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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In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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Easy A a teen sex comedy with no actual sex aims rather conspicuously to plumb the best bits of Diablo Cody and Alexander Payne in its upside-down self-consciously campy take on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. In the role of its high-school Hester Prynne is Emma Stone the sly husky heroine of last year’s surprise hit Zombieland. Tested by a film that is far less clever than its director Will Gluck or screenwriter Bert Royal would have us believe (and they desperately want us to believe) she passes with flying colors delivering a performance that should elevate her into the upper echelon of actresses possessing brains and beauty in equal measure.
Stone plays Olive the kind of quick-witted hyper-literate teen that our educational system produces in ever-diminishing numbers. (If it ever produced them to begin with.) More knowing and sophisticated than others her age she is nonetheless not immune to the pressure of peers and the dread of being labeled a loser. Under duress by a prying friend (Aly Michalka) to dish the details of her birthday weekend a rather mundane affair mainly spent jumping on her bed to the tune of Natasha Bedingfield’s pop monstrosity “Pocket Full of Sunshine ” she feels compelled to embellish a bit and concocts an entirely fictional account of losing her virginity (dubbed the “V-Card” by Royal trying too hard) to a boy from a junior college across town.
Word of Olive’s deflowering spreads with startling speed aided by the incessant rumor-mongering of a catty Evangelical eavesdropper (Amanda Bynes). Suddenly branded a tramp on account of a seemingly harmless little lie Olive opts to embrace her newly tarnished reputation and put it to good use. In a viciously stratified social environment where even the most awkward acne-plagued pariah can earn respect and even admiration from members of the upper castes for having gone All the Way Olive anoints herself the Mother Theresa of (fake) sluts bestowing her blessing upon downtrodden gents in need of a reputation boost. And she resolves to look the part too traipsing around in scandalous bustiers and affixing the letter “A” to her chest.
There are limits to Easy A’s Scarlet Letter conceit overly Glee-ful tone forced repartee and pop-culture references (John Hughes is invoked so many times he should get a producer credit). Which is why director Gluck must be grateful to have found Stone who handles the verbal calisthenics of Royal’s script with charm and verve and a certain effortless appeal that keeps us engaged even as the film wallows in contrived irony and heavy-handedness. Keep your eye on her.
Diaz fights back
Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake are countersuing the two photographers who claim they were attacked by the couple after trying to snap them together on a Hollywood night out. The paparazzi duo have alleged in court papers they were beaten when they tried to take photos of the celebrity couple last month, adding Diaz stole one of their cameras. But now the actress is fighting back, claiming the two snappers jumped out on her and her boyfriend and tried to provoke a fight in order to take better pictures. In the suit, Diaz insists she only took a camera "for purposes of later trying to identify the men."
Actor Aude released from Pakistani jail
Van Wilder actor Erik Aude is celebrating Christmas like never before after being released from a Pakistani jail. The California actor was released by Pakistani authorities on Christmas Day after serving almost three years of a seven-year drug trafficking sentence in Islamabad. Aude, a part-time fitness instructor, was arrested and imprisoned in February 2002 after leather jackets he was picking up for a colleague in America turned out to contain drug packages. Aude's conviction was overturned just before his release last week after the man who employed the actor to illegally pick up his drugs was arrested at Los Angeles' LAX airport. Aude's mother Sherry, who has been fighting her son's conviction from her home in Lancaster, California, says, "It's like a gift to all of us." The actor was expected to be back home yesterday.
Kidman treats children to match without Bing
Nicole Kidman treated her two children to a LA Lakers basketball game on Christmas Day without her billionaire boyfriend Steve Bing. The Oscar-winning beauty, 37, took daughter Isabella, 11 and 9-year-old son Conor to watch their beloved team lose to Miami Heat in the high-profile match at Los Angeles' Staple Center. Other Hollywood stars enjoying the sport included Kidman's Cold Mountain co-star Renee Zellweger, Sylvester Stallone and Courteney Cox Arquette.
Lohan in huge demand over New Year's Eve
Lindsay Lohan is so in demand over New Year's Eve--she has commitments at different end of the United States within hours of each other. The ubiquitous Mean Girls actress, 18, who was recently hospitalized for exhaustion, has agreed to host a party at South Beach's Opium Garden in California with Jessica Alba--as well as perform on MTV's Total Request Live late on 31 December in New York city. It is then believed Lohan will fly to Miami, Fla., in a private jet. A source says, "She will have to get through all the New Year traffic to Teterboro (Airport), fly to Miami and then drive from the airport." I don't know what she is thinking. No way she'll make it to that club before 4am."
Barton's plans for 2005
The OC star Mischa Barton has big plans for 2005--she hopes to learn how to drive and buy her first home. The pretty actress admits she's on the hunt for a "fixer upper" home in Los Angeles, so that renovating it can become her hobby when she's not working. She says, "Every place my family and I have ever lived in is a fixer-upper and there's something rewarding about buying a place like that. "In New York, we bought a loft space that was in a factory and converted it into a real loft. In London, we pretty much built the whole house." And she plans to get her driving licence so that her mother doesn't have to taxi her around all the time. She adds, "I know she's getting tired of it... It's something I know I have to do, but when I see how the paparazzi follow cars I'm in, I'm so glad I'm not driving because I know I'd get flustered."
Everett lashes out at outspoken John
British actor Rupert Everett has lashed out Elton John's new 'addiction' for insulting celebrities this year, which have included his close pal Madonna. The My Best Friend's Wedding star believes the outspoken singer compensates his previous propensity to over-indulge in drugs and food - with a new set of habits which include gossiping about fellow singers. Everett says, "I think Elton has lost it completely. He loves to tell you how he overcame addictions--drugs, bulimia... He did not overcome addictions. He went from one to another... All these
shopping sprees, and not controlling his mouth."
Movie trip turns into African aid mission
Former Friends star Giovanni Ribisi was dealt a savage dose of reality on the set of new movie The Flight Of The Phoenix in Namibia when a field trip on a day off turned into an aid mission. The actor, who played Phoebe's brother Frank on the hit sitcom, was shocked when he and cast mates visited one African village riddled with malaria. He says, "We visited this indigenous tribe called the Himbas. There were basically four women there and one of them had malaria and she was trying to take care of a two-week-old baby. "We went out and found medicine for her. This was the real deal... Africa is so raw."
Model to sue Bardem over broken nose
Spanish actor Javier Bardem is set for a courtroom battle after his wild dance moves resulted in former model Jill Marshall nursing her broken nose. The 35-year-old heartthrob was dancing with Marshall at the New York premiere party for his latest film The Sea Inside earlier this month when disaster struck on the dance floor. PageSix.com reports Marshall has hired attorney Sanford Rubenstein to handle her case. Marshall fumes, "It felt like a baseball bat hitting me in the face," before admitting she is having reconstructive surgery to correct her broken nose. An onlooker at the party in Manhattan hotspot Gypsy Tea says, "He was crazy-dancing. He was totally out of control--it was like he thought he was Justin Timberlake onstage. I've never seen anything like it."
Hoffman: 'premature ejaculation makes me a better lover'
Dustin Hoffman's sex life is getting better with age--because he's a longtime premature ejaculator. The bawdy movie star confessed he suffered from the embarrassing problem during a recent appearance on Jay Leno's The Tonight Show America, but he insists middle age is helping him deal with his bedroom mishaps. He explains, "We are all premature ejaculators. It's the way we're built. I mean we can't help it. It's the DNA. "A person of my age becomes a wonderful lover once they reach my age because once a premature ejaculator, always a premature ejaculator--but when you reach my age, it takes about an hour and 20 minutes."
Ledger shocks TV host with talk of grabbing 'weenies'
Heath Ledger shocked American audiences by talking about grabbing "weenies" with his male buddies whilst wearing "thongs". The Australian actor, 25, stunned host Regis Philbin with his antipodean colloquialisms for having a hot dog while sporting flip-flops as he detailed the way he bonds with his male pals over Christmas. Ledger says, "I was promoting my film on The Regis and Kelly Show. "Regis asked me what I did Down Under for Christmas fun, so I told him that me and my mates liked to put on our thongs and grab weenies and look at the world go by, and that was our perfect way to male-bond. The whole audience just went silent, and Regis was all frantic gesturing for a commercial break. At the break, I explained that in Australia, Christmas is our summer and thongs are flip-flops, not G-strings, and I meant putting hot dogs (weenies) on the barbie (barbeque)."
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