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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Melissa McCarthy started off her third time hosting Saturday Night Live in a more theatrical than comical way. Referencing the Super Bowl to a broad audience that may not understand sporting specifics, the cold open focused on the halftime show. After Bruno Mars gets caught in the polar vortex, every Broadway musical has to fill time - totally plausible. But it was nice to see SNL and McCarthy not immediately play to her comedic strengths and show her as a legitimate actress. The sassy and sparkly version of Peyton Manning played by Taran Killam was just a bonus.
Not promoting any upcoming projects, McCarthy joked about hosting just because she was around supporting her husband Richard Sherman. Naturally hilarious, her monologue foreshadowed an episode of her leaning into the kind of characters that have already made her a beloved comedic actress: aggressive, physical, and hot tempered. Bobby Moynihan joined her on stage, seeking vengeance from the last time she hosted. Using McCarthy's gift for physical comedy and the show's harnesses, the monologue was more of an excuse for a kung fu battle.
The show hit topical points, including Valentines Day, Black History Month, and the Super Bowl (again). A Valentines Day commercial parody advises men to just get their girlfriends "Some Dumb Little Thing from CVS," including an 80% off Christmas stocking. Aidy Bryant's reaction to this is almost as hilarious as newcomer Sasheer Zamata's reaction to getting her face tickled. Zamata later joins Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah in a music video about Black History Month that elicits uncomfortable laughter about "28 reasons to hug a black guy." (Reasons 2-28: slavery) At the end of the show, newcomer Kyle Mooney was filmed doing some extremely awkward man-on-the-street Super Bowl interviews in the middle of Times Square.
Standout sketches included tempermental poltician Shelia Kelly (McCarthy, reprising a character from one of her earlier stints), playing off of Congressman Michael Grimm's threats to a reporter this week. It built nicely from Kelly threatening a reporter to stealing a cop car. SNL later featured favorite recurring sketch "Girlfriends Talk Show," with up-and-comers Bryant and Cecily Strong playing annoying yet endearing tweens. Their guest is "the divorced adult lady" that Bryant hangs out with, played by McCarthy. Bryant and Strong are so enjoyable together and adding McCarthy as a more mellow character than she tends to play on SNL gave a nice balance to the show. Their chemistry is no coincidence, as all three women got their start at Chicago's Second City.
The moment of the night and perhaps the season was Seth Meyers' last Weekend Update, which was both tear filled and cameo filled. Featuring Amy Poehler, Bill Hader (as Stefon!), Andy Samberg and Fred Armisen as former New York governor David Paterson, Meyers had a lot of support. His strongest joke was appropriately in the style of a late night monologue: "Florida Representative Trey Radel, who was convicted of cocaine posession, announced this week that he will resign from Congress. Radel says he wants to spend more time with whoever is still awake." Meyers showed the heart behind all the comedy he's brought to SNL in over 12 seasons, getting choked up with fellow co-anchors Strong and Poehler, genuinely thanking everyone at Saturday Night Live. The way he says "this is the job I've always wanted" makes it hard not to tear up as well. Like many Weekend Updates prior, it was the best part of the show.
Brad Pitt's World War Z body double has alleged he was paid just $124 (£80) to stand in for the multi-millionaire Hollywood actor on the set of the zombie movie. The Fight Club star filmed a portion of the horror epic in Glasgow, Scotland, and local resident David Paterson was hired to double for the actor on the set.
Paterson, who boasts the same vital statistics as the star, has now opened up about his experience as Pitt, alleging he was paid less than the U.K.'s minimum wage for filming the actor's scenes.
The 26 year old claims he received just $124 (£80) for 18 hours work, which comes in at less than the $9.59 (£6.19) per hour which all U.K. workers over the age of 21 are entitled to.
Paterson also insists he didn't even receive an invitation to the film's U.K. premiere in London last month (Jun13).
He tells Britain's Daily Record, "I basically had to be Brad... and copy everything he did on screen. Brad was there the entire time... I was following his actions. I wore identical clothes to him... I had the same physique as him... I had a job to do and I just did it to the best of my ability...
"I was paid £80... I didn't get a VIP pass for the film (premiere), nothing like that at all, and I haven't seen it yet. I walked away with around £80, no autograph and no VIP invites..."
However, Paterson insists he enjoyed playing a movie star, adding, "I did it for the experience. You get asked to do something like that and you can't really say no... Brad's a very professional guy."
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.
With all the changes and delays forced upon Hollywood in the last week, there's one little story I read about that's worth mentioning. The terrorist attacks happened right at the tail end of the Toronto Int'l Film Festival. Many celebrities were stranded by the closure of the airports, so as an alternative, Universal Pictures chartered a bus to go from Toronto to Los Angeles and hired two drivers so the bus would not have to stop. Among the passengers was the provocative director David Lynch, whose new film Mulholland Drive premiered at the festival. According to a report on Thestar.com, Lynch also happened to have a film camera with him to film the long trip home. Think about what a fascinating movie that would be, especially with Lynch's skewed perspective. And one, I would imagine, that would garner some attention, if Lynch decides to make something of it. If he doesn't, maybe I can get him to send me a copy anyway.
Hudson skips out on "Girl"
Actress Kate Hudson mysteriously pulled out of her next film project The Girl With the Pearl Earring. I hope it isn't because of the awful title because, Kate, that can always change (a must, in this case). No, those powers that be aren't quite sure why Hudson left the project in the dust, triggering producer Intermedia Films to pull the plug on financing just four weeks before filming was to start. The film is based on Tracy Chevalier's best-selling novel about a maidservant of the 17th century Dutch painter Jan Vermeer and is being directed by Mike Newell. Ralph Fiennes is still attached to star as Vermeer. Even more odd is the fact Hudson pursued this project vehemently and was thrilled to be doing the movie. Will there be lawsuits involved? Perhaps. But make no mistake, producer Andy Paterson is determined to recast and move on. Just change the title, Andy.
Carvey is a "Master of Disguise"
Dana Carvey, where the heck have you been? We've certainly missed you. Wish you were still on Saturday Night Live, but of course, you had to move on--even though your track record in films hasn't been the best in the world. However, we are always willing to give you another chance cause you are one funny guy. But Dana, you've got to choose wisely and from the sounds of your next film, you have not done that. The film, called Master of Disguise, is about a man who finds out his family has been masters of disguise for generations. To save his parents from an evil bad guy, he must quickly learn the family's unique talents from his grandfather. It also stars Jennifer Esposito (Don't Say a Word) as the love interest. Well, that's OK, Dana, it just good to see you back on your feet.
"Bad News" for Forman
Director Milos Forman (The People vs. Larry Flynt) has set his sights on Warner Bros.' Bad News from screenwriter/playwright Doug Wright (Quills), based on a novel from Donald Westlake. The story centers on a career crook, John Dortmunder, who gets involved in an underhanded takeover of an Indian gambling casino. However, he soon realizes that he's set himself up to be ripped off-unless, of course, he can rip off his partner first. Well, from what sounds like a fairly typical doublecross movie, the redeeming factors are the writer and director, each provocative in their own right. And of course, the cast has got to be good for this one to work.
Another video game hits the screen
That's right. These video games are just ripe fruit for the picking by studio execs. Now, it's Sega's popular The House of the Dead horror games that are getting the Hollywood treatment. Looking to start filming mid-January, the story takes place on an island off the coast of Florida that is inhabited by zombies, monsters and creatures who wreak havoc on land, in the air and in the water. To try and stop the insanity, a diverse group of multiethnic college coeds and a Coast Guard officer must get on the island and destroy the evil entity living in the House of the Dead. I can see the teenagers lining up now.
Seagal is "Half Past Dead"
Well, at least Steven Seagal should be--then we wouldn't have to be subjected to any more of his movies. But alas, that's out of my hands. His latest is Half Past Dead from Franchise Pictures, being described as a Die Hard in prison. Wait, wasn't Under Siege Die Hard on a U.S. Navy battleship? Right. This story revolves around a man (Morris Chestnut) who masterminds a plan to infiltrate a high-tech prison in an attempt to persuade a death row inmate to tell him the whereabouts of $200-million worth of gold from an old heist the FBI has never been able to solve. Whew! Seagal plays an FBI agent who tries to stop him. Good luck with that, Steven.