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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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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The Tourist is about as difficult to get through as spotting the vowels in the name of its director. Florian Henckel von Donnersmark was last seen receiving a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2007 for The Lives of Others which was about a couple living in East Berlin who were being monitored by the police of the German Democratic Republic. Its positive reception made way for the assumption that Donnersmark would continue to populate the USA with films of seemingly otherworldly and underrepresented themes. But his current project is saddening in its superficiality and total implausibility.
The film’s only real upside is its stars: two of our most prized Americans. Johnny Depp plays Frank Tupelo a math teacher from Wisconsin who travels to Europe after his wife leaves him presumably because of his weakness and simplicity. While en route to Venice he meets Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie) who situates herself in his company after she receives a letter from her criminal lover Alexander Pearce (who stole some billions from a very wealthy Russian and the British government) with instructions to find someone on a train who looks like him and make the police believe that he is the real Alexander Pearce to throw the authorities and the Russians off his track. Elise picks Frank and after they are photographed kissing each other on the balcony of Elise’s hotel everyone begins to believe Frank is the real Pearce and so begins the chase.
While Donnersmark could not have picked two better looking people to film roaming around Venice his lack of faith in the audience is obvious. Every aspect of the characters is hammed up again and again as if Donnersmark felt burdened with the task of making us see his vision. Doubtful that we’re capable of getting to where he wants us he has crafted a movie completely devoid of subtlety. Elise’s strength and superiority over Frank are portrayed by close-ups and repeated instances of men burping up their lungs upon seeing her (as if her beauty is in any way subjective?). And in case we forgot that Frank is the victim in this story -- even though he’s been tricked chased and shot at - Donnersmark still felt the need to pin him with a lame electronic cigarette to puff on. Frank and Elise somehow manage to lack mystery even though we get very few factual details about each of them.
Nothing extraordinary comes to us in the way of the film’s structural elements either. There is very little of the action that The Tourist’s marketing led us to believe and the dialog is often painful. The plot itself is almost shockingly unbelievable especially when we’re asked to believe that Elise falls in love with Frank after a combination of kissing him once and her disclosed habit of swooning over men she only spent an hour with (yes that was on her CV).
The Tourist is rather empty and cosmetic. It’s worth seeing if you’re a superfan of Jolie or Depp but don’t expect to walk out of the theater with anything more than the stub you came in with.
S07E07 The Office delights itself in awkward moments, strained pauses of uncomfortableness and frighteningly embarrassing situations. So it's surprising they haven’t dealt with religion more, considering that just mentioning religion creates enough awkwardness to fill an entire episode. But then again, how often do you get into talks about the nature of religion with your coworkers? The Office has touched on religion in the past, but it was only briefly at the beginning of season four (in Fun Run), and even then all we basically learned was Darryl and Pam were both Presbyterian. That all changed with this week’s episode.
But first, our cold opening. Pam led a (more than likely) corporate-mandated hygiene seminar, which Dwight steadfastly disagreed with. Dwight believes in tough love for his immune system and welcomes any challenge to strengthen it. This resulted in a brief montage of Jim, Erin, and Andy sneezing in Dwight’s face. Silly? Yes. But worth it seeing Erin running over to sneeze in Dwight’s face.
Then we got to the main event and this week we got a full serving size of religion, thanks to Cece Halpert and her baptism. The first half of the episode followed the service, which, of course, Michael invited the whole office to see. I’m not so sure that the entire office would come to something this trivial (at least in terms of their established beliefs, no one besides Angela appeared that religious) but if they didn’t we wouldn’t have an episode.
We get a couple good little gags throughout the service like Dwight taking advantage of a large group of people to make a sale and Ryan complaining about the lack of open wi-fi in the church. But the real winner of this was Jim, who is almost, but not quite, devolving into a bumbling father. When he tries to change Cece’s diaper during the service, he gets baby poop all over her gown. His cries of horror and pleading to the baby through the closed doors were hilarious. He takes the baby to the car in desperation and returns with her wrapped in an Arcade Fire t-shirt (does this mean that Cece is destined to be a hipster?).
The fumbling continues when the pastor invites everyone to the ceremony after party, which the Halperts were criminally underprepared for. This left everyone complaining about the lack of food which perturbed Jim and Pam because after all, some people weren’t even invited in the first place and they don’t even know half of the guests there. Pam leaves to get some last minute replacements, which means Jim is in charge of the baby. And because this is a sitcom, Jim loses the baby. And because this is a sitcom, when he learns that a small blond haired woman was last seen with the baby, he automatically thinks it was Angela. But when he confronts her, it turns out that Pam’s mom had the baby the whole time. Simple misunderstanding. It's not exactly his fault either, he's doing what he thinks is best in the moment and running with it. He truly loves his wife and child and wants the best for them and sometimes things outside of his control don't work for him. Plus he's just so damn cute you forgive him anyway.
Angela’s bits in this story were interesting. She has always been a hypocritical person, judging others while she had secret affairs and undermined her colleagues. But this season has seen her two-faceness come full front. Last week we saw it when she donned a very revealing nurse costume to win a coupon book. This week we saw it when she talked to Cece in the cute baby voice but immediately dropped it and returned to her snottiness when addressing Jim and Pam. Then she tried to act innocent when it was discovered she had taken several ("thousand" according to Kevin) scones while others went hungry. It's an interesting character development but hopefully it won’t burn out later in the season.
The second half follows Michael. Now Michael is a very innocent and lonely man, which makes him very susceptible to anything that offers him friendship or success. He is the ultimate patsy. He falls for everything (like exercising equipment, infomercials, and pyramid schemes to name a few). which means that he would fall in love with the idea of a church. When everyone was friendly to him and shook his hand, he thought he finally found a group that loved being together and doing things with each other. He couldn’t find that in his coworkers so he turned to the church. He defends everyone from his coworkers who (snidely and snarkly) don’t show the respect he recently acquired for the congregation.
This all comes to full power when he gets swept up in the youth group who is celebrating its departure for a three month mission trip in Mexico. He hops on board the bus filled with the spirit. Everyone tries to talk sense into him, but he won’t budge. The only person who is even remotely impressed with this is Erin. who might be the only person more gullible than Michael. And since Michael needed someone to act against on the bus and because he’ll do anything to impress Erin, Andy joins him. They’re welcomed with open arms by the other students and they set off.
What happens next is basically what would’ve happened had the camera continued to roll at the end of The Graduate. The initial joy and excitement they got swept up in faded slowly away and they begin to realize what kind of mess they had gotten themselves into. This isn’t something new to The Office -- Michael has gotten himself into plenty of situations before where he couldn’t cash the checks his mouth was writing (Scott’s Tots, anyone?), but putting it on a bus really drove home The Graduate (probably) unintentional homage.
Their initial attempts to get off the bus are shot down (after all, once you’ve been sucked into a church its pretty hard to get out) but they eventually are let off after they scream loud enough. They’re joined by a random kid who pleads with them to not tell his parents. Erin picks them up and informs them that they all went to a movie together after Kevin’s suggestion. This really hurts Michael’s feelings since that was what he initially wanted. Then we got the strangest closing to The Office ever, when Erin cranks up A Prairie Home Companion and grins like a maniac. I’m not sure I understood it, but whatever, I can appreciate abstract humor.
In the end, not a terrible episode. The show was definitely split into two distinct stories which usually results in a poorer episode, but these two went fairly well together since Michael and the Jim/Pam stories have always been the main aspect of the show.
However, I’m inclined to bump up this episode’s grade (if we did that) an extra half a grade for Toby’s mini story line. It was established that Toby was a man of faith prior to meeting his ex-wife, and he left the seminary for her because he wanted to get laid. This caused him to stop before heading into the church because he “and the big guy have some catching up to do.” When he finally makes his way to the altar he looks up and wonders aloud, “why you always gotta be so mean to me?” and that was it. Perfect, bleak, dark, in character, and so funny, because Toby suffers through so much and doesn’t react to it at all, it was a great bit for the episode.