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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There are certain kisses, oftentimes finding home at the end of a movie, that make you feel all warm and gooey inside… until a couple of hours later, when you're looking back at what you saw, and a little voice in your head says, "Wait a minute…"
We're taking a look at the most memorable kisses in film from the '80s on, including the Best Kisses and the Worst Kisses. These, however, are the kisses that make us ask the question: romantic or creepy?
Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze, Ghost
Poor Molly. She's lost her soul mate Sam and has a medium (Whoopi Goldberg) bringing her messages from him from beyond the grave. She's even gotten to share a kiss with Sam as he inhabits Whoopi's body. Then, his spirit finally at ease after righting the wrong that led to his death, a ghostly Sam appears and tenderly kisses her before going towards the light. Did you cry? Ditto.
Only… He's a freakin' ghost! There is a ghost right there, right in the room with you… transparent and bathed in some weird glowing light! Give Molly credit, because no matter whom it's the spirit of, when a ghost shows up most people run the other way.
Keira Knightley and Andrew Lincoln, Love Actually
Lincoln's Mark arrives at the home of his best friend (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his new bride, Knightley, who answers the door. Mark has her pretend that he's actually a Christmas caroler, quietly holding up cue cards to profess his love for her. Having gotten it out in the open, Mark takes his cards and walks away, down an empty London street. His unrequited love chases him down and gives him a sweet kiss before returning to her happy home, showing him that love is never wasted.
Only… For starters, she's married. To his best friend! Even if your best friend's wife is the insanely beautiful Knightley, you don't profess your love to her. And, if you're her, you don't go around kissing your husband's friends. Even in Britain we're pretty sure that's a rule.
Melanie Lynskey and Christopher Abbott, Hello I Must Be Going
Lynskey's Amy is going through a rough patch. She's getting divorced and is forced to move back in with her parents. Lucky for her, one of her father's business associates has a gorgeous young son, who, at a dinner party, follows her from the room and plants a passionate kiss on her. The love affair that follows awakens her soul and helps her rediscover life.
Only…Okay, so Abbott's Jeremy is legal, but just barely (he's 19). On the one hand, it's true that we've seen male characters on the older end of many a cinematic May-December romance, but we usually like the girl to be out of her teens once the story starts! Otherwise we get a little creeped out. It's no different just because it's Lynskey doing the canoodling.
Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, Dirty Dancing
Swayze makes his second appearance on the list when his Johnny pours out his heart to Grey's Baby as she's trying to learn how to dance to help him and his partner out of a jam. He's misunderstood and she doesn't know what it's like to have married women that expect him to service them. The kiss itself is brief, but it comes as part of a larger dancing mating ritual that's as sexy as all get out.
Only… Wait, how old is Johnny? More importantly, how old is Baby? Even if it's legal, he's kind of taking some liberties with a guest at the resort he's working at… which is a touch skeevy. Plus, no matter how dreamy Swayze is, he kind of admitted to being a little bit of a gigolo.
Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair, Cruel Intentions
Gellar's privileged and bored Kathryn is lounging in the park with fellow young socialite, Cecile (Blair). The naïve Cecile confides that she's worried about kissing a boy, since she's never even been "to first base." Gellar, charged with helping to guide the younger girl, offers to give her a lesson on the art of the kiss. She shows her the proper way to touch lips before upping the ante and demonstrating how the tongue comes into play. As she pulls away from Cecile's first French kiss, Kathryn states simply, "That's first base." Teen boys everywhere wore out their family's first DVD player skipping back to the scene.
Only…Kathryn is every bit as bad as the French aristocrat from Dangerous Liaisons on which she's based. She's coldly manipulative and is really just using Cecile to get revenge on her ex-boyfriend and repeatedly tries to get her step-brother (Ryan Phillippe) to seduce her. Hot or not, there's got to be a better way for a girl to learn how to kiss.
Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis, Witness
Ford's hard-boiled detective is forced into hiding in a Pennsylvania Amish community as he tries to protect McGillis' young son (Lukas Haas) who has witnessed a murder. As Ford recovers from a gunshot wound, he gradually falls for McGillis' fair maid… whom he catches taking one of the sexiest sponge baths in any movie. Fully clothed, they share a moment dancing to Sam Cooke. Finally, they share an embrace that cuts across cultural differences.
Only…We're not saying that back in 1985 plenty of women wouldn't have risked being shunned by their entire community to swap spit with Ford, but this woman is casting aside everything she and her family have always believed in for some cop from Philly. Goodbye, old friends...
Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo, 13 Going on 30
13-year-old Jenna (played by Christa Allen) goes into a closet during her birthday party and emerges as a 30-year-old working at a fashion magazine (Garner). She realizes quickly that she's not the person that she thought she would be. Worse yet, she alienated her best friend Matt (Ruffalo) somewhere along the way. Just as he's about to marry someone else, Jenna is back to being 13 and launches herself at young Matt (played by Sean Marquette). The two rush up a set of stairs and emerge at their own wedding as Ruffalo takes a selfie of him kissing Garner, his blushing bride. It's so sweet dentists recommend brushing your teeth after viewing.
Only…Okay, so body-switching, time traveling movies always have some logistical problems. In this case, if 13-year-old Jenna made her feelings known to Matt, when exactly is this wedding taking place? Because it looks an awful lot like the one that 30-year-old Matt was about to have with his now non-existent fiancée. That's an awful lot of dating — or procrastinating — for a couple that's made for each other.
Emile Hirsch and Elisha Cuthbert, The Girl Next Door
Hirsch's Matthew spies his new neighbor getting changed and as luck would have it, it's Cuthbert, at the height of her teen dream-ness after wowing TV audiences as Jack Bauer's daughter on 24. She tells on him to his parents and, of course, they suggest that as punishment he spend more time with the new hottie. He takes her to a party where every jock in the place tries to get his swerve on with her. Fed up, Matthew walks up to her and kisses her. Far from being offended, she returns the embrace.
Only…Let's start with the fact that Matthew doesn't know that Cuthbert's character is a former porn actress until after he's already in love with her. Even if she really has a heart of gold, honesty is still the best policy.
Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis, Ted
Wahlberg's John and Kunis' Lori have been dating for four years, only John isn't that much of a grown-up and pals around with one of his childhood toys, a talking stuffed animal named Ted, who has a thing for just about any vice that you can think of. John is given an ultimatum by Lori: me or the bear. As often happens, things work themselves out. John and Lori seal their "new" relationship with a kiss as Ted watches from the sofa.
Only…His roommate is a talking teddy bear, for goodness sake! That doesn't raise enough red flags for you to walk away from the relationship? We get that Marky Mark has a crazy good body, but come on. Don't come crying to us the first time that Ted shows up at a dinner party with a hooker.
Paul Rudd & Alicia Silverstone, Clueless
Silverstone's Cher is so busy trying to fix everyone else's life that she doesn't even see what's in front of her in this modern retelling of Jane Austen's Emma. Rudd's Josh, the son of one of her father's ex-wives, is an earnest college student who still lives with them part-time as he helps out at his step-dad's law office. Cher finally realizes that it's been Josh all along that has been there for her. The two share a tender kiss before officially becoming boyfriend-girlfriend.
Only… He's her step-brother! Sure, the marriage is over, but he certainly seems to think he's part of the family. Even in Beverly Hills, making out with your step sibling is frowned upon. As with some of the other ones on this list, there's also the nagging problem that even though the age difference may not be that great, she's only 16 and he's well into his college years. As if.
I know, that headline is trouble. You're always treading dangerous ground when you insist on defining what makes a good this or the right kind of that, as if there is no room for change or improvement when it comes to classic properties. Of course there is — Jason Segel's 2011 Muppet film approached the concept from an entirely different direction. It didn't hit all of its marks, but it prevailed overall in its conceit: make a movie not about Muppets, but about Muppet fandom. But Muppets Most Wanted, in absence of a clear mission statement and fueled largely by the monetary glimmers of the sequel game (the film's opening number admits this outright), has fewer marks readily available to hit. Landing in the ambiguity between the classic Muppet adventure formula and Segel's post-modern Henson appreciation party, Most Wanted feels like a failure on both counts. It doesn't know which kind of movie it wants to, or should, be. So it doesn't really be anything.
On the one hand, there's the half-cocked "get-the-band-back-together" through line, mimicking but not quite accomplishing the spirit of the 2011 picture. None of the Muppets are particularly likable or charming in this turn, and even fewer of them actually given anything to do. Kermit loses his s**t in the first act after a spat with Piggy and a barrage of insubordination from his troupe (provoked by the nefarious Dominic Badguy, Ricky Gervais), storms off in a huff, and gets swept up in a case of mistaken identity when his criminal doppelganger Constantine pulls the old switcheroo, landing Kermit in a Russian gulag. You'd think this would be a good opportunity for the second tier of Muppet favorites — Piggy, Fozzy, Gonzo, Scooter, Rowlf, et al — to go on a search and rescue... but save for a very brief sequence at the tail end of this achingly long film, none of the other Muppets are giving anything to do. They just hem and haw and perform the occasional "Indoor Running of the Bulls" while Dominic and Constantine scheme, rob banks, and bicker.
Meanwhile, Kermit has some fun in prison — a far more endearing plot that sees him befriending the merry convicts, organizing a penitentiary revue, and even winning the heart of the vicious warden Nadia (Tina Fey). If only we could spend more time with real Kermit and less time with fake Kermit and his second banana Gervais, an effectively boring pair.
On the other hand, though, there's the Muppet shtick that fans of The Great Muppet Caper and Muppet Treasure Island — and yes, The Muppet Show itself — will deem the movie's best material: CIA Agent Sam Eagle and Interpol Agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) hot on the trail of Constantine and Dominic. Here, we get a different type of Muppet movie entirely from what Segel and the A-plot in Most Wanted are opting: the old fashioned vaudeville act, with Sam standing as an independent entity from his googly-eyed brethren, on a goofy, musical prowl with Burrell that fuels the film with its best and most consistent chuckles. Their "Interrogation Song" number is outstanding, exemplifying the many talents of Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie, who wrote all the music for this and the previous film.
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Unfortunately, Muppets Most Wanted isn't sure that it wants to be The Great Muppet Caper, beheld so stubbornly to its Segelian roots. There's a palpable compulsion to stick with this agonizingly self-aware, nostalgia-crazy, brimming-beacons-of-the-past-in-a-callous-today theme that doesn't work a fraction as well as it did in the 2011 film. Without a legitimate celebration of any of our favorite characters, how could it? With so much going on in this movie, and such a lengthy runtime at just under two hours, it's a sure sign of failure that we walk away feeling like we spent barely any time with the Muppets.
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