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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This year's Toronto International Film Festival, the 37th of its kind, announced its award recipients today. With a variety of awards at stake, Festival highlights such as Silver Linings Playbook and Seven Psychopaths took home big honors. In a ceremony that took place at the Intercontinental Hotel in Toronto, eleven awards were handed out for their achievements. The full list of winners is below.
Best Canadian Short Film
Deco Dawson for Keep a Modest Head. The jury--comprised of journalist and author Matthew Hays, journalist Katrina Onstad and filmmaker Reginald Harkema--remarked: "For the winner of this year’s best short, we chose a film that expands the boundaries of documentary, one that perfectly reflects its surreal subject. The award offers a $10,000 cash prize. The honourable mention goes to Mike Clattenburg’s Crackin’ Down Hard for its unpredictable zaniness."
The City of Toronto + Canada Goose Award for Best Canadian Feature Film
Xavier Dolan's Laurence Anyways. The jury--comprised of producer and filmmaker Jody Shapiro, CPH PIX Festival Director Jacob Neiiendam, actor and filmmaker Valerie Buhagiar and director, writer and producer Patricia Rozema--remarked: "For its breathless cinematic energy and its entirely new love story, the jury felt honoured to watch such unfettered genius at play." This award is made possible thanks to the City of Toronto and Canada Goose and comes with a cash prize of $30,000.
The SKYY Vodka Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film
A tie between Brandon Cronenberg's Antiviral and Jason Buxton's Blackbird was announced. The jury--comprised of producer and filmmaker Jody Shapiro, CPH PIX Festival Director Jacob Neiiendam, actor and filmmaker Valerie Buhagiar and director, writer and producer Patricia Rozema--remarked: "For Best Canadian First Feature Film, we have made a decision that reflects the broad spectrum of Canadian styles and voices. The prize this year has been split between Blackbird, for its authenticity and clear-eyed social conscience, and for its ambitious commentary and visual sophistication, Antiviral." Generously supported by SKYY Vodka, the award carries a cash prize of $15,000. TIFF takes great pride in our role of supporting championing emerging filmmakers and as such, TIFF will be doubling the prize, so that both Brandon and Jason will receive a cash prize of $15,000 each.
The BlackBerry People's Choice Award
The BlackBerry People's Choice Award is voted on by Festival audiences. This year’s award goes to David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook. TIFF explained in a press release that "the film is an intense, loving, emotional and funny family story from the director of The Fighter, David O. Russell, in which Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence find themselves partners in a secret arrangement to rebuild their broken lives. Robert De Niro yearns to get closer to his son (Cooper), as he tries to keep the family afloat with his compulsive bookmaking. The award offers a $15,000 cash prize and custom award, sponsored by BlackBerry. First runner up is Ben Affleck’s Argo. The second runner up is Eran Riklis' Zaytoun.
The BlackBerry People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award
Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths. First runner up is Barry Levinson's The Bay, and second runner up is Don Coscarelli's John Dies at the End.
The BlackBerry People’s Choice Documentary Award
Bartholomew Cubbins for Artifact. First runner up is Christopher Nelius and Justin McMillan's Storm Surfers 3D. Second runner up is Rob Stewart's Revolution.
NETPAC Award for the Best First or Second Feature World or International Asian Film Premiere
Sion Sono's The Land of Hope. The jury--made up of Laurice Guillen (Philippines), Shelly Kraicer (Toronto/Beijing) and Azize Tan (Istanbul)--remarked: "For its subtle, complex and artful account of the social and political aspects of a national trauma that ends in hope and love, the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival NETPAC Award for best feature film is given to The Land of Hope by Sion Sono."
Grolsch Film Works Discovery Award
The inaugural award went to Rola Nashef for Detroit Unleaded.
For the 21st consecutive year, TIFF welcomed an international FIPRESCI jury for the competition. The jury members consist of jury president Peter Keough (United States), Jon Asp (Sweden), Ashok Rane (India), Louis-Paul Rioux (Canada), Juan Manuel Dominguez (Argentina) and Brian McKechnie (Canada). The following awards were decided upon by the above jury.
The Prize of the International Critics (FIPRESCI Prize) for Special Presentations
Francois Ozon's Dans la maison (In the House). The jury remarked: "For achieving an exquisitely crafted entertainment that blurs the distinction between the storyteller and the story told, and that assuages with playful complexity the tragedies of life with the consolations of art, the FIPRESCI award for Special Presentations goes to Francois Ozon's In the House."
Prize of the International Critics (FIPRESCI) for the Discovery Programme
Mikael Marcimain's Call Girl. The jury remarked: "With an intense sense of cinema reminiscent of the American thrillers of the 1970s, Mikael Marcimain’s debut feature achieves a portrait of an obscure world involving women’s rights and political corruption. Marcimain deals with his sensitive subject with immense ease and craftsmanship. Because of these accomplishments the FIPRESCI Award for Best Film in the Discovery Programme goes to Mikael Marcimain’s Call Girl."
[Photo Credit: TIFF]
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Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.
After being cursed by delays The Wolfman Hollywood’s latest spin on the popular werewolf myth finally bares its ugly fangs in theaters this week. Predictably the film is a train wreck of a debacle -- one would expect nothing less from a notoriously troubled production that saw its original director Mark Romanek abandon ship just two weeks before the start of shooting -- but The Wolfman’s problems stem less from the late-game addition of helmer Joe Johnston who at the very least delivered a terrific looking film (its gorgeously eerie Victorian aesthetic evoking a palpable exquisite sense of dread is by far its best feature) than from the misguided efforts of its producer and star Benicio Del Toro.
The Wolfman is the brainchild of Del Toro an ardent horror fan who conceived the film as an homage of sorts to the low-budget “monster movies” from the ‘30s and ‘40s that he loved dearly as a child. It’s fashioned as a loose remake of 1941’s The Wolf Man a film that both established Lon Chaney Jr.’s performance as the definitive take on the character and introduced aspects of the werewolf legend now considered sacrosanct. The notion that a werewolf can be felled by an item made from silver for example owes its origin to The Wolf Man.
But Del Toro feels all wrong in the role of Lawrence Talbot the prodigal son of a 19th-century English aristocrat whose fateful encounter with a bloodthirsty lycan the same creature that brutally murdered his brother just days prior triggers his unwitting initiation into the accursed tribe of feral man-beasts. Del Toro's resume of low-key understated performances marked by a muttering often imperceptible delivery in films like Traffic and The Usual Suspects suggests a skill set better suited to playing another famous movie monster one significantly less loquacious than his character in this movie. Seriously -- the guy should have remade Frankenstein instead.
Playing an American-bred (but English-born we’re told) character in an 1890 setting looking uncomfortable in period attire surrounded by such “proper” British actors as Sir Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt and fully annunciating all of his line readings for the first time that I can recall Del Toro appears hopelessly out of place in The Wolfman.
Things only get worse unfortunately when Del Toro’s character transforms into the dreaded werewolf. Each time the moon is full the film transitions with increasing ridiculousness from a somber Victorian drama into a hard-core horror flick replete with grisly shots of torn flesh exposed spines and severed limbs. The first overly gruesome attack triggers a kind of nervous laugh more from the shock than anything else. The second invites an amused uneasy chuckle which soon snowballs into an outright belly laugh. And the effect soon spreads to the dialogue the outrageous gore rendering the film's mannered melodrama strangely hysterical.
Of all the Wolfman players only Hopkins seems to get the joke reveling in his manipulative mischief as Talbot's inappropriately glib stoutly aloof father. If only he'd let his castmates in on it.
For waitress Jenna (Keri Russell) life is pie—but that’s strictly in culinary terms not metaphorical. In fact life is anything but easy or exciting for her: She spends every day working for a boss (Lew Temple) she hates before going home to a husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto) she hates even more. The lone highlight of Jenna’s day—besides seeing her only two friends Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Adrienne Shelly) at work—comes when assembling naming and baking her town-renowned daily pie; today it’s the self-explanatory “I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby” pie. To her having a baby would put on hold her dreams of winning an upcoming $25 000 pie contest which would enable her to leave Earl. Alas she finds out she is pregnant with Earl’s baby but something good comes out her trip to the OB/GYN—her new young doc from Connecticut Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion). He’s different and his attitude is alien to this Southern town but he makes Jenna feel like she matters and it’s not long before she reciprocates. As her due date nears and their secretive affair progresses her confusion only grows but she finds clarity from the most unexpected source. Russell is a long way from Felicity the TV show that launched her career but sometimes escaping the pigeonhole of a character as popular as Felicity Porter takes more than mere time. It often takes a left-of-center role like this one and if Russell’s sole intention was to leave her past in the dust she succeeds—and then some. As Jenna she arouses everything from sadness to joy to tears of both leaving out the forced drama that made her a teen favorite years ago. And yet she maintains an undeniable air of well cuteness that enables her to play younger than she is in reality. Equally refreshing perpetual up-and-comer Fillion (Serenity) does a great job of making his relationship with Russell seem an unlikely one. He also displays great comedic skills which we last saw in ‘05’s Slither. Frankly there’s no good reason he’s not a leading man. Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Hines about the last actress you’d pick to play a Southern waitress gives her best movie performance to date even if only by proving doubters like myself wrong. Indie vets Shelly (Factotum) and Sisto (Six Feet Under) are also impressive in their comedic and somewhat villainous roles respectively. And Andy Griffith even stops by for some memorable lines! Beneath this syrupy sweet tale of pleasantness lies a pitch-black back story: Waitress writer/director/costar Adrienne Shelly was murdered in New York City towards the end of completing her movie. The shame of that in movie terms lies not only in the fact that she will obviously never see what is her best and most accessible directing effort but also that she clearly possessed massive talent and we’ll never know where she might’ve taken it. With Waitress Shelly created a warm fuzzy and vaguely nostalgic Southern dramedy with much less emphasis on the drama. And while her characters might not be completely honest representations of the South Shelly at least steers clear of offensive stereotypes that seem to saturate today’s movies opting to make Jenna’s plight the true conflict instead of choosing the proverbial “Southern climate.” Elsewhere Shelly does virtually no wrong. Waitress is exclusively about the female point of view which is quite refreshing. Shelly’s long takes of quirky dialogue between female characters—think G-rated Tarantino—are nothing short of hilarious and although the proceedings tend to take a conventional turn you’re always caught by surprise. As the tearjerker female-empowerment ending unfolds you can’t help but wipe the smile from your face and wish Shelly were still around; film could sure use a positive shot in the arm like her right about now.
Former Felicity star Keri Russell is expecting her first child this summer.
Russell, 30, and fiancé Shane Deary, 30, a contractor, have been dating for several years and became engaged last year.
The star's representative, Jill Fritzo, confirmed the pregnancy to reporters from People magazine.
Russell played the title role of Felicity Porter in the hit drama from 1998 to 2002 and starred opposite Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible III last year.
Her latest film, Waitress, was directed by the late Adrienne Shelly and screens next week at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.
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