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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It must be awfully frustrating for Robert Pattinson and everyone involved in movies with him to be hamstrung by studios that want to take advantage of his Twilight fan base. There's no other explanation for this fangless adaptation of Guy de Maupassant's classic novel about a mercenary young lad who beds society ladies for political leverage. Oh and because he can.
As Georges Duroy the titular bel ami Pattinson skulks sulks and glowers his way through Paris in the 19th century. The dirt poor former solider runs into a comrade from the war who is now a powerful newspaper editor; Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister) who takes pity on the filthy drunk tosses him a few gold pieces and invites him to dinner. Madeleine Forestier is the brain behind the operation and she advises Duroy to cozy up to the other society ladies as they're the ones with the real power. Duroy gets a gig writing a column for the newspaper which Madeleine actually writes for him and his career as a professional grifter begins.
The plot of Bel Ami revolves around the political environment of France just before its invasion of Morocco as much as it does Duroy's love affairs. It's a major motivating factor for many of the characters one that has been watered down or edited out to the point where it's almost an afterthought. This takes away a lot of the urgency and the sort of backstabbing deliciousness that one would expect from a piece like this. The stakes aren't that high until near the end when they come to a sudden head. Before that the story was meandering between Duroy's dalliances with a married woman and how he's scamming the newspaper.
Christina Ricci plays Duroy's lover Clotilde one of Madeleine's friends and although she's married there's no weight to the affair other than to show the supposedly sexy sex that has been both part of the movie's hype and it would seem its main marketing problem. Marketing problems are relevant here because they generally mean more and more edits are made until what was once a coherent movie becomes a confusing mishmash through little fault of those directly involved.
Their scenes are moderately steamy for an R-rated movie. They're obviously not appropriate for his so-called fan base but it's obvious that even before the Twilight franchise was nearing its run that Pattinson wanted to take a stab at actual acting. Although Duroy is a sh*t it seems unlikely that the final cut of the film is all that true to the book or even the vision of those involved.
That's a shame since Bel Ami looks lovely even if it comes off as occasionally goofy. Ricci is beautiful but her character is banal. The men are all fairly interchangeable cigar-smoking society types or ink-stained writers. The most memorable thing about Uma Thurman's performance is how elegantly she smokes her cigarettes and how she treats Duroy's lovemaking as if it were less interesting than a fly landing on her arm. As one of the society women that Duroy beds as part of his scheming Kristin Scott Thomas goes from a typically no-nonsense married lady to a mewling quim. Pattinson can't seem to find the right balance between rage and sweetness; it's actually impossible to tell who he's in love with when or why until he bursts out with statements like "I was the one getting f*cked!" Or was the audience?
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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Johnny Depp's Neverland named top film by NBR
The Johnny Depp-led biopic Finding Neverland, a whimsical retelling of Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie's life, was named the best film of year by the National Board of Review. NBR prexy Annie Schulhof described the film as visually magical. "All the elements hit the page for a best NBR film--the acting, the costumes, the set design, the music, and especially the cinematography," she told The Associated Press. Jamie Foxx, meanwhile, took the best actor honor for his portrayal of Ray Charles in Ray and Annette Bening was named best actress for her role as an aging British stage star in Being Julia. Laura Linney, who plays the wife of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey in Kinsey, won the supporting-actress category while the cast of Closer--Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen and Natalie Portman--received an accolade for best acting by an ensemble. In other categories, the Disney and Pixar juggernaut The Incredibles, about a family of super heroes, conquered the best animated feature category, the Spanish film The Sea Inside won top foreign language film and Born Into Brothels took best documentary. Michael Mann won the best director award for his Tom Cruise starrer Collateral and scribe Charlie Kaufman's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, starring Jim Carrey as a man who wants to erase memories of a failed romance, won for best original screenplay.
Gothams hail Sideways
Director Alexander Payne's comedy Sideways was named best feature of the year Wednesday at the IFP/New York's 14th annual Gotham Awards in New York. Helmer Jonathan Demme's The Agronomist, about Haitian human rights activist Jean Dominique, took best documentary. The breakthrough actor award went to Catalina Sandino, for her role in Maria Full of Grace, while that film's director, Joshua Marston, was awarded the breakthrough director award. The Gothams aired live for the first time on cable network IFC.
Brokaw bids adieu to viewers
After almost 23 years as NBC Nightly News anchor, Tom Brokaw ended Wednesday night's broadcast with a touching farewell. "Thanks for all that I have learned from you," he said, expressing gratitude to his viewers. "That's been my richest reward." Brokaw is leaving Nightly News and daily journalism to pursue other interests, but will still contribute to NBC News, doing at least three documentaries a year, the AP reports. A South Dakota native who joined NBC in 1966, Brokaw was White House correspondent from 1973 to 1976 and anchored Today from 1976 to 1981. He began his Nightly News stint in April 1982, sharing the anchor title with Roger Mudd, and emerged as solo anchor in September 1983.
Nick and Jessica perplexed by rumor mill
During an appearance on ABC News' Good Morning America, Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey denied tabloid rumors their marriage is on the rocks. "We really are trying to think of where this whole firestorm of gossip came from," Lachey said. "We haven't been able to find really one instance or one public spat." Simpson scoffed at stories she didn't wear her wedding ring to a recent public event because of the couple's alleged marital troubles. "It was a fashion decision," Simpson said, explaining her yellow gold bracelets didn't match her large platinum and diamond wedding rings. "I'm kind of finicky about gold jewelry ... about matching it with silver. Now I don't look at it as that. It's just always going to stay on my finger. It's never coming off."
Knight maybe involved in Vibe melee
Authorities are investigating whether rap mogul Marion "Suge" Knight played a role in the altercation at the Vibe Awards last month, in which rapper Dr. Dre was attacked. Knight, who had a falling out with Dre over their label Death Row Records in the mid-'90s, has denied any involvement in the incident in which a man, Jimmy "James" Johnson, punched Dre in the face. The assault sparked a brawl in which Johnson was stabbed and seriously injured by Dre protégé, rapper Young Buck. Unidentified sources told theLos Angeles Times police have been interviewing witnesses and reviewing video footage to examine Knight's actions before, during and after the melee. Knight was released from prison in 2001 after serving time for assault and weapons violations and the conditions for his parole ban him from having any contact with Dre. The AP reports Knight apparently came to the Vibe Awards without an invitation and sat just a few feet behind Dre.
Joan, Raymond top Family Awards
CBS' Joan of Arcadia and Everybody Loves Raymond were among the winners at the sixth annual Family Television Awards, presented Wednesday in Los Angeles, Reuters reports. Joan and Raymond won in the drama and comedy categories, respectively, while Joan star Amber Tamblyn and Raymond's Doris Roberts tied for actress honors, while Bernie Mac, star of the Fox comedy The Bernie Mac Show, won in the actor category. ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition won best reality program, while the network's Lost took the best new series prize. The awards, organized by the Family Friendly Programming Forum, honor "outstanding work in family-friendly television entertainment."
Actor Orbach diagnosed with prostate cancer
Law & Order star Jerry Orbach has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, the AP reports. "We expect he'll be fine. He's been playing golf, shooting his episodes and doing real well," manager Robert Malcolm told the New York Daily News. Producer Dick Wolf told the News Orbach's illness will not disrupt production of the NBC show. "We expect him to make a full and swift recovery, and while he is receiving treatment, we will work around his schedule," Wolf said.
Inflatable SpongeBobs stolen!
Be on the look out for a thief carrying around 9-foot-wide SpongeBob SquarePants inflatables. More than 50 SpongeBob-nappings have been reported from Florida to Utah since the Nickelodeon pop icon started appearing on the roofs of Burger King restaurants in a promotional tie-in with the hit movie, AP reports. "We don't have any theories. SpongeBob SquarePants is kind of a fad. It could be a childhood prank or an adult trying to get a fad item for Christmas," Florida's Putnam County sheriff's Lt. Steve Rose told the AP Wednesday. "If any leads come across, we will follow up in hopes of making an arrest."
Kit Bowen contributed to this report.