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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In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
As with seemingly every other tentpole release to hit the multiplex this summer the action thriller Cowboys & Aliens is based on a comic book – albeit a lesser-known one. It’s directed by Jon Favreau whose previous comic-book adaptations Iron Man and Iron Man 2 proved how much better those films can be when they’re grounded in character. Unfortunately his latest effort is grounded not in character but a hook an alt-history scenario best expressed in the language of the average twelve-year-old: “Like wouldn’t it be awesome if like a bunch of 1870s cowboys had to fight a bunch of crazy aliens with exoskeletons and spaceships and super-advanced weapons?”
Like perhaps. The hook was compelling enough to get someone to pony up a reported $160 million to find out and the result is a film in which the western and science-fiction genres don’t so much blend as violently collide. After the wreckage is cleared both emerge worse for wear.
Daniel Craig stars as Jake Lonergan a stranger who awakens in the New Mexico Territory with a case of amnesia a wound in his side and a strange contraption strapped to his wrist. After dispatching a trio of bandits with Bourne-like efficiency he rides to the nearby town of Absolution where he stumbles on what appears to be an elaborate Western Iconography exhibit presented by the local historical preservation society. There’s the well-meaning town Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine) struggling to enforce order amidst lawlessness; the greedy rancher Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) who really runs things; his debaucherous cowardly son Percy (Paul Dano); the timid saloonkeeper Doc (Sam Rockwell) who’s going to stand up for himself one of these days; the humble preacher Meacham (Clancy Brown) dispensing homespun spiritual advice; et al.
Jake of course has his own part to play – the fugitive train-robber – as we discover when his face shows up on a wanted poster and a sneering Dolarhyde fingers him for the theft of his gold. The only character who doesn’t quite conform to type is Ella (Olivia Wilde) who as neither a prostitute nor some man’s wife – the traditional female occupations in westerns – immediately arouses suspicion.
Jake is arrested and ordered to stand trial in Federal court but before he can be shipped off a squadron of alien planes appears in the sky besieging Absolution and making off with several of its terrified citizenry. In the course of the melee Jake’s wrist contraption wherever it came from reveals itself to be quite useful in defense against the alien invaders. Thrown by circumstances into an uneasy alliance with Dolarhyde he helps organize a posse to counter the otherworldly threat – and bring back the abductees if possible.
Cowboys & Aliens has many of the ingredients of a solid summer blockbuster but none in sufficient amounts to rate in a summer season crowded with bigger-budget (and better-crafted) spectacle. For a film with five credited screenwriters Cowboys & Aliens’ script is sorely lacking for verve or imagination. And what happened to the Favreau of Iron Man? The playful cheekiness that made those films so much fun is all but absent in this film which takes itself much more seriously than any film called Cowboys & Aliens has a right to. Dude you’ve got men on horses with six-shooters battling laser-powered alien crab people. Lighten up.
Craig certainly looks the part of the western anti-hero – his only rival in the area of rugged handsomeness is Viggo Mortensen – but his character is reduced to little more than an angry glare. And Wilde the poor girl is burdened with loads of clunky exposition. The two show promising glimpses of a romantic spark but their relationship remains woefully underdeveloped. Faring far better is Ford who gets not only the bulk of the film’s choicest lines but also its only touching subplot in which his character’s adopted Indian son played by Adam Beach quietly coaxes the humanity out of the grizzled old man.
It might have been early in the morning, but that didn't stop everyone from Dido to Moby to Evanescence's Amy Lee from showing up at the announcement of the 46th annual Grammy Award nominations this morning at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.
OutKast, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and the Neptunes' Pharrell Williams are tied for the lead with six nominations apiece. Missy Elliott, 50 Cent, Eminem, the Neptunes' Chad Hugo, Justin Timberlake, Ricky Skaggs, Evanescence, Luther Vandross and the late Warren Zevon are close behind with five noms each.
The four big categories--album of the year, record of the year, song of the year and best new artist--reflect the dominance of rap, hip-hop and R&B artists in mainstream music as well as the renewed popularity of rock music.
Up for album of the year are Missy Elliott's Under Construction, Timberlake's Justified, Evanescence's Fallen, the White Stripes' Elephant and OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.
Hip-hop duo's OutKast's single "Hey Ya!" will go head-to-head for record of the year against Black Eyed Peas' "Where is the Love?," Beyoncé and Jay-Z's "Crazy in Love," Eminem's "Lose Yourself" and Coldplay's "Clocks."
For song of the year, which goes to the songwriter as opposed to the recording artist, nominees are Linda Perry for Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful," Eminem and Luis Resto for Eminem's "Lose Yourself," Richard Marx and Luther Vandross for Vandross' "Dance With My Father," Avril Lavigne and the Matrix for Lavigne's "I'm With You" and the late Warren Zevon and Jorge Calderon for Zevon's "Keep Me in Your Heart."
Sean Paul, 50 Cent, Evanescence, Fountains of Wayne and Heather Headley will compete for the best new artist award.
The Grammy Awards will be held on Sunday, February 8 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and will be telecast on CBS from 8-11:30 p.m. (EST/PST).
Here is a partial list of nominations (a full list of nominees is posted on Grammy.com):
Album of the Year
Under Construction, Missy Elliott
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, Outkast
Justified, Justin Timberlake
Elephant, The White Stripes
Record of the Year
"Crazy In Love," Beyoncé Featuring Jay-Z
"Where Is The Love?," Black Eyed Peas featuring Justin Timberlake
"Lose Yourself," Eminem
"Hey Ya," Outkast
Best New Artist
Fountains Of Wayne
Song of the Year
Linda Perry for "Beautiful" (performed by Christina Aguilera)
Richard Marx and Luther Vandross for "Dance With My Father"
Avril Lavigne and The Matrix (Lauren Christy, Graham Edwards and Scott Spock) for "I'm With You"
Jorge Calderón and Warren Zevon for "Keep Me In Your Heart"
Jeff Bass, Marshall Mathers (aka Eminem) and Luis Resto for "Lose Yourself"
Best Rap Song (NEW!)
Calvin Broadus (aka Snoop Dogg), Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams for "Beautiful" (performed by Snoop Dogg Featuring Williams and Uncle Charlie Wilson)
Shawn Carter (aka Jay-Z), Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams for "Excuse Me Miss" (performed by Jay-Z Featuring Williams)
Mike Elizondo, Curtis Jackson (aka 50 Cent) and A. Young for "In Da Club" (performed by 50 Cent)
Jeff Bass, Marshall Mathers and Luis Resto for "Lose Yourself" (performed by Eminem)
Missy Elliott and Tim Mosley for "Work It" (performed by Elliott)
Best Rap Album
Missy Elliott, Under Construction
50 Cent, Get Rich Or Die Tryin'
Jay-Z, The Blueprint2 - The Gift & The Curse
Outkast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
Best R&B Album
Erykah Badu, Worldwide Underground
Blu Cantrell, Bittersweet
Aretha Franklin, So Damn Happy
Isley Brothers Featuring Ronald Isley aka Mr. Biggs, Body Kiss
Luther Vandross, Dance With My Father
Best Contemporary R&B Album
Ashanti, Chapter II
Beyoncé, Dangerously In Love
Mary J. Blige, Love and Life
Anthony Hamilton, Comin' From Where I'm From
R. Kelly, Chocolate Factory
Best Rock Album
Foo Fighters, One By One
matchbox twenty, More Than You Think You Are
Nickelback, The Long Road
Best Rock Song
Evanescence, "Bring Me To Life" (David Hodges, Amy Lee and Ben Moody)
Train, "Calling All Angels" (Charlie Colin, Pat Monahan, Jimmy Stafford and Scott Underwood)
Bruce Springsteen and Warren Zevon, "Disorder In The House" (Jorge Calderón and Warren Zevon)
The White Stripes, "Seven Nation Army" (Jack White)
Nickelback, "Someday" (Chad Kroeger, Mike Kroeger, Ryan Peake and Ryan Vikedal)
Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal
The White Stripes
Best Female Pop Vocal Performance
Christina Aguilera, "Beautiful"
Kelly Clarkson, "Miss Independent"
Dido, "White Flag"
Avril Lavigne, "I'm With You"
Sarah McLachlan, "Fallen"
Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals
Lil' Kim and Christina Aguilera, "Can't Hold Us Down"
Tony Bennett and k.d. lang for "La Vie En Rose"
Pink and William Orbit for "Feel Good Time"
Bob Dylan and Mavis Staples for "Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking"
Sting and Mary J. Blige for "Whenever I Say Your Name"
Best Pop Vocal Album
Christina Aguilera, Stripped
George Harrison, Brainwashed
Annie Lennox, Bare
Michael McDonald, Motown
Justin Timberlake, Justified
Best Pop Male Vocal Performance
George Harrison, "Any Road"
Michael McDonald, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"
Sting, "Send Your Love"
Justin Timberlake, "Cry Me A River"
Warren Zevon, "Keep Me In Your Heart"
Best Pop Instrumental Performance
Ry Cooder and Manuel Galbán for "Patricia"
Dave Koz, "Honey-Dipped"
Randy Newman, "Seabiscuit"
The Brian Setzer Orchestra, "The Nutcracker Suite"
Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album
Bette Midler Sings, Bette Midler
Rosemary Clooney Songbook, Rosemary Clooney
The A Wonderful World, Tony Bennett and k.d. lang
As Time Goes By…The Great American Songbook: Volume II, Rod Stewart
The Movie Album, Barbra Streisand
Best Spoken Word Album For Children
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Eric Idle
Harry Potter And The Order of the Phoenix, Jim Dale
Prokofiev: Peter And The Wolf/Beintus: Wolf Tracks, Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev and Sophia Loren
Tell Me A Scary Story, Carl Reiner
Winnie-The-Pooh, Jim Broadbent
Best Spoken Word Album
Fear Itself, Don Cheadle
Lies And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair And Balanced Look At The Right, Al Franken
Living History, Hillary Rodham Clinton
Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection, Nikki Giovanni
When You Ride Alone You Ride With Bin Laden, Bill Maher
Best Female Country Vocal Performance
Patty Loveless, On Your Way Home
Martina McBride, This One's For The Girls
Dolly Parton, I'm Gone
Shania Twain, Forever And For Always
Best Country Collaboration With Vocals
Willie Nelson and Norah Jones, Wurlitzer Prize (I Don't Want To Get Over You)
Willie Nelson and Toby Keith, Beer For My Horses
June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash, Temptation
Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffet, It's Five O'Clock Somewhere
James Taylor and Alison Krauss, How's The World Treating You
Best Country Album
Faith Hill, Cry
Lyle Lovett, My Baby Don't Tolerate
Willie Nelson and Ray Price, Run That One By Me One More Time
Willie Nelson, Live And Kickin'
Shania Twain, Up!
Compilation, Livin', Lovin', Losin' - Songs of the Louvin Brothers