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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Who better to play a couple that the entire viewing public will root for than the uncommonly adorable and blue-eyed Jason Ritter and Alexis Bledel? That's their job in the upcoming Fox series Us & Them: to make us fall in love with them enough that we understand why their family and friends uproot their lives to bring the long-distance pair together. At a special New York Television Festival screening event on Tuesday night, Ritter (Gavin) and Bledel (Stacey) were joined by executive producer David Rosen and their castmates Ashlie Atkinson (Nessa), Kurt Fuller (Michael), and Dustin Ybarra (Archie) to air the pilot and talk about this American adaptation of hit British sitcom Gavin & Stacey.
The pilot recreates a few classic moments from the first series created by James Corden and Ruth Jones, but deviates widely in places. The arc of the developing long-distance relationship of our title characters, for example, won't move as quickly as the British six-episode season format demanded. The city/country action has moved from Essex and Wales to New York and the very real Dillsburg, PA, respectively. ("I have their weather on my phone!" Atkinson said.) The cast talked about the meshing of their ensemble (Fuller: "We would sit at the table and just laugh and tell jokes and before we knew it, an hour was up and we were doing the scene again.") which also includes a mini-reunion of The State with Michael Ian Black as Stacey's Uncle Brian (perhaps the fan favorite of Gavin & Stacey) and Kerri Kenny as her mom Gwen, plus Malcolm in the Middle super-mom Jane Kaczmarek as Gavin's mother Pam; the pressure of playing an existing character ("I started to watch [Gavin & Stacey] when we were shooting, but then freaked out and had to stop," Ritter said); and high hopes for the future of the show. Atkinson bet one of the producers that if the series is picked up for a full season, she'll get a real version of Nessa's bacon tattoo.
The future of the show looks murky at the moment — Fox halted production with only six episodes finished. Those will air early next year. We hope it gets another chance. Us & Them is the rare adaptation that has its own vision, voice, and a sparkling cast chemistry. The panel encouraged those who want to see that develop to tweet, Facebook, and email Fox to demand more.
Fun Size may be the only production from kid-centric studio Nickelodeon to also feature underage drinking (complete with red solo cups) and boob groping. The murky demographic for the movie ends up hurting the well-intentioned Halloween flick — it's not quite suitable for the young ones nor is it funny or wild enough for the Gossip Girl crowd which director Josh Schwartz (creator of the show) knows well. Instead we get a floundering trick or treat adventure that reduces the colorful twisted holiday to a meandering situational comedy.
Nick TV grad Victoria Justice (Victorious) stars as Wren a high school "geek" who finds herself unable to bag the guy of her dreams (who adores her) but finds a glimmer of hope in the big cool kids' Halloween party. Ready for a night out with her best friend April (Jane Levy) Wren thinks life is finally going her way until her Mom (Chelsea Handler) sticks her with her troublemaking little brother Albert (Jackson Nicoll) for the night. If chaperoning Albert wasn't already the worst thing in the world Wren finds herself in an even bigger dilemma when her brother wanders off into his own night of mischievous debauchery.
The "one crazy night" formula fits perfectly with Halloween but Fun Size struggles to find interesting material for its eclectic ensemble. Unlike many of the young actresses who have previously collaborated with Schwartz Justice seems unable to crack his voice and comedic style. She's too hip to too aware to play someone struggling with high school. The material doesn't serve her or Levy either; off-color jokes and a bizarre sense of entitlement turn them into two people you don't want to see succeed. Luckily for the audience during their sweeping search for Albert Wren and April cross paths with two true nerd-looking boys: Roosevelt (Thomas Mann) and Peng (Osric Chau) who along with feeling like real teenagers actually land a joke or two.
Interwoven into this speedy adventure — Fun Size clocks in at a little over 75 minutes giving little time to flesh out our teenage heroes — is Albert's encounter with a convenience store clerk named Fuzzy. The adults of Fun Size see the ten-year-old Albert as a parter-in-crime rather than a lost little boy. Fuzzy recruits him for a raid on his ex-girlfriend's house; after running away he meets a lady who brings him to a nightclub. At one point a sleazebag kidnaps Albert and locks him in his bedroom. If Fun Size were madcap it may all make sense. Instead things just happen — and it's not hilarious scary or even deranged.
Nick's '90s sitcom Pete & Pete created an amazing sense of weirdness and heart in its exploits of two teenage brothers. Anyone could watch and enjoy it. Fun Size has a beautiful look (the colors of Halloween are mesmerizing) and Schwartz as always has impeccable soundtrack tastes but when it comes to telling a story that feels both relatable and wonderfully weird — what Pete & Pete did so well — the movie falls flat. It's stereotype humor (the movie packs many a fat and gay joke) doesn't cut it — when paired to Nick's best efforts the movie lives up to the title: a bite-size portion of a bigger better cinematic sweet.
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
Director Alexander Payne's (Election Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia accompanied by George Clooney's character Matt King summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction unfortunately is reasonable.
We pick up with King an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young socially-troubled daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family " but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.
With The Descendants Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster) who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges) an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer) the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful yet real Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.
Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together as they observe experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script by Nat Faxon Jim Rash and Payne gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic visualizing his struggle as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.
The Descendants is a tender cinematic experience an introspective and heartwarming film unafraid to convey its story with pleasing simplicity. Clooney stands out with a solid performance but like many of Payne's films it's the eclectic ensemble and muted backdrop that give the movie its real texture. The paradise of Descendants isn't all its cracked up to be but for movie-goers it's bliss.
S1E6: Last night on The X Factor, the 100 remaining contestants were split into groups and given the challenge of learning a song which they had to perform in front of the judges together in five hours time. Some cracked under the pressure, while others rose above the expectations and proved that they were star material. So tonight we picked up right where we left off by watching the remaining groups strut their stuff with the help of vocal coaches, stylists, and choreographers. And after all the ensembles tried to sing their way to safety, the judges had to make some tough decisions - more cuts had to be made.
Once they dwindled the acts down even further, the remaining 64 contestants were presented with one more final challenge: they were given a list of 35 songs and had to choose whichever one they wanted to perform in front of 3,000 people. Oh, and they only had 15 hours to prepare. By the end of the night only 32 acts remained and the judges were finally assigned which category they would mentor for the rest of the competition: boys, girls, over 30's, and groups. So who were the 32 contestants chosen and which judge got assigned what group?
Find out below!
The Girls: Caitlin Koch, Tora Woloshin, Simone Battle, Drew Ryniewicz, Rachel Crow, Jazzlyn Little, Melanie Amaro and Tiah Tolliver.
The Boys: Brennin Hunt, Brian Bradley, Skyelor Anderson, Nick Voss, Tim CIfers, Phillip Lomax, Marcus Canty and Chris Rene.
Over 30s: Elaine Gibbs, Tiger Budbill, Leroy Bell, James Kenney, Josh Krajcik, Christa Collins, Dexter Goodman, and Stacey Francis.
Groups: the Stereo Hogzz, 2squared, 4Shore, The Brewer Boys, Illusion Confusion, The Anser and two groups composed out of those who were initially rejected as soloists.
As for the judges:
Nicole will be mentoring the Over 30s group, L.A. was assigned the boys, Paula is working with the groups, and that leaves Simon with the girls.
So what do you think? Do you think the girls have an edge with Simon as their mentor or is it an even playing field? Which judge would you have wanted? Next week we'll journey into the judges homes where they will help their groups get ready for the live shows!
Well "story" might be a strong word but it could be no other way for a movie version of the hit Comedy Central TV show. After the Reno police squad—deputies Travis Junior (Ben Garant) Raineesha Williams (Niecy Nash) Cherisha Kimball (Mary Birdsong) Trudy Wiegel (Kerri Kenney) Clementine Johnson (Wendi McLendon-Covey) James Garcia (Carlos Alazraqui) S. Jones (Cedric Yarbrough) and Lt. Dangle (Thomas Lennon)—makes a grand if dubious entrance the officers receive the news that they’ve been invited to the "American Police Convention" in Miami Beach. Following the cross-country trek from Nevada to Florida—by bus mind you—they’re immediately fish out of water in fast-paced party-friendly Miami but that all changes when a terrorist attack strands all local police. Suddenly the entire metropolis falls under the jurisdiction of the eight inept officers from Reno and that’s (supposed to be) a very funny proposition. The whole cast from the Reno 911 TV show is on board here and the actors are just as goofy on the big screen as they are on the small one—only now they’re more Police Academy than Cops spoofers. Indeed the sly wry humor is mostly gone but these well-traveled actors make it work more than it should. Namely Lennon as the Daisy Dukes-donning lieutenant and Kenney as the always-awkward Trudy. (It should be noted that she not only looks and acts like Rachel Dratch’s twin but the Reno Sheriff's Department would probably be a great fit for the SNL/30 Rock actress.) The rest of the actors simply stretch out their TV personas to movie versions and is it ever a stretch! Very funny cameos from Danny DeVito David Koechner (Anchorman) Patton Oswalt (TV’s The King of Queens)—whose role is more integral than a mere cameo—and Paul Rudd as a hilarious Scarface-like drug lord render the acting at least not to blame for Reno: Miami’s woes. The main story here is predictably the lack of a story. It’s fine and in fact expected to have a thin story line for Reno: Miami lest stoner audiences have to think but at least there could’ve been a mock story. Even the Scary Movies find a better way to connect their spoof vignettes but there’s essentially nothing going on here. And it’s not safe to assume that viewers of the Reno TV show will enjoy the movie because the TV show consists of more bizarre inane and dry humor than does the movie. That’s the problem with transferring such a show to the big screen: Everything must be fleshed out when it’s not meant to be. Writer-producer-director-star (!) Ben Garant who also co-wrote mega-hit Night at the Museum with Reno costar Thomas Lennon is thus the prime suspect here. When Garant brings the humor it’s golden and similar to that from the show but he doesn’t allow it to pop up often instead trying to attract a wider younger fan base via sex gags and pratfalls—some of which fail so badly it’s embarrassing.