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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A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
The semifinals are here! Unlike what Blake might say, it ain't "Over" yet. America, so much nearly lies in your hands. Can you believe it? We only have so many days left to savor Christina's bizarre headgear, Adam Levine's war on my dislike for him, Cee Lo's pussycat, and Blake Shelton's pointer finger. Now huddle in close, we'll get through this together.
Not afraid to be servicey, we've provided you with a team breakdown, In case you just woke up from a six-day coma:
Tony Lucca vs. Katrina Parker on Team I Love You, Man
Erin Willett vs. Jermaine Paul on Team Naked Cowboy
Jamar Rogers vs. Juliet Simms on Team Fancy Feast
Chris Mann vs. Lindsey Pavao on Team Toddlers & Gothic Tiaras
It's important to remember how little time we have left with the merry band of misfits NBC plucked up off the street and turned into shiny pennies to judge our musical orphans. There's only so much time for them to remind us that this is the actual, for real-time “go big or go home” moment. Not all those other times. This time is for real-real, not for play-play. Are we ready for tears, America? This is what we call (in the biz!) the waterworks episode.
First up is Tony Lucca, President of the Christina Aguilera Fan Club. He's singing “How You Like Me Now” by The Heavy. And, okay, yes, it is very strong. It all feels very Robert Palmer in a cool, updated way. (And I would just like to go on record that I TOTALLY wrote that last sentence before Blake Shelton said it. All of the original thoughts and ideas are actually mine.) Not that it even matters; he could sit on the stage in a diaper for two minutes and tweens the country over are going to be ripping iPhones out of the hands of strangers in order to maximize their dialing capacity. Everyone is into it, though. Even The Godfather catnip himself — pretty diamond collar and all! But still! Lucca held his own.
NEXT: Ave Guetta
I just want to say to America: Shame on you! Shame! It's so sad how you all just don't care about Adam Levine. He starts talking and it's like crickets in that room. I feel bad for the poor kid. It'd probably because he's so unattractive that people don't care about him. Life is cruel to the uggos.
After the commercial break, Erin Willett steps up to perform “Without You” by David Guetta. Erin starts off REALLY rocky. Surprisingly so. She's not strong on those low notes and it feels a bit out f range for her. But still, Erin is the silent favorite of the competition. The one people go, “Aw, yeah, I forgot I like her” after she sings.
However, this rendition is just not working. She's not connecting with the song and it all feels a little forced — which is so crazy when you think about how deep the chorus is. Youuuuuu. Youuuuuuu. Yooooouuuu should really be able to connect with that, Erin. Homegirl is crying afterwards — I think she knows she didn't capture Usher's essence, which is why she's sad. Right? Or maybe I'm just heartless and she's actually crying about her dad because the song is talking about living without someone. Yeah, okay, she's probably crying about her dad because she has feelings and emotions unlike some of us. Moving on! Is her risky take on a current pop hit enough to move her forward against teammate Jermaine? The judges all seem alright with it, but no one's blown away. That seems to be the general consensus this whole episode, though.
Chris Mann is up next, singing “Ave Maria” by former boyband 98 Degrees. Just kidding! It's Bach. And aww shucks, Chris brought his Bieber haircut with him to rehearsal! So cute and young and hip. I wish Christina would let him use her DIY red sex toy microphone stand to really emphasize the beauty of this operatic moment he's about to unleash on the world.
Imaginary visionary, Clarence St. Clair, was unafraid to pull out all the stops tonight for his favorite operatic snuggiebear, Chris Mann. All those fake tea lights in the audience? Both stunning and complying with fire safety standards. He's given us classic opera prima donna glamour with faux-candle realness. He said it came to him either in a dream or when he was watching the Celine Dion classic “It's All Coming Back To Me Now” in the green room while clutching the neon spandex onesie of last week's acrobat. Oh, Rocco. Sigh. A moment in time. Rocketing back to reality, teen girls are screaming for Chris in erratic bouts (totally not at all provoked by an audience coordinator or anything, right? NEVER!), even though they have no idea what he's singing. I find it really adorable when the bastions of youth culture pretend to have any idea what's going on when it comes to something not in their cultural zeitgeist. Let me tell you, Chris is going to do big things on the touring opera circuit, or opening for Josh Groban after he doesn't win The Voice. I think the judges agree.
NEXT: The Killers kill
Just in time to bring our IQs up a couple notches, we're back from commercial break with astrophysicist Christina Milian. We move on after a quick tutorial in the quantum logistics of star movement in relation to black holes.
Jamar Rogers is up, singing “If You Don't Know Me By Now” by Harold Melvin. Originally, it seemed like the song choice was an attempt to euthanize his chances with a song that is very much stuck in its time of origin, but Jamar tried his best to make it his own. His bottom notes are killer, but overall the song underwhelms. Jamar should be allowed to be unleashed at all times. Jamar is a DEFCON 12 MFer, you know what I mean? Christina Aguilera adjusts her tiara (it was made by Robert Smith and a bedazzler-sporting spider named Icarus), so the judges see she deserves to win Miss Congeniality this year (even though we all know Adam's a shoe-in for that award). She wanted to get up on stage and sing with Jamar, you see, because, you know, she hates the spotlight and attention. Everyone dug it — especially 1990s Will Smith, from whom Jamar stole his outfit for tonight's performance.
After the commercial break we're treated to Teams Adam & Cee Lo performing “All These Things That I've Done” by The Killers. Obviously Prom King & Queen Jamar & Juliet kill this tune because their wheelhouse was made upon the bones of Killers' past.
Another break because we haven't been serviced with enough advertisements yet. Christina Milian's bangs are getting photobombed by Chris Mann and it is everything good in the world. You know what? You're alright, Chris Mann. Unfortunately Christina's thesis on the monkey flu in third world countries completely overshadowed you.
NEXT: It's all kinda Fugee, isn't it?
Jermaine Paul is tasked with performing “Open Arms” by Journey because the entire state of New Jersey really needed a hug. He's surrounded by the ballroom from Beauty & The Beast (Clarence has always seen himself as modern-day Belle), on loan from France. Actually, Gaston is a close personal friend of Clarence's, so he just brought it over on his back. (Gaston is such a f**king showoff, isn't he?) Jermaine does a fine job shooting songs out of his vocal chords like lasers.
America, I think I have The Voice fatigue, because I just find so much of these disconnected and uninspiring. Is it just me, or do you agree?
Katrina Parker talks with Adam during rehearsal, yadda yadda, she's doing “Killing Me Softly” in the style of The Fugees. Katrina's voice was lovely, but it was a note-for-note duplicate. Somebody hit the snooze button! The judges are now doing this thing where they don't even compliment or critique the voices anymore, but rather just talk about their own existential crises.
Christina Milian is punk'd yet again by Chris Mann & a cut-out of Purrfect the cat. I think I am being tricked into being endeared to Chris Mann, you guys.
NEXT: Oh my lord, the brows!
Blake Shelton is up now to perform his new single “Over.” And lucky for us, if you forgot that it was Mr. Shelton performing, Mr. St. Clair made sure to sneak Blake's name into the set. Otherwise Blake would've totally forgotten where he was and wandered off into the hills of Burbank searching for a horse. Thankfully, he is calmed by the false light of a neon sign drawing that says “free beer to-go.”
Lindsey Pavao is here to be ~dynamic~ and show range by performing... “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver. Which... doesn't really show any range considering this song is in her vocal sweet spot. Maybe that's why they got the Chad Kroeger stunt double to play guitar, though. A range of tolerance! I really wish they didn't have back-up singers here, as it really takes away from the performance and the inherent delicacy of Lindsey's voice. She deserves to stick around over Chris, but we all know that moms love to vote for things and hate it when girls shave parts of their heads, so she's probably doomed.
But to get to the most important issue of the evening: Who let the blind drag queen do Lindsay's makeup?
Instead of discussing the performance — yet again! — the judges would like to take this moment to remind you that behind all the make-up, craft services, and money thrown their way, they're really just fans. And they love this show. I'm so glad they love the show, these judges. I was worried, so I'm glad they’re constantly reminding us about how much they love this show. (Somebody must've just renewed their contract$.)
NEXT: Juliet Simms' murderous rampage
Last performance of the night, folks! Can you even stand it? Oh wait, you actually can't? Oh well, too bad! Because now it's time for “Edge of Glory,” performed by Teams Christina & Blake. Look guys, they're matcherz! Denim glory! Did you hear that noise? That's the sound of a million girls pinning the s**t out of Lindsey Pavao's dress to Pinterest. It's easy to hear it, though, because 90 percent of the song is inaudible as the singers can't seem to keep the microphones up to their mouths so people can, you know, hear them sing.
Now it's time for professional girl crush, Juliet Simms, wailing away on “It's a Man's Man's Man's World” by James Brown. I like her sparkly claw in spite of its functionality in the regular world. She looks like an extraterrestrial Tom Ford model. And she murdered it. And me, consequently, as I am now a ghost.
Here was the moment the judges were waiting for — awoken from their trance of show appreciation and general musical fandom, they see that the show is actually fostering some talent here. Carson was roused long enough from his sleeping-while-being-awake stance remark “that's as loud as its ever been in this room. Ever.”
Was Juliet's rendition of James Brown enough to take down Jamar Rogers? Does Katrina actually have the chance to defeat Tony Lucca? Can a skinny love beat out an operatic heavyweight? Does anyone actually believe that Blake's team of perfectly adequate, lovely people with very nice singing voices will win this thing? Does someone actually tie Christina Aguilera down to her chair to keep her from jumping on stage to perform every 20 seconds? Leave your thoughts in the comments, we'd love to hear them!
Check back here tomorrow to find out all this and where Christina Milian keeps her Nobel Prize for Science!
Follow Alicia on Twitter: @alicialutes
The Voice Recap: The Hardest Part of Breaking Up
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The Voice star Adam Levine Beaten & Bloody in New Video — PIC
Though ostensibly successful 2009’s The Final Destination represented to many a horror franchise on its last hackneyed legs. Rote uninspired and humorless it scored a (modest) hit only by virtue of the novelty -- and added ticket price -- of its 3D transfer. Two years later Final Destination 5 arrives with a slightly tweaked formula a beefed-up storyline actors you might actually recognize and genuine honest-to-goodness 3D. It’s still schlock mind you -- but artful schlock and a marked improvement over the preceding entry.
The story begins in familiar fashion with a cursory introduction to the characters followed by a grisly premonition that sees them perish wholesale. An assortment of cubicle-dwellers at a paper factory are being bused to a corporate retreat when one of them Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto perpetually bug-eyed) dreams of a massive bridge collapse in which he and his co-workers are impaled beheaded bisected crushed by cars singed by tar -- however many ways a suspension bridge can kill a person the film’s opening set-piece explores it gruesome detail. Sam awakens duly horrified and demands the bus be evacuated. Seconds later the employees watch in horror from the sidelines as Sam’s vision comes to fruition.
You know what happens next. One-by-one death stalks the survivors who meet their fate in a series of elaborately-staged incidents. Some are relatively straightforward; others involve fiendish head-fakes and red herrings. The range of victims is older and more colorful than in previous Final Destination films in which death preyed exclusively on attractive nubile teenagers but the end result is invariably the same. (Not to give anything away but those considering acupuncture or laser eye surgery would be wise to avoid the film entirely.) As death’s scheme becomes achingly evident Sam his lachrymose girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell) and his increasingly unhinged buddy Peter (Miles Fisher) become increasingly desperate. Enter the ever-ominous Tony Todd returning to the franchise after (wisely) taking the previous film off offering a potential way out. But is it genuine or just another of death’s cruel tricks?
Director Steven Quale a James Cameron protege hired principally for his 3D expertise takes full advantage of the added dimension delivering some of the most vivid and immersive 3D sequences in recent memory. Unlike The Final Destination which seemed little more than a amalgam of crude one-liners Final Destination 5 feels like a real movie one with a discernible plot an element of suspense and a handful characters who are more than just punchlines. Most of the actors are surprisingly competent save for Fisher a credible doppelganger for Tom Cruise (he parodied him 2008’s Superhero Movie) who imbues every line with couch-jumping intensity.
Final Destination 5 ends with a twist that while genuinely unexpected feels like a Hail Mary for a franchise that can’t forestall its inexorable descent into stale irrelevance despite the best of efforts from Quale. Its trademark formula has simply lost its potency -- a problem no amount of cosmetic upgrades however welcome can fix. That the film is bracketed by two pointless and time-consuming montages -- the first an animated sequence that hurtles various hazardous objects at the audience the second a greatest hits compilation of memorable kills from previous Final Destination films -- is a telltale sign that the saga’s creativity is on life support. Perhaps it’s time to pull the plug.