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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If you haven’t started Season 4 of Downton Abbey beware of major spoilers.
There are only two episodes in Season 4 and, so far, we have seen a major character die and one of the series’ most lovable characters brutally raped. Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) was in a car crash last season and the season premiere proves he didn’t survive. In episode 2, Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt) gets raped by Mr. Green (Nigel Harman), Lord Gillingham’s vallet. What’s next? Are Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) going to get into a fight in the salon? Are these topical stories or are they gratuitous soap opera shock moments?
This is a huge departure to some prior storylines. Sure, there have been some scandalous activities at Downton. Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) lost her virginity out of wedlock to a man who died in bed with her. But the issue was handled more like a comedy of errors and the film Clue than a graphic body disposal. They didn’t chop up his body and hide it in a silver chafing dish. Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) did have an affair with a secretly gay member of the aristocracy. But it was more about Thomas’ struggles in society at the time. However, Anna’s rape was violent and intense. It seemed to come out of left field. Is it gratuitous?
Granted, this is topical for aristocratic society because it is very possible for a rape to go unreported when it’s a servant that is raped. However, wouldn’t a servant raping another servant be hastily dealt with? It may have been more topical had Anna been raped by a member of the aristocracy. It wouldn’t make the crime more permissible. However, it would give a voice to the great number of victims that were raped by members of a higher class and forced to stay silent. Instead, Anna stays silent because she fears Mr. John Bates (Brendan Coyle) will go wild and kill him. Bates may be a convicted criminal but he isn’t a murderer. What’s scary and unexpressed is if Mr. Bates is so wild and crazy is he beating Anna? If not, why shouldn’t she tell someone what happened?
Is Downton Abbey veering off course or is it delivering the level of drama you’d expect from the series? So far, nothing is anachronistic. Yes, Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) died of complications of childbirth. And yes, if Matthew got into a car accident he wouldn’t survive. But are all these horrific events gratuitous?
Despite the intensity and randomness of these events it seems like the show is venturing to express life at that time. As the series approaches the 1920s, so comes modernism. As sad as it is to see the utterly lovable Anna violated, it does give her character a storyline that transcends dressing Lady Mary. Hopefully, she is able to tell someone and get vindication for this violation. But I guarantee you that if Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) becomes a prostitute it may be time to stop watching Downton Abbey.
Hell on Wheels is headed where many other series fear to tread: Saturday nights. AMC's Western has received a Season 3 greenlight from the cabler, after some speculation that the show might be axed. However, the network is pushing it off their prime Sunday lineup this summer, which has filled up pretty fast with Season 3 of The Killing, the new drama Low Winter Sun, and, of course, the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad. That left no room for Hell on Wheels.
AMC boss Charlie Collier is undeterred, though. In a statement he says, "A new episode of Hell on Wheels on Saturday night after a full day of Western fan favorites is going to be like the saddle on top of the horse." He's suggesting that Saturday is going to be turned into an all-day Western lineup, now that AMC has acquired the rights to sagebrush classics like Howard Hawks' El Dorado, John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and Don Siegel's The Shootist. AMC is also planning special anniversary airings of 1953's Hondo, 1963's McClintock!, 1968's Hang 'Em High, and 1973's High Plains Drifter.
Saturday night has pretty much been a no-man's land for television — both network and cable — for years. But in the '90s CBS found success placing Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman on Saturday nights. AMC is betting that Hell on Wheels will fill a void no one realized even existed.
Hopefully people will watch it then, because Season 3 actually sounds really good: It's 1867, the third year of building transcontinental Union Pacific railroad and vengeful gunslinger Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) decides to leave his vendetta behind and help the company combat the rival Central Pacific Railroad in their race to the ocean. Expect musings on racism, capitalism, and Manifest Destiny.
Will you be watching on Saturday nights?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
More: Is the Renewal of ‘Hell on Wheels’ On Hold?
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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]