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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I know, that headline is trouble. You're always treading dangerous ground when you insist on defining what makes a good this or the right kind of that, as if there is no room for change or improvement when it comes to classic properties. Of course there is — Jason Segel's 2011 Muppet film approached the concept from an entirely different direction. It didn't hit all of its marks, but it prevailed overall in its conceit: make a movie not about Muppets, but about Muppet fandom. But Muppets Most Wanted, in absence of a clear mission statement and fueled largely by the monetary glimmers of the sequel game (the film's opening number admits this outright), has fewer marks readily available to hit. Landing in the ambiguity between the classic Muppet adventure formula and Segel's post-modern Henson appreciation party, Most Wanted feels like a failure on both counts. It doesn't know which kind of movie it wants to, or should, be. So it doesn't really be anything.
On the one hand, there's the half-cocked "get-the-band-back-together" through line, mimicking but not quite accomplishing the spirit of the 2011 picture. None of the Muppets are particularly likable or charming in this turn, and even fewer of them actually given anything to do. Kermit loses his s**t in the first act after a spat with Piggy and a barrage of insubordination from his troupe (provoked by the nefarious Dominic Badguy, Ricky Gervais), storms off in a huff, and gets swept up in a case of mistaken identity when his criminal doppelganger Constantine pulls the old switcheroo, landing Kermit in a Russian gulag. You'd think this would be a good opportunity for the second tier of Muppet favorites — Piggy, Fozzy, Gonzo, Scooter, Rowlf, et al — to go on a search and rescue... but save for a very brief sequence at the tail end of this achingly long film, none of the other Muppets are giving anything to do. They just hem and haw and perform the occasional "Indoor Running of the Bulls" while Dominic and Constantine scheme, rob banks, and bicker.
Meanwhile, Kermit has some fun in prison — a far more endearing plot that sees him befriending the merry convicts, organizing a penitentiary revue, and even winning the heart of the vicious warden Nadia (Tina Fey). If only we could spend more time with real Kermit and less time with fake Kermit and his second banana Gervais, an effectively boring pair.
On the other hand, though, there's the Muppet shtick that fans of The Great Muppet Caper and Muppet Treasure Island — and yes, The Muppet Show itself — will deem the movie's best material: CIA Agent Sam Eagle and Interpol Agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) hot on the trail of Constantine and Dominic. Here, we get a different type of Muppet movie entirely from what Segel and the A-plot in Most Wanted are opting: the old fashioned vaudeville act, with Sam standing as an independent entity from his googly-eyed brethren, on a goofy, musical prowl with Burrell that fuels the film with its best and most consistent chuckles. Their "Interrogation Song" number is outstanding, exemplifying the many talents of Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie, who wrote all the music for this and the previous film.
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Unfortunately, Muppets Most Wanted isn't sure that it wants to be The Great Muppet Caper, beheld so stubbornly to its Segelian roots. There's a palpable compulsion to stick with this agonizingly self-aware, nostalgia-crazy, brimming-beacons-of-the-past-in-a-callous-today theme that doesn't work a fraction as well as it did in the 2011 film. Without a legitimate celebration of any of our favorite characters, how could it? With so much going on in this movie, and such a lengthy runtime at just under two hours, it's a sure sign of failure that we walk away feeling like we spent barely any time with the Muppets.
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Joe Corre, co-founder of the Agent Provocateur lingerie label, found Luca Mainardi's body hanging at his London home on Thursday (17Sep09).
Corre, the son of former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, was with the 48 year old the previous night as they recorded a new album as electro band Dirty Stop Out with former Clash star Mick Jones.
A source tells British tabloid The Sun, "It was a nightmare for him to stumble across the suicide of his closest friend. Naturally he is devastated.
"Joe and Luca spent their free time together hanging out and making music. Luca smoked a lot of cannabis and was very moody."
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police confirms the death is being treated as "non-suspicious".
As befits his newfound boffo box office status, Spider-Man star Tobey Maguire purchased a 5,000-square-foot $3.7 million mansion in Beverly Hills, Calif., Reuters reports. Maguire, who made a paltry $4 million for his role, will certainly be able to make the payments: He's signed on to do two Spider-Man sequels for a whopping $23 million. Spider-Man shattered box office records with a $115 million opening weekend and a $200 million total haul in its first 10 days.
"Janie's Got a Gun," but where's her fire extinguisher? Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton's Cape Cod, Mass., home was destroyed by fire Saturday, The Associated Press reports. No one was in the house when the fire occurred.
Latin hottie Salma Hayek is set to produce and star in Murphy's Law, a romantic comedy based on ideas by her brother Sami and on Murphy's Law, which states that anything that can go wrong will. Sounds more like an Al Gore biography than a movie.
Edward Burns and Catherine McCormack may gain a scene-stealing veteran colleague to the cast of Peter Hyams' A Sound of Thunder: Ben Kingsley, The Hollywood Reporter claims. Kingsley was recently nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in Sexy Beast.
In the Biz
Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones narrowly averted a rating disaster in Great Britain, where cutting a scene showing a head butt allowed the movie to carry a PG rating (meaning that while all age groups are allowed to attend, some scenes may not be appropriate for children). If it hadn't been cut, no one under 12 would have been allowed to see the movie. As it is, this is the strictest rating any Star Wars film has ever received in Great Britain--the four others received the United Kingdom's non-restrictive U (universal) rating.
Sharon Maguire, director of surprise hit Bridget Jones's Diary, is said to be in initial negotiations with Columbia Pictures to helm the romantic comedy Last First Kiss, Variety reports. It's rumored that Will Smith and Jennifer Lopez may star.
Watch out for Lara Croft! Angelina Jolie may have a new director to mastermind the heroine's adventures in the Tomb Raider sequel. According to Variety, Paramount is intent on making Jan De Bont (Speed) the guy calling the shots behind the lens.
And just when you thought all the bad reality shows were on Fox.... ABC has finally scheduled an airdate for The Mole II, a TV casualty of the Sept. 11 tragedy. The first two episodes, which previously aired Sept. 28, will be re-shown on Tuesday, May 28, to be followed on consecutive Tuesday nights by the next never-seen-before nine episodes. Why? We don't know.
The Queen's Golden Jubilee pop concert scheduled for next month has received a Latin infusion. Ricky Martin has been added to the all-star lineup that includes Elton John, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Tom Jones and Ozzy Osbourne.
Posh Spice (Victoria) and her soccer captain hubby, David Beckham, threw a celebrity party to benefit Britain's National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children on Sunday. Among the attendees were Elton John, Joan Collins, billionaire Richard Branson, designer Vivienne Westwood and tennis star Greg Rusedski.