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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Susanne Bier's films have been described as "harrowing" (After the Wedding), "heartbreaking" (Brothers), and "an urgent and compassionate thriller" (the Oscar-winning In a Better World) so it's a bit surprising to hear the award-winning Danish writer/director describe her new film Love Is All You Need as "unashamedly romantic."
Bier is the first to admit that the romantic dramedy is a departure from her previous line of work, which she described as "much more severe dramas." Love Is All You Need (whose Danish title is The Bald Hairdresser)— set in the stunning, picturesque Italian coast ("The location...is part of the story") — follows the luminous Ida (Trine Dyrholm, who is re-teamed with Bier for the first time since In A Better World), a cancer survivor whose husband has been having an affair, and Philip (Pierce Brosnan), a hardened businessman and widower, who met when attending the wedding of her daughter and his son. "It look a little bit of courage to be as unashamedly romantic [as this movie is]", she admitted.
But don't think that even in a softer, sweeter movie like Love Is All You Need that Bier and her collaborator Anders Thomas Jensen shy away from looking at the big picture. "You have to really sort of appreciate what is there, while its there," Bier said of the film's overriding theme. "I think that's kind of the most important part of the film, that things don't have to be forever, but if you can embrace and recognize when there is a real emotion or real affection or real compassion and be grateful for that."
Even more notably, in addition to being "unashamedly romantic" (which includes a swoon-worthy — or "cheeky" as Bier described it— soundtrack that includes romantic gold standards like "That's Amore") as Love Is All You Need (which has already played at the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival) is, it doesn't pretend to be anything it's not: it revels in its romance. "If you look at a lot of the romantic comedies at the moment...there's an intrinsic cynicism in a lot of them...[Love Is All You Need] really does believe in love and hope."
It's all very evident, considering Bier is someone who still genuinely loves making movies. "If I go home from a day of shooting and I haven't at some point felt the magic, I'm really frustrated. Even if its like ten hours of things that are not [going well], if there's just a free second where you go, 'Wow, that was amazing,' then that's why I do it."
It also doesn't hurt when you're filming in such a gorgeous location ("[Italy] is part of telling the story") and with leads as easy to work with as Dyrholm ("She's so charming," Bier gushed) and Brosnan ("He's very generous and he's very humorous...I'm obviously biased, but I do think it's one of his most touching performances"). "This is my real talent, it's [finding]... a sense of chemistry. My favorite hobby is matchmaking," she said, adding, "It's a lot easier to do it in movies then in real life, because in real life people don't do what I tell them to do."
Bier's keen eye for chemistry allowed her to match up Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper again, for their upcoming Depression-era drama Serena. While Bier didn't give away anything about the reunion of the Silver Linings Playbook stars, when asked if she'd ever consider exploring something else out of her wheelhouse like the big screen adaptations of YA smash The Hunger Games, she opened up about her interest in that genre.
"I think I would be curious to do something like that," Bier told Hollywood.com. "I'm not like a careerist, I pick things that make me curious. The Hunger Games, particularly with Jennifer Lawrence… I really, really liked the first one. I think that would he hugely interesting, it's an interesting story. Depending on what it is, I would at all times go where triggers my curiosity. I think you have the excitement of climbing a big mountain every time."
But whether it's a glossier romantic comedy, a big budget action film, or a deeply personal drama, Bier — who is one of few female directors able to make their mark on the industry — put it simply, "I think I'm just trying to make the best movie I can. I don't think as a director you [should] put yourself in rules of society, you have to work according to where your artistic drive takes you. I've always been slightly hesitant about generalizing movies made by men and women being different in their nature, I think movies by each director are different. Having said that, I think that it's kind of disgraceful that there aren't more female directors."
Love Is All You Need opens in limited release on May 3.
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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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Although set about 200 years before the world had ever heard of Lady Diana Spencer this is the true story of another royal Spencer The Duchess of Devonshire Georgiana Spencer (Knightley) whose personal and professional life and innate sense of fashion and glamour made her all the rage in England and led her to a royal life of triumph and tragedy. Sound familiar? Based on Amanda Foreman’s award-winning biography this compelling film version introduces us to a dynamic woman whose feistiness and sense of style made her a star attraction in England’s royal circle. Smart as a whip and eventual leader of the progressive Whig party Georgiana had it all--except the one thing she wanted most the love of her husband The Duke (Ralph Fiennes) who became so obsessed with siring a son that he turned to open affairs with other women including his wife’s best friend Bess (Hayley Atwell). This humiliation and betrayal by her husband and friend leads to her own attempt at romantic happiness in a sizzling affair with the abolitionist Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper). Putting it simply Knightley has the role of a lifetime and socks it home with the kind of acting bravado she hasn’t displayed even in her best films Pride and Prejudice and last year’s Atonement. This is the kind of part an actor kills for an emotional powerhouse that allows her to run the gamut from glamour queen powerful political force tortured wife passionate lover and tragic heroine. The story of this Duchess has it all and is only enhanced by the eerie parallels to her royal descendant Princess Diana. If there is any justice Knightley will be nominated for an Oscar. She deserves it. Fiennes is equally good enjoying his finest screen outing in some time as the cold-hearted Duke who puts his own selfish goals above all else. Their scenes together are spectacularly well-acted. Atwell is demure and understated as Bess the third wheel in a very complicated relationship. She’s slyly amusing particularly in scenes she shares at the dining table with the Duke and Duchess. Cooper makes a strong impression turning up the heat as the dashing Grey especially in a smoldering love scene with Knightley. The ever-reliable Charlotte Rampling is regally comfortable in the role of Lady Spencer Georgiana’s proper mother who tries to dole out useful advice against all odds. Saul Dibb (Bullet Boy) does not have a long directing resume but you wouldn’t know it from the first-rate production he has mounted for The Duchess. Dibb recreates the privileged world of these somewhat pained characters with no detail spared. Dibb’s widescreen framing of this historic soap opera is breathtakingly beautiful to see his obvious filmmaking confidence paying off in a great looking motion picture. But it is a lot more than just pomp and circumstance. Often period dramas tend to get bogged down in spectacle and forget the human element. This is a case where moviegoers will be glued to their seats from first frame to last. It’s a whopper of a story he has adapted (with Jeffrey Hatcher and Anders Thomas Jensen) that thankfully doesn’t get lost in minutiae. Of particular note are Michael O’Connor’s costumes and Jan Archibald’s loopy hairstyle designs along with a stirring musical score supplied by Rachel Portman.