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 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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Bullock donates $1 million
Sandra Bullock is encouraging Hollywood's millionaires to give generously to the post-tsunami relief effort in Asia after donating $1 million to help support emergency groups. The actress contacted the American Red Cross last week and asked how she could help, according to the Hollywood Reporter. This is the second time the generous star has handed over $1 million to the charity--she donated a similar amount after the terrorist attacks on America in 2001. A Red Cross spokesman says, "Sandra continues to enable our lifesaving work and is a model for personal generosity."
Fox: 'I'm not Lil' Jon's wife'
Actress Vivica A. Fox has rubbished reports she's married rapper Lil' Jon. The Kill Bill beauty insists she's baffled by rumors she's tied the knot with the hip-hop star--and she's desperate to inform her fans of the truth. She says, "I am not married to Lil' Jon and I definitely need folks to know that." Fox famously dated rapper 50 Cent before the pair suffered a very public break-up.
Ford is top granddad
Harrison Ford has been named Hollywood's sexiest grandfather in new pensioners magazine Grand.
The movie star, 62, beat Goldie Hawn, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Naomi Judd to take the top spot in Grand's February issue.
Foxx wins the black vote
Jamie Foxx and his hit film Ray have been honored again--by the African-American Film Critics Association. Oscar-favorite Foxx was named best actor for his roles in Collateral and
Ray. Meanwhile, the Ray Charles biopic beat Hotel Rwanda and The Aviator to claim the best film honor.
Oprah is U.S top TV pick
Oprah Winfrey has been crowned America's popularity queen after beating Michael Jackson, Jennifer Aniston and Jennifer Lopez in a new TV list. Top showbiz news program Entertainment Tonight mentioned Winfrey's name more than anyone else during the course of 2004--thanks to her 50th birthday celebrations and $7 million car giveaways. Jackson came in second with Aniston beating her namesake to third. Socialite Paris Hilton was fifth.
Pitt's partner lands Paramount post
Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston's film-making partner Brad Grey is set to quit the trio's successful company after being handed the top role at Paramount Studios. Grey set up Plan B Prods. with Pitt two years ago after formerly managing the movie star and his wife as the owner of powerful agency Brillstein-Grey. Plan B has enjoyed much success and Grey is expected to remain to complete Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and one other movie. The Hollywood heavyweight is poised to take over retiring Paramount head Sherry Lansing's job later this year.
Jackson wanted for Pacey resurrection
Actor Joshua Jackson is being targeted by TV bosses eager to bring his Dawson's Creek character back to the small screen. Jackson rocketed to fame playing troubled teen Pacey Whitter in the show--which ran from 1998 to 2003--about four friends in a small coastal town who help each other cope with adolescence. And now TV chiefs are offering Jackson a lucrative contract in an effort to tempt the actor--who is pursuing a film career after scoring success in movies like Cruel Intentions and The Skulls--back into the role for a spin-off series, according to British newspaper the Daily Star.
Arquette convinced psychics can help
Actress Patricia Arquette signed up to play a clairvoyant in new TV series Medium because she's convinced psychics can help people. Far from a skeptic, Arquette admits she has called on phone psychics on four occasions to help her make life decisions and get answers to mysteries. She says, "I called once when my mom was ill and I got offered a movie and I was going to be out of town and I said, 'I have a job opportunity out of town and I'm not sure if I should take it.' Meanwhile, my friend had heard her ex-boyfriend had gone missing... and he said, 'Well he's lost at sea,' and it turned out he drowned but nobody knew. They told me, 'No. Don't take that show.' And my mom ended up getting sick at that time. Another time, someone had stolen something and they described the people who'd just been fired at this workplace." In the new drama series, which debuted Monday night, Arquette speaks to the dead to help police solve crimes.
Sarandon refuses to discuss Robbins romance
Susan Sarandon has warned celebrities they're heading for heartache if they continue to boast about their relationships in the media. The actress, 58, refuses to divulge the secrets of her long-running romance with actor Tim Robbins--who she's been dating for 17 years--because she fears exposing such intimate details could have disastrous consequences. Sarandon says, "My formula for a successful relationship is never to talk about a successful formula, because it's bound to go wrong. At a certain point you have to decide that you are going to be with this person, and not be looking towards the door to see who else is coming in, in case they're better. I don't know when that point comes--maybe it's to do with age, or maybe it's who you're with. But you do have to decide to grow with them, and hopefully they will grow with you, too."
Murray slams difficult reputation stories
Bill Murray has slammed accusations he is difficult to work with, insisting he only clashes with "obnoxious people". The Lost In Translation actor has little time for those who lack consideration for others. Murray says, "If it keeps obnoxious people away, that's fine. It makes me think of that line you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. People say this to you with a straight face, and I always say, 'Who. Wants. Flies?'" Murray roots for the underdog and crossed swords with the location manager on his last movie over his attempts to heat a rented house where child actors were performing their scenes. Of the fracas on the untitled Jim Jarmusch flick, he says, "(I said) 'Who are you?' She said, 'I'm locations.' I said, 'Well, if locations had done their job and made sure it was warm enough for these people, we wouldn't be lighting a fire in the fireplace.'" At the wrap party, Murray approached the woman again, "I said, 'You know, we had our moment, and I don't apologize for that for a second.'" However, he congratulated her on excelling at other aspects of her job and adds, "I wanted to let her know I could see it both ways."
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