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 is something particularly unnerving about demon possession. It's the idea of something you can't see or control creeping into your body and taking up residence eventually obliterating all you once were and turning you into nothing more than a sack of meat to be manipulated. Then there's also the shrouded ritual around exorcisms: the Latin chants the flesh-sizzling crucifixes and the burning Holy Water. As it turns out exorcism isn't just the domain of Catholics.
The myths and legends of the Jews aren't nearly as well known but their creepy dybbuk goes toe-to-toe with anything other world religions come up with. There are various interpretations of what a dybbuk is or where it comes from — is it a ghost a demon a soul of a sinner? — but in any case it's looking for a body to hang out in for a while. Especially according to the solemn Hasidic Jews in The Possession an innocent young person and even better a young girl.
The central idea in The Possession is that a fancy-looking wooden box bought at a garage sale was specifically created to house a dybbuk that was tormenting its previous owner. Unfortunately it caught the eye of young Emily (Natasha Calis) a sensitive artistic girl who persuades her freshly divorced dad Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Watchmen and Grey's Anatomy) to buy it for her. Never mind the odd carvings on it — that would be Hebrew — or how it's created without seams so it would be difficult to open or why it's an object of fascination for a young girl; Clyde is trying really hard to please his disaffected daughters and do the typical freshly divorced parent dance of trying to please them no matter the cost.
Soon enough the creepy voices calling to Emily from the box convince her to open it up; inside are even creepier personal objects that are just harbingers of what's to come for her her older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) her mom Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and even Stephanie's annoying new boyfriend Brett (Grant Show). Clyde and Stephanie squabble over things like pizza for dinner and try to convince each other and themselves that Emily's increasingly odd behavior is that of a troubled adolescent. It's not of course and eventually Clyde enlists the help of the son of a Hasidic rabbi a young man named Tzadok played by the former Hasidic reggae musician Matisyahu to help them perform an exorcism on Emily.
The Possession is not going to join the ranks of The Exorcist in the horror pantheon but it does do a remarkable job of making its characters intelligent and even occasionally droll and it offers up plenty of chills despite a PG-13 rating. Perhaps it's because of that rating that The Possession is so effective; the filmmakers are forced to make the benign scary. Giant moths and flying Torahs take the place of little Reagan violently masturbating with a crucifix in The Exorcist. Gagging and binging on food is also an indicator of Emily's possession — an interesting twist given the anxieties of becoming a woman a girl Emily's age would face. There is something inside her controlling her and she knows it and she is fighting it. The most impressive part of Calis's performance is how she communicates Emily's torment with a few simple tears rolling down her face as the dybbuk's control grows. The camerawork adds to the anxiety; one particularly scary scene uses ordinary glass kitchenware to great effect.
The Possession is a short 92 minutes and it does dawdle in places. It seems as though some of the scenes were juggled around to make the PG-13 cut; the moth infestation scene would have made more sense later in the movie. Some of the problems are solved too quickly or simply and yet it also takes a while for Clyde's character to get with it. Stephanie is a fairly bland character; she makes jewelry and yells at Clyde for not being present in their marriage a lot and then there's a thing with a restraining order that's pretty silly. Emily is occasionally dressed up like your typical horror movie spooky girl with shadowed eyes an over-powdered face and dark clothes; it's much more disturbing when she just looks like an ordinary though ill young girl. The scenes in the heavily Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn look oddly fake and while it's hard to think of who else could have played Tzadok an observant Hasidic Jew who is also an outsider willing to take risks the others will not Matisyahu is not a very good actor. Still the filmmakers should be commended for authenticity insofar as Matisyahu has studied and lived as a Hasidic Jew.
It would be cool if Lionsgate and Ghost House Pictures were to release the R-rated version of the movie on DVD. What the filmmakers have done within the confines of a PG-13 rating is creepy enough to make me curious to see the more adult version. The Possession is no horror superstar and its name is all too forgettable in a summer full of long-gestating horror movies quickly pushed out the door. It's entertaining enough and could even find a broader audience on DVD. Jeffrey Dean Morgan can read the Old Testament to me any time.
Actress Rebecca Gayheart has expressed "sorrow and regret" for an accident in which she reportedly ran over and killed a 9-year-old boy who was crossing the street in Hollywood, The Associated Press reports. The parents of Jorge Cruz Jr., who was hit June 13, sued Gayheart on Monday for wrongful death after their son received head injuries and died the next day. Cruz' lawyers contends the actress was talking on a cellular phone when the Jeep Grand Cherokee hit the boy. "Despite the allegations in the lawsuit, the facts will establish that this was a most unfortunate accident. The pain of this tragedy will live with me forever," Gayheart said Wednesday in a statement released to Access Hollywood.
Singer Bobby Brown was rushed to a Morristown, N.J., hospital to receive treatment after he suffered a seizure because of the intense heat and hectic recording schedule of his new album. Brown was rushed to the Morrison Memorial Hospital by his wife-singer Whitney Houston at 3 a.m. Wednesday. He reportedly waited 90 minutes in the emergency room and was not admitted, the New York Post reported. Houston's spokeswoman, Nancy Seltzer said Brown "hadn't been getting enough fluid and basically he was lightheaded."
Emmy-winning director Alan Rafkin, whose work included such television comedies as The Andy Griffith Show and M*A*S*H, died Monday of heart disease at the UCLA Medical Center, AP reports. Rafkin directed episodes for more than 80 primetime television series, including The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and I Dream of Jeannie.
Blake Edwards, 79, was awarded the Rhode Island International Film Festival's Lifetime Achievement Award on Thursday. His wife, actress Julie Andrews, accepted the award in his honor because Edwards had come down with pneumonia and a high fever, AP reports.
Guido Damiani, chief executive officer and general manager of Damiani Group, responsible for creating the wedding rings for Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt, has denied the couple's $50 million lawsuit claiming that the firm broke the pact of not selling similar wedding rings in its jewelry store. Damini said that the rings were original designs owned by the company.
Tribune Entertainment can continue to use the name Mutant X for its upcoming syndicated TV show, but the name does violated the rights of 20th Century Fox, a New York judge ruled Thursday. Fox had sued Tribune allegedly that Mutant X bore too many similarities to its X-Men film series. The ruling will still allow Tribune to launch the show into syndication starting the week of Oct. 1.
Country singer Terri Clark lost her driver's license for a year and receive six-months probation after she pleaded guilty Thursday to drunk driving, AP reports. Her license was suspended because she refused to take a blood-alcohol test. Clark, 33, was stopped for speeding May 2.
The children of singer Perry Como, responsible for such hits as "Catch a Falling Star" and "Papa Loves Mambo," battled over the late 88-year-old singer's medical care before he died of Alzheimer's disease on May 12, Palm Beach County court records show. According to AP, his four children were fighting over who would be the personal representative of their father's estate. As a result, Como's estate will be distributed to his three children and 13 grandchildren. His wife of 65 years, Roselle, died in 1998.
The World Wrestling Federation lost a legal battle with the former World Wildlife Fund on Friday over the use of the WWF initials, Reuters reports. The agreement placed a series of restrictions on the Federation's use of the letters WWF for the purposes of its business, which the Wildlife Fund--now known as the Worldwide Fund for the Nature-- Fund claimed had been breached.
Colombian television producer RCN has hired the William Morris Agency Inc. in its bid to find a potential American producer to introduce the Colombian soap opera potential Betty la Fea (Ugly Betty) into the U.S. market. Producers believe that the soap, which has had enormous success in Europe and Latin America, could translate into an English-language version. According to Reuters, Univision Communications Inc., the No.1 U.S. Spanish-language broadcaster, acquired the rights to air Betty la Fea in the fall.