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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Michael Phelps may have gotten off to a shaky start at the 2012 Summer Olympic games, but the swimming superstar will be leaving London the most decorated Olympian in history. Phelps won his 20th Olympic medal (16 of which are gold) on Thursday when he bested fellow American swimmer Ryan Lochte in the 200-meter individual medley. The victory also made him the first man to win the same individual event at three consecutive Olympics. He broke yet another record on Friday when he earned his third straight gold medal in the 100m Fly, which marked his last individual race in the Olympics and brings his total to 21 medals. (Now, that's a way to go out.)
So what does one do when he retires at the ripe old age of 27? Since moving to Boca Raton and taking up backgammon seems like an unlikely next move for Phelps, what can the guy with Most Decorated Olympian on the special skills section of his résumé possibly do next? Phelps could easily go by way of many other famous Olympians and take the reality television route. Michael Johnson, Apolo Anton Ono, Rulon Gardner, Evan Lysacek, Kristi Yamaguchi, Shawn Johnson, Johnny Weir, Summer Sanders, Jonny Moseley, and, lest you forget, Bruce Jenner are among some of the former Olympians who've done just that.
But before Phelps goes signing up for Skating With the Stars (hey, it could come back) we figured we'd show him what other options he has by following in the footsteps (or backstrokes) of some other famous, beloved Olympians.
Go Back To School: Unlike Phelps, U.S. gymnast and gold medal winner, Nastia Liukin's career ended before she intended it to. The 22-year-old failed to land a spot on the 2012 gymnastics team after a devastating mistake on the uneven bars. Still, Liukin took her disappointment in stride ("Thank you to the 18,000 people that gave me a standing ovation tonight. I will remember this moment for the rest of my life", she tweeted to her supporters) and plans to attend NYU. Though Phelps is already a college grad (he attended the University of Michigan) he could always become Dr. Phelps.
Become a Philanthropist: Many Olympians use their newfound fame and accolades for good after the games. Take, for instance, speed skater Dan Jansen who started the Dan Jansen Foundation in memory of his sister, which was founded to "to solicit financial support and distribute funds to charities, with an empasis on the fight against leukemia." There's also fellow speed skater Joey Cheek, the co-founder of Team Darfur, an athlete-lead organization devoted to raising awareness about the war in Darfur. (Sadly, Cheek's activism on behalf of Darfur caused him to have his visa revoked by China before the 2008 Beijing Games.)
Become an Entrepreneur: Everyone's favorite pink-haired freestyle skier may have never won the gold during the Olympics (she did, however, nab silver and bronze) but Shannon Bahrke struck business gold when she founded the successful Salt Like City-based coffee company Silver Bean Coffee in 2002. Bahkre may not compete in the games anymore, but she's keeping the Olympic spirit alive at Silver Bean with her Athlete Blend coffees, "for every bag of coffee sold $1 goes back to the athlete and also a charity they have chosen." (For the record, Michael, doing those Subway commercials don't count.)
Launch a Successful Internet Company: In the athletic world, Jeremy Bloom was a force to be reckoned with. In addition to playing professional football, Bloom is a three-time World Champion, two-time Olympian and eleven-time World Cup gold medalist in freestyle moguls skiing. So it's no surprise that an overachiever like Bloom would be able to tackle another industry entirely: the Internet. Bloom co-founded the multi-million dollar online marketing company Integrate.com, a feat that earned him a spot on Forbes list of 30 Under 30. We get the distinct feeling fellow overachiever Phelps could pull something similar off.
Start a Family: Many Olympic athletes have gone from the podium to parenthood after their successful run(s) in the games. And much like their attitude in the Olympics, for some it's go big or go home. Olympic alpine skier Picabo Street has had three children in her time since the 1998 Nagano Games, but no one has the market cornered on Olympian families quite like gold medal boxer George Foreman. The champ has 11 kids, five of which are named, well, George. Hey, we're sure there are plenty of women out there happy to bring a gaggle of Michaels and Michelles into the world.
[Photo credit: AP Images]
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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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