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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The oft-trod theme of the disintegration of tradition is the subject of this curious glance at Chinese bathhouse culture. Cell phone-talking city-dwelling Da Ming (Pu Cun Xin) returns to his childhood home having mistaken a postcard from his mentally handicapped brother to mean that their father has passed away. Instead he finds dad and brother alive and well and catering to their clientele of old men who soak in tubs receive scrubs and rubs and generally wile away an afternoon wrestling crickets and bickering. When his father's health fails and the wrecking ball threatens to replace the bathhouse with a shopping mall Da Ming's return to big city life hangs in the balance.
This keenly observant film reveals an array of authentic singular characters the quirky denizens of the bathhouse. Jing Wu is endearing as the simple-minded merry Er Ming who is devoted to the staid if steamy life of the bathhouse. Zhu Xu plays his father as devoted to his loving handicapped son as he is disappointed by Da Ming the rejecting son.
Zhang Yang follows up on his international success "Spicy Love Soup" with this well executed but unexceptional rendering of a familiar theme. Nonetheless cinematic attention to detail and subtle characterizations bring interest.
The Sopranos's Robert Iler will have to wait until an Oct. 25 court hearing to find out whether the charges of second-degree robbery and marijuana possession against him will be dropped, Entertainment Tonight reports. At a hearing Wednesday, a Manhattan judge delayed a decision citing insufficent information. Iler, who stars as Tony Soprano's troubled son, was arrested July 4 with three other teens for allegedly robbing two 16-year-olds of $40. Iler, who pleaded not guility, is out on $2,500 bail.
The Dixie Chicks want more money. Their record company, Sony Music Entertainment, wants more albums from the spunky country trio. Now both parties seem to be heading to court. Sony filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit Tuesday against the Dixie Chicks, a week after the Flygirls demanded that Sony renegotiate their contract, The Associated Press reports. Sony wants to enforce the current contract, which calls for up to four more albums. The Dixie Chicks, whose albums Wide Open Spaces and Fly sold a total 15 million copies, could not be reached for comment.
ODB, of the rap group Wu-Tang Clan, was sentenced to 2 to 4 years in prison Wednesday after he pleaded guilty in April to criminal possession of a controlled substance, The Associated Press reported. ODB, whose real name is Russell Jones, was arrested in July 1999 after police stopped him for running a red light and found cocaine and marijuana in his car. A New York state Supreme Court judge also recommended that state correction authorities determine whether Jones needs psychiatric or substance abuse treatment. Jones has been in and out of trouble with the law since 1987, having been arrested on charges of drug possession, shoplifting and threatening a former girlfriend.
Hong Kong's Jackie Chan, who has built a career on executing one death-defying stunt after another, will receive the Special Grand Prix of the Americans on Sept. 25 at the 25th Montreal World Film Festival. "If we are today keen on Asian movies based on martial arts, this is mostly thanks to Jackie Chan," festival spokesman Henry Walsh told the Hollywood Reporter.
Soul legend Al Green will receive the lifetime achievement award Oct. 4 from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation during the 12th annual Pioneer Awards ceremony at the Apollo Theatre in New York, Variety reports.
Supermarionation practitioner Gerry Anderson, who created the 1960s cult shows Thunderbirds and Stingray, received an MBE (Member of the British Empire) this week at Buckingham Palace, BBC News reports. There are no strings attached to this award.
An Asian-American watchdog group demanded an apology Tuesday from Late Night with Conan O'Brien after comedian Sarah Silverman used the racial slur "chink" in a joke on the July 11 show, AP reports. "It's not constructive to use such a hateful word and play it off for laughs. It just gives people permission to continue to use it," Guy Aoki, president of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, told AP. A spokesman for the show had no comment.
Dave Matthews is hardly known as one of rock's bad boys, but even he isn't afraid to disregard the rules in the name of having a good time. University of Colorado officials fined Matthews and his band $15,000 after their July 11 concert ran past a 10:30 p.m. curfew by 15 minutes, AP reports. "They tend not to go over curfew that frequently, but they were just having a great time and wanted to keep playing a little longer," Ambrosia Healy, the band's publicist, explained.
To boldly teach where no android has taught before. Jerri Ryan, formerly Seven of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager, has officially joined the cast of the high school drama Boston Public, Fox officials announced Tuesday.
Perhaps Iggy Pop has a thing for old Disney cartoons. The pioneer punk rocker's list of backstage demands for an upcoming Scottish concert in August includes seven dwarves and pack of American-made cigarettes, even though he doesn't smoke. He also demanded broccoli because he hates the vegetable and wants to throw it in a bin, officials with the Gig on the Green concert in Glasgow told Scotland's the Daily Record. Officials said that they are taking Pop's demands in good humor.