit in London against the British tabloid News of the World, for a story reporting he cheated on girlfriend Cameron Diaz with British model Lucy Clarkson, publicist Ken Sunshine told City News. "Justin never met the woman in question, and we are confident a lot of money will be won for a wonderful charity when we win this case,'' Sunshine said.
Sizemore back in court is Fleiss case
Speaking of endless court battles, Tom Sizemore was ordered yesterday to appear in court Aug. 5 to set another hearing over whether he violated probation after being convicted of abusing ex-girlfriend and former Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss. Sizemore was sentenced in October to six months in jail on misdemeanor charges of harassing, annoying and physically abusing Fleiss during their two-year relationship. His probation terms called for him to stay away from Fleiss, undergo counseling for domestic violence and anger management and submit to regular drug testing. Prosecutors allege the actor violated his probation by contacting Fleiss and testing positive for drugs. Sizemore's lawyer, however, told the AP Sizemore is doing well and did not violate his probation.
Rocco DiSpirito not only loses restaurant, he's barred from it
Rocco DiSpirito, the TV chef of NBC's primetime reality series The Restaurant, lost a battle in New York civil court Tuesday against the eatery's co-owner. Variety reports Jeffrey Chodorow can now sell Rocco's restaurant, or renovate it under a different name, without any input from the chef. Acting Justice Ira Gammerman also issued a restraining order to keep DiSpirito from setting foot in the restaurant. Chodorow and his investment group, China Grill Management, had sued DiSpirito, claiming he mismanaged the restaurant, causing the group financial losses. DiSpirito claims Rocco's had begun to make money in the last few months and has a shot at becoming successful.
Paris and Nicole to host Teen Choice Awards
The Simple Life stars Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie will host the 2004 Teen Choice Awards, Fox announced Tuesday. The AP reports the awards are unveiling new categories this year, including "Choice Hissy Fit," "Choice Liplock" and "Choice Movie Your Parents Didn't Want You to See." Not such surprising categories, considering the awards are voted on by teens aged 13 through 19. The award show, taping Aug. 8 at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles, will air Aug. 11 at 8 p.m. EST on Fox. Other appearances will include Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Usher and Ashton Kutcher.
Guylaine Cadorette contributed to this report.