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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We are a nation in mourning. And in times of mourning, we tend to err on the side of extreme caution, in hopes that we may not add to the pain that already consumes us and our neighbors. In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, one of the most troubling events in U.S. history, the entertainment industry is doing its best to be a good neighbor.
But how do we tell the difference between a reaction to tragedy and the beginnings of a greater shift in the industry?
In the days since the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., Hollywood has offered its condolences, and altered many big-budget plans in the name of respect. Three premiere parties this week, including the family holiday comedy Parental Guidance and two violent blockbusters Jack Reacher and Django Unchained, were cancelled or postponed as a measure of sensitivity. SyFy pulled a new episode of Haven for its depictions of school violence while ABC temporarily took an episode of Scandal off its site due to a scene involving the murder of a family and Fox opted for reruns of American Dad and Family Guy on Dec. 16 in an effort to avoid “potential insensitivities.” Homeland and Dexter both warned viewers on Sunday that their season finales might be disturbing in light of recent events. The trailer for Colin Farrell’s new flick, Dead Man Down, was quickly snuffed out the week it was to debut in theaters. In some places, including Connecticut, popular songs like Ke$ha's “Die Young” and Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” (which includes lyrics like “All the other kids with the pumped up kicks/Better run, better run faster than my bullet”) were pulled from the radio, potentially indefinitely in the case of “Pumped Up Kicks.” Even Barry Manilow canceled his concert on Dec. 14 in an effort to show sympathy to victims. No entertainment realm was untouched.
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“I think it shows a sensitivity to the nature of the crime, the immense shock and grief that, as a nation, we’re all feeling because of Sandy Hook Elementary. I think that it’s respectful certainly,” says Holly MacDonald, 24, of San Antonio, Texas.
It’s almost unfathomable that anyone, in Hollywood or elsewhere, wouldn’t react with some form of sympathy. It makes sense that in the days following an awful event, Tinseltown turned down its usual luster, but it’s the reaction to films and television shows that are markedly violent that stands out. It's the second time this year violence in entertainment has come into question in response to real-world trauma, and there seems little doubt that the industry will have discussions about its penchant for glorifying blood and gore. After all, Jamie Foxx — star of Django, one of the most violent films of the year — has already started to think introspectively following the Sandy Hook shootings. "We cannot turn our back and say that violence in films or anything that we do doesn't have a sort of influence," Foxx told the BBC. "It does."
But the conversation has been buzzing since this summer, in the wake of the Dark Knight Rises shooting in Aurora, Colo., and Sandy Hook will only serve to bolster the discussion. In response to Aurora, premiere parties and public appearances by the cast of Christopher Nolan’s film were postponed indefinitely, but the ripples went a little further. Ryan Gosling-starrer Gangster Squad was set for a Sept. 7 release in the U.S. and was instead pushed back to the movie release wasteland of January while one of the final shootout scenes, originally located at the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles, was re-done due to its similarity to the real life tragedy. It's a small sample of Hollywood's reaction to Sandy Hook, which may further inform the protocol surrounding onscreen violence in the future.The wave of change is reaching the small screen, as well. We’ve yet to see an upcoming film project announce a reshoot or all-out cancellation, but TV seems to be taking a bit more heat this time.
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Cable networks are experiencing the silencing of potentially insensitive programming, including TLC’s Best Funeral Ever, which was just postponed, and the American Guns reality series, which was canceled this week, though reps for Discovery insist the decision was not related to the tragedy or the influx of protest on the show’s Facebook page this week. It’s something many TV fans see as completely necessary from a sensitivity standpoint, but it’s also important that the industry that’s often marked by the ability to overshadow national news with the announcement of the latest American Idolmight also being doing its part to focus the debates spurned by Sandy Hook on issues like gun control and mental illness.
“By airing violent films and television shows, we're just giving the pundits more reasons to argue,” says Debbie, 26, from Brooklyn, an avid pop culture consumer who asked that her full name not be used. Of course, while thinking of movie studios and TV network executives putting sensitivity above all else gives many of us the warm and fuzzies in a time that feels hopelessly bleak, some pop culture consumers aren’t buying it. “Some of the decisions to delay are probably business decisions … They care about how we feel because they want people to go see [their projects] so they can make money,” says moviegoer Robert Kaplan, 24.
And while we’d like to believe all decisions made in these next few weeks come straight from the heart, there is an inevitable, and somewhat bitter element of damage control. No gaffe or apparently lack of sensitivity will go unnoticed, and the entertainment powers that be are well aware of that.
Weeks after the tragedy in Aurora, Justin Bieber — the young man whose most controversial moment up until that point was deciding to rid himself of his teeny-bopper bangs and signature purple hoodie — posed for a picture on the set of Selena Gomez’ movie Feed the Dog, holding a gun and pointing it at his then-girlfriend's dad who posed with the two young stars. The photo immediately sparked debate. Not only was it too soon, but after something as horrific as the theater shooting in Aurora, it was inconceivable that someone as well-known as Bieber would so flippantly mock gun safety.
It’s something that hasn’t escaped artists in the wake of the Newtown shooting either. In a move that clearly wasn’t connected in any way to the events in Connecticut, rapper T.I. released his new album on Dec. 18, Heavy is the Head. The album’s cover art prominently features a half-cocked pistol, brandished in an almost heroic fashion by the rapper. When the record label didn’t postpone the album release or rush to replace the cover art, it didn’t take long before someone pointed out the insensitivity of the release. While the timing isn’t something T.I. or his label can control, perhaps these utterly sensitive reactions are something we should come to expect in these circumstances, in music and in all areas of entertainment.
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“Executives need to be cautious — anything that has the potential to offend viewers should be pulled. I don't think anything is off-limits at this point — we need to figure out how our country is going to shift its view on gun control,” says Debbie from Brooklyn. Granted, we’re still very much in the throes of our grief. It was just a few days ago that we watched our president weep on national television and the thought of the Newtown horror. It might be too soon to tell what the full effect of the ignited gun control debate and heightened sensitivity to violence may be. If the past tells us anything, audiences will grow back their thick skins in time. Just take, for example, Gangster Squad, which returned from its reshoots to premiere an opulent, gunfire-laden trailer that had since cut the infamous theater scene, but was never the less meant to elicit a sense of old timey mafia “fun” set to the glorious, pumped up soundtrack of Jay-Z’s “Oh My God.”Hollywood took a beat, but then, when we were ready, the beat went on.
Still, the scope of the entertainment industry’s reaction this time around — reaching every nook and cranny of pop culture and entertainment — is something of note. Not since national tragedies on the level on 9/11 have we seen the reaction of extreme consideration, respect, sympathy reach this far. And in the wake of that tragedy, our experience of entertainment shifted — depictions of the lost towers was deemed too painful, even in the case of old Friends reruns. Audiences clung to the fantastical fantasy adventures of Harry Potter and Frodo, sought unlikely heroes in Spider-Man and even Vin Diesel’s unintelligible agent XXX. The public couldn't even fathom depictions of the horrors of 9/11 until 2006, when both United 93 and World Trade Center debuted — and even then, we cried "too soon."
It wasn't until now, over a decade after the tragedy that works like Homeland and Zero Dark Thirtyhave been able to tackle the sensitive subject without creating a ruckus among pop culture consumers. As the Washington Post pointed out, the Newton tragedy is one of the 12 deadliest shootings in U.S. history — all of which have occurred since 2007 — and if it can change the face of the debate on one of our nation’s longstanding stalemates (just take a look at the latest Google search stats to see how quicklythe topic of “gun control” has reemerged), it certainly has the capacity to change the way we see violence in entertainment. Though hyper-sensitivity around onscreen violence simply won’t last at the height its currently occupying, we’re already seeing studios follow in the footsteps of the last round of films who changed their promotional courses as a reaction to real-life violence – just this week, Paramount decided to cut a sniper scene from the Jack Reacher trailer, much like Gangster Squad’s missing theater scene, in addition to cancelling premieres and events, as Warner Bros. did with The Dark Knight Rises.
In a way, that’s change in and of itself: We now have protocol for reacting to tragedies of this nature, and we’re finding out where else those rules apply, and when. Whether moving forward, this horrible event will mean less fictional violence altogether, reforming the amount of violence used as a means of promotion in marketing materials, more explicit forewarning of potentially violent content, or some other derivative reaction is yet to be seen.
But one thing is irrefutable: We will see change. It may not appear drastic and you can bet it will not involve the complete removal of all firearms from the big and small screens. However, no element of our society can escape the mark of this tragedy. Because of this, we’ve all changed, and thus everything has changed.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Andrew Cooper/ The Weinstein Company; Paramount Pictures; Jamie Trueblood/Warner Bros]
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Robert Zemeckis is a blockbuster director at heart. Action has never been an issue for the man behind Back to the Future. When he puts aside the high concept adventures for emotional human stories — think Forrest Gump or Cast Away — he still goes big. His latest Flight continues the trend revolving the story of one man's fight with alcoholism around a terrifying plane crash. Zemeckis expertly crafts his roaring centerpiece and while he finds an agile performer in Denzel Washington the hour-and-a-half of Flight after the shocking moment can't sustain the power. The "big" works. The intimate drowns.
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker a reckless airline pilot who balances his days flying jumbo jets with picking up women snorting lines of cocaine and drinking himself to sleep. Although drunk for the flight that will change his life forever that's not the reason the plane goes down — in fact it may be the reason he thinks up his savvy landing solution in the first place. Writer John Gatins follows Whitaker into the aftermath madness: an investigation of what really happened during the flight Whitaker's battle to cap his addictions and budding relationships that if nurtured could save his life.
Zemeckis tops his own plane crash in Cast Away with the heart-pounding tailspin sequence (if you've ever been scared of flying before Flight will push into phobia territory). In the few scenes after the literal destruction Washington is able to convey an equal amount of power in the moments of mental destruction. Whitaker is obviously crushed by the events the bottle silently calling for him in every down moment. Flight strives for that level of introspection throughout eventually pairing Washington with equally distraught junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Their relationship is barely fleshed out with the script time and time again resorting to obvious over-the-top depictions of substance abuse (a la Nic Cage's Leaving Las Vegas) and the bickering that follows. Washington's Whitaker hits is lowest point early sitting there until the climax of the film.
Sharing screentime with the intimate tale is the surprisingly comical attempt by the pilot's airline union buddy (Bruce Greenwood) and the company lawyer (Don Cheadle) to get Whitaker into shape. Prepping him for inquisitions looking into evidence from the wreckage and calling upon Whitaker's dealer Harling (John Goodman) to jump start their "hero" when the time is right the two men do everything they can to keep any blame being placed upon Whitaker by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators. The thread doesn't feel relevant to Whitaker's plight and in turn feels like unnecessary baggage that pads the runtime.
Everything in Fight shoots for the skies — and on purpose. The music is constantly swelling the photography glossy and unnatural and rarely do we breach Washington's wild exterior for a sense of what Whitaker's really grappling with. For Zemeckis Flight is still a spectacle film with Washington's ability to emote as the magical special effect. Instead of using it sparingly he once again goes big. Too big.
Ladies and gentlemen, we're making our final descent towards naming a Best Picture of 2011.
With the Golden Globes behind us and Academy Award nominations hitting next week (with the show arriving at the tail end of February), the limbo week between them is reserved for the coveted BAFTAs, the UK equivalent of the Oscars. After picking up a few statues at the Globes, feel good favorite of the year The Artist leads the pack in the BAFTA nods with a whopping 12 nominations. Behind the silent comedy are the British spy drama Tinker Tailor Solider Spy with 11 noms and Hugo with 9. Can the BAFTAs give a much-needed boost to the latter two films? Only time will tell…The BAFTAs announce their winners February 12.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Outstanding British Film
My Week With Marilyn
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
We Need To Talk About Kevin
Outstanding Debut by a Writer, Director or Producer
Attack The Block - Joe Cornish (Director/Writer)
Black Pond - Will Sharpe (Director/Writer), Tom Kingsley (Director), Sarah Brocklehurst (Producer)
Coriolanus - Ralph Fiennes (Director)
Submarine - Richard Ayoade (Director/Writer)
Tyrannosaur - Paddy Considine (Director), Diarmid Scrimshaw (Producer)
Film Not in the English Language
The Skin I Live In
George Harrison: Living In The Material World
The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn
Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
Nicolas Winding Refn - Drive
Martin Scorsese - Hugo
Tomas Alfredson - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Lynne Ramsay - We Need To Talk About Kevin
Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
Annie Mumolo, Kristen Wiig - Bridesmaids
John Michael McDonagh - The Guard
Abi Morgan - The Iron Lady
Woody Allen - Midnight In Paris
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash - The Descendants
Tate Taylor - The Help
George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon - The Ides Of March
Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin - Moneyball
Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughan - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt - Moneyball
Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
George Clooney - The Descendants
Jean Dujardin - The Artist
Michael Fassbender - Shame
Berenice Bejo - The Artist
Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams - My Week with Marilyn
Tilda Swinton - We Need to Talk About Kevin
Viola Davis - The Help
Christopher Plummer - Beginners
Jim Broadbent - The Iron Lady
Jonah Hill - Moneyball
Kenneth Branagh - My Week with Marilyn
Philip Seymour Hoffman - The Ides of March
Carey Mulligan - Drive
Jessica Chastain - The Help
Judi Dench - My Week with Marilyn
Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids
Octavia Spencer - The Help
The Artist - Ludovic Bource
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
Hugo - Howard Shore
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Alberto Iglesias
War Horse - John Williams
The Artist - Guillaume Schiffman
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - Jeff Cronenweth
Hugo - Robert Richardson
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Hoyte van Hoytema
War Horse - Janusz Kaminski
The Artist - Anne-Sophie Bion, Michel Hazanavicius
Drive - Mat Newman
Hugo - Thelma Schoonmaker
Senna - Gregers Sall, Chris King
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Dino Jonsater
The Artist - Laurence Bennett, Robert Gould
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 - Stuart Craig, Stephenie McMillan
Hugo - Dante Ferretti, Francesca Lo Schiavo
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Maria Djurkovic, Tatiana MacDonald
War Horse - Rick Carter, Lee Sandales
The Artist - Mark Bridges
Hugo - Sandy Powell
Jane Eyre - Michael O'Connor
My Week With Marilyn - Jill Taylor
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Jacqueline Durran
Make Up & Hair
The Artist - Julie Hewett, Cydney Cornell
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 - Amanda Knight, Lisa Tomblin
Hugo - Morag Ross, Jan Archibald
The Iron Lady - Marese Langan
My Week With Marilyn - Jenny Shircore
The Artist - Nadine Muse, Gérard Lamps, Michael Krikorian
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows - Part 2 - James Mather, Stuart Wilson, Stuart Hilliker, Mike Dowson, Adam Scrivener
Hugo - Philip Stockton, Eugene Gearty, Tom Fleischman, John Midgley
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - John Casali, Howard Bargroff, Doug Cooper, Stephen Griffiths, Andy Shelley
War Horse - Stuart Wilson, Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson, Richard Hymns
Special Visual Effects
The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn - Joe Letteri
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 - Tim Burke, John Richardson, Greg Butler, David Vickery
Hugo - Rob Legato, Ben Grossman, Joss Williams
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes - Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White
War Horse - Ben Morris, Neil Corbould
The Orange Wednesdays Rising Star Award