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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.
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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Tribeca Film via Everett Collection
Like the name implies, there are two films trapped inside director Bryan Poyser's latest effort: "Love" being one half, and "Air Sex" being the other. One film is a sometimes charming, sweet, and funny meditation on love between twenty-somethings, while the other is an aggressively unfunny aside that almost derails the entire film (take a guess at which one is which).
Aspiring filmmaker Stan (Michael Stahl-David) and pre-med student Cathy (Ashley Bell) find love in balmy Austin, but life drives the two to opposite coasts; Stan seeks his dreams under the bright lights of Hollywood, while Cathy heads to the wintery Northeast to attend a prestigious medical school in New York. Six months later, Sean's Hollywood aspirations have landed him in a pizza joint, while Cathy feels disconnected from her med school peers. When Stan catches wind that Cathy is flying home to Austin for the weekend, he can't help but "accidentally" fly home on the same weekend as his ex. The obviousness of Stan's gambit isn't lost on their friends Jeff and Kara, who are in the middle of a breakup of their own. The two ex-lovers try to avoid each other during the weekend, but as one of the characters comments, Austin is a small city, and the pair do threaten to bump into each other, whether by coincidence or by design.
When focusing on the relationships among the four leads, Love and Air Sex works well enough. All four come close to becoming fully rounded characters, and the dialogue is witty enough to entertain. The characters send spiked sexual jabs at each other, while hiding the simmering frustration over lost relationships. Throughout the film, our heroes try some new relationships on for size, and while some of them blossom with probability, others are a halted by old yearnings. Poyser shows a intimate understanding of the awkwardness and comedy of damaged romances, and how admitting one's true feelings can sometimes feel like a herculean labor.
The other half of the title, the "Air Sex," is unfortunately, where the film falls apart. First, let's back up and explain what "Air Sex" actually is: a very real competition where participants are tasked with creating explicit and racy sexual scenarios with a disembodied partner (think air guitar, but with more pelvic thrusts). These sessions of sexual "air-tercourse" get as obscene and vulgar as all get out. But the worst thing about these routines isn't that they're too perverse (and they are pretty perverse), but that they're hardly ever funny or entertaining, and that's a huge fault considering the idea takes up half the title. Jeff uses Air Sex as a scheme to get free beer (the winner of the local Air Sex competition gets to drink free for a year), but it's really an emotional pick-me-up after his break up from Kara. These epic sexual pantomimes go on for minutes at a time and quickly grow annoying. What might have been chuckle worthy sight-gag is ballooned into half of the film's focus, and the Air Sex side plot becomes completely obnoxious as the film grinds into its final act. The biggest crime is that all the time focusing on the Air Sex competition robs the film of time it could have used to put the main characters into better focus. Unless you enjoy sexual wordplay like "Hugh G. Rection" or "F**kasaurus Sex," and a lot of air humping, you might spend much of these sequences rolling your eyes.
Love and Air Sex is a deeply confused film. It wants to be a raunchy comedy and a heartfelt indie romance, but it's constantly weighed down by trying to serve both masters. What's left is a Frankenstein-like mess of a creature that resembles a pleasant romantic comedy sloppily sewed into a terrible raunchy bore. The results are sometimes charming, sometimes groan-inducing, and full of wasted promise.
Robert Zemeckis is a blockbuster director at heart. Action has never been an issue for the man behind Back to the Future. When he puts aside the high concept adventures for emotional human stories — think Forrest Gump or Cast Away — he still goes big. His latest Flight continues the trend revolving the story of one man's fight with alcoholism around a terrifying plane crash. Zemeckis expertly crafts his roaring centerpiece and while he finds an agile performer in Denzel Washington the hour-and-a-half of Flight after the shocking moment can't sustain the power. The "big" works. The intimate drowns.
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker a reckless airline pilot who balances his days flying jumbo jets with picking up women snorting lines of cocaine and drinking himself to sleep. Although drunk for the flight that will change his life forever that's not the reason the plane goes down — in fact it may be the reason he thinks up his savvy landing solution in the first place. Writer John Gatins follows Whitaker into the aftermath madness: an investigation of what really happened during the flight Whitaker's battle to cap his addictions and budding relationships that if nurtured could save his life.
Zemeckis tops his own plane crash in Cast Away with the heart-pounding tailspin sequence (if you've ever been scared of flying before Flight will push into phobia territory). In the few scenes after the literal destruction Washington is able to convey an equal amount of power in the moments of mental destruction. Whitaker is obviously crushed by the events the bottle silently calling for him in every down moment. Flight strives for that level of introspection throughout eventually pairing Washington with equally distraught junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Their relationship is barely fleshed out with the script time and time again resorting to obvious over-the-top depictions of substance abuse (a la Nic Cage's Leaving Las Vegas) and the bickering that follows. Washington's Whitaker hits is lowest point early sitting there until the climax of the film.
Sharing screentime with the intimate tale is the surprisingly comical attempt by the pilot's airline union buddy (Bruce Greenwood) and the company lawyer (Don Cheadle) to get Whitaker into shape. Prepping him for inquisitions looking into evidence from the wreckage and calling upon Whitaker's dealer Harling (John Goodman) to jump start their "hero" when the time is right the two men do everything they can to keep any blame being placed upon Whitaker by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators. The thread doesn't feel relevant to Whitaker's plight and in turn feels like unnecessary baggage that pads the runtime.
Everything in Fight shoots for the skies — and on purpose. The music is constantly swelling the photography glossy and unnatural and rarely do we breach Washington's wild exterior for a sense of what Whitaker's really grappling with. For Zemeckis Flight is still a spectacle film with Washington's ability to emote as the magical special effect. Instead of using it sparingly he once again goes big. Too big.
Wuthering Heights is an incredible experience director Andrea Arnold having taken the Emily Brontë novel and turned it on its head in her typically nervy bold style. There's little dialogue it's shot using available natural light and like her previous film Fish Tank stars an unknown actor whose presence commands every scene.
There is moping on the moors in Wuthering Heights but the muddy meditative experience that has almost nothing in common with its predecessors. There's no romantically brooding Olivier or pillow-lipped Tom Hardy here; this is not an experience for teen girls to swoon over. As children Catherine and Heathcliff are odd playmates. Once Mr. Earnshaw dies and Catherine's older brother Hindley takes over the household Heathcliff's life changes drastically for the worse. He's physically and verbally abused and banished to the barn to sleep with the "other animals." It's clear that this is a brand-new nearly incomprehensible world for Healthcliff and it's impossible to not feel empathy for him especially during an aborted attempted at baptizing him. As a teen his relationship with Catherine is magical despite (or because?) how much he risks to just play in the mud with her. An ominous indicator of their lifelong relationship is that she doesn't grasp why her playmate isn't as free as she is to do what she wants. She's sorry that Heathcliff gets beaten for ditching work to play with her but that doesn't stop her from encouraging him. As children they romp like puppies with just a hint of their budding sexuality; they're pure selfish id.
In many ways neither of them outgrow this selfishness. Even when she's married and pregnant Catherine feels Heathcliff betrayed her by leaving. Heathcliff's ruthlessness in his pursuit of revenge is equally childish; we see him torturing dogs that mirrors the actions of Hindley's grubby-faced neglected child. Is it nature or nurture? Is Hindley's child learning by watching the adults around him or should we believe the natural tendency of children is this utterly careless cruelty? Whichever it is there's no doubt that Heathcliff's disavowal of the past and insistence of living in the present — "There's only now " he tells her — has nothing to do with Buddhist mindfulness but a total disregard for how his actions affect others. His initial plan included suicide but this seems much more interesting.
Howson's performance as an adult Heathcliff is remarkable. He's not a sympathetic character — no one is in this film. Although it's not clear whether or not Arnold was specifically looking to cast a person of color for the role of Heathcliff the fact that Howson is black adds an extra layer of complexity to the drama. In the book he's described in such a way that indicates at the very least his ethnic background isn't white but Arnold ups the ante by putting a racial epithet in Hindley's mouth. This drives home the idea of Heathcliff's outsider status; it makes his "otherness" visible.
There's something gentle in Heathcliff's face that belies the nearly sociopathic anger within. When he first seduces Catherine's sister-in-law Isabella as part of his revenge on Catherine it's erotic in a way that makes the viewer complicit in Isabella's eventual destruction. (This serves as an interesting foil to Fish Tank and its ethically troubling but arousing sex scenes with Michael Fassbender and Katie Jarvis.) As the adult Catherine Kaya Scodelario puts in a good performance. Her Catherine looks angelic but is all hard angles underneath those lacy flounces. She is the wild shrieking woman to Heathcliff's cold silence and when she is finally quiet it's only because she's succumbed to the furor of their lifelong struggle.
Throughout Wuthering Heights we are put in Heathcliff's shoes. We see Catherine through his eyes and we understand what it feels like to ride on a horse behind her with her hair whipping in our face and the warm flank under our fingers. We are immersed in this sensual experience of being Heathcliff thanks to the magic of Robbie Ryan's cinematography. (Ryan has worked as a cinematographer on all of Arnold's films including her Oscar-winning short Wasp.) The handheld camera work is intense and occasionally nauseating but its immediacy is crucial to the film. Using available light occasionally works against it as some scenes are so dark it's hard to tell what's actually happening.
Wuthering Heights gives rise to an internal debate. If it was edited down more with less lingering shots of bugs crawling across leaves or birds twinned in the sky as obvious metaphors for Heathcliff and Catherine it would be an entirely different experience. Would it be better maybe more enjoyable easier to sit through? Or is that beside the point? Andrea Arnold's talent lies in pushing the viewer past their normal boundaries of what's romantic or beautiful. In Arnold's world a mother and daughter dancing in a kitchen to "Life's a Bitch" by Nas is as loving and joyful as Heathcliff's frenzied attempts to unearth Catherine's coffin. You either decide you're all in or you're not.
Before there was Walter White and Dexter Morgan, before Stringer Bell and Tony Soprano, there was Heathcliff. The leading man in Emily Brontë's classic novel Wuthering Heights was one of fiction's first antiheroes, and his story of passion and revenge has stood the test of time. The novel's latest cinematic adaptation, from Fish Tank director Andrea Arnold, opens in limited release this October. If the trailer (which premiered exclusively on Vulture) is any indication, the film uses a sweeping landscape and muted palette to viscerally evoke the source material's pain and ecstasy.
England's windy moors — unforgiving, callous, and cold — provide the perfect setting for Heathcliff and Catherine's ill-fated love, and upon watching the trailer you can almost feel the wind whip through your bones. Heathcliff and Catherine's tale may not be happy, but it is full; full at first of childhood innocence, then of betrayal, and, ultimately, of despair. And this trailer hits all of those notes.
The trailer opens with a heartbeat and a question. "Will you forget me?" our heroine asks, to which Heathcliff responds, "I could no more forget you than myself." Even those unfamiliar with Wuthering Heights' story know from this opening alone that these two characters have an intense bond. As children, the trailer tells us, the two entwined lives would play together and suffer together. The cruelty that Heathcliff faced — at the hands of his adopted family as well as Catherine herself — is keenly felt. With each lash of the strap, the audience winces along with Heathcliff. The trailer's greatest strength is that it allows us to feel sympathy for Heathcliff. It shows us that, like Frankenstein's monster, Heathcliff's brutality is a product of his upbringing.
The film's two lead actors, James Howson as Heathcliff and Kaya Scodelario as Catherine, seem more than capable of handling the emotional depth their characters require. And their young counterparts, Solomon Glave and Shannon Beer, seem equally up to the task. Judging from the trailer (which we know is risky business) this film has the odds stacked in its favor. A great director, a great cast, a stunning setting. We can only hope that the film lives up to the high bar it has set for itself.
Follow Abbey Stone on Twitter @abbeystone
[Photo Credit: Agatha Nitecka/Oscilloscope Laboratories]
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Shannon Price lost a bid to keep Gray away from her late husband's body on Monday (14Jun10) - the actor's one-time business partner was given permission to visit Coleman before he was cremated.
But Price is adamant that's the last battle Gray will win - and she'll oppose any claim to her late husband's estate that her one-time rival makes.
She tells U.S. news show Entertainment Tonight, "She was living off us for two months before Gary kicked her out because she spit beer on me. She was drinking one night and was just out of control.
"She had told Gary she was jealous of me because I was coming between him and her and I said, 'I thought you guys were never in a relationship,' and he said, 'She had thought in her mind we were together'. Gary never saw her that way."
Gray had helped Coleman set up a corporation when the odd couple was living together in Los Angeles. She later moved to Utah with Coleman but lost touch with the actor after the dispute over Price.
The actor's ex-wife adds, "He didn't call her, didn't care. Nothing."
Universal Studios is getting ready for a third helping of American Pie, which is set to begin filming in January. According to Variety, Pie 3 has been in the works for some time, but dealmaking with the actors--whose sequel options did not extend beyond American Pie 2--was complex. So far, Seann William Scott, Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan and Eugene Levy have all signed on to reprise their roles. Director Jesse Dylan (How High) is in negotiations to direct the film, written by Adam Herz. Pie 3 is slated for an August 2003 release.
'N Sync star Lance Bass may see his dreams of going to space squashed unless he comes up with a substantial chunk of change. The singer, who has been training in Star City just outside Moscow, is set to join an October mission to the International Space Station. But a spokesperson for Russia's space agency said Wednesday his contract could be dissolved because the first payment has been delayed, Reuters reports. The flight costs a reported $20 million.
Actor Jeremy Irons found a productive way to pass the time when he found himself in a messy airport lounge after his flight was diverted to Shannon Airport in southwestern Ireland, Reuters reports. Apparently upset by the sight of beer-drenched tables and overflowing ashtrays, Jeremy grabbed some cleaning supplies and started cleaning. The Oscar-winning actor was en route to his castle in Cork, southern Ireland.
The 2004 movie awards season is getting a makeover, sparked in part by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' decision to move its annual Oscar ceremony from its traditional late-March berth to Feb. 29. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Screen Actors Guild is moving its own televised awards ceremony to Sunday, Feb. 8, 2004, at the Los Angeles Shrine Exposition Center--a month earlier than has been the norm. The 2003 SAG ceremonies will take place as scheduled Sunday, March 9, two weeks before the Oscars on March 23.
After a series of flops and an extended hiatus from studio films, Demi Moore has agreed to take on a small role in Charlie's Angels 2: Halo, which is slated for release next June. According to Variety, Moore will play a former, "fallen," angel working on the other side of the law. Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz will reprise their roles in the sequel to the 2000 hit.
Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme may reunite with his Silence of the Lambs star Jodie Foster. Paramount Pictures and producer Scott Rudin have asked scribe Richard Price to pen an original idea specifically designed for the director and the actress, Variety reports. The yet-untitled project is loosely described by sources as a thriller set in a modern urban setting.
MGM has hired Don D. Scott to write a sequel to Ice Cube's upcoming urban comedy Barbershop, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Director Tim Story is in negotiations to helm the project. The film, which opens Sept. 13, is an ensemble story that takes place in the course of a day at a barbershop on Chicago's South Side. Positive test screenings prompted the studio to move forward with the project, but no deals have yet been made with the actors to return.
Kid Rock will star in DreamWorks Picture's urban motorcycle project titled Biker Boyz. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Kid Rock will join a cast that includes Lisa Bonet, Laurence Fishburne, Derek Luke, Orlando Jones, Brendan Fehr and Meagan Good. The film follows the real-life exploits of Manuel Galloway, a California motorcycle club president known as the King of Cali. Kid Rock will play Dog, the leader of a rival motorcycle club.