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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Paramount via Everett Collection
We all know the saying about how you can't pick your relatives but you can pick your friends. Unfortunately, in high school, most people are limited to those other poor souls that are slouching through the halls to get from class to class.
Every teen movie made has seemingly adhered to some form of the cliques that occur in high school, those groupings based on looks, interests or intelligence that make up the social caste system. What if, however, you could make your own clique, using characters from those films that fit into those stereotypical profiles? It would certainly have made for a more entertaining high school experience, as well as at least one killer party. Who would we pick? Here's our choices...
VIEW GALLERY: The Ultimate Teen Movie High School Clique
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 supernatural thriller The Rite is a different kind of literary adaptation a film not “based on” or even “inspired by” a written work but rather “suggested by” one. The degree to which this fictional film adheres factually to its source material Matt Baglio’s book The Rite: The Making of an American Exorcist is anybody’s guess. Fans of The Exorcist might argue that it’s more strongly “suggested by” William Friedkin’s 1973 horror classic than anything else.
Erstwhile unknown Colin O’Donoghue in his first feature role plays Michael a seminary student sent to Rome to learn the intricacies of demonic possession. A pronounced skeptic who isn’t even sure he believes in god much less the Catholic doctrine of exorcism Michael is inclined toward the more humanistic view of the “possessed” as simply disturbed or schizophrenic individuals. What they really need he insists is not a priest but a good psychiatrist. (That belief certainly won't endear him to the Church of Scientology.)
To rid him of such malignant pragmatism Michael’s headmaster (Ciaran Hinds) ships him off to serve an apprenticeship under Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins) a Welsh Jesuit (shorthand for “eccentric”) and practicing exorcist. Having been around the theological block a few times Lucas reacts to Michael’s unbelief with wry nonchalance (a Hopkins specialty and the film’s most appealing trait); he knows that Satan’s arguments will prove far more convincing than any he might offer.
And Satan gets to work forthwith first using a pregnant Italian girl as his vessel then incorporating other representatives of the animal kingdom tormenting Michael with horned frogs and red-eyed demon mules. At first exhibiting admirable restraint director Mikael Hafstrom eventually employs just about every weapon in his terror arsenal bombarding Michael with harrowing visions and flashbacks (he grew up in a funeral home with an undertaker father played by Rutger Hauer who had a habit of bringing his work home with him) which offer ample opportunities for cheap scares. His trump card of course is Hopkins whose character eventually becomes possessed himself thus allowing The Rite to fulfill the Lucas/Lucifer conceit we all knew was coming.
The Rite varies wildly in tone with Hafstrom seemingly unable to decide if his film is to be a moody serious-minded psychological thriller or some campy outlandish horror-comedy. By the time Father Lucas becomes possessed and the reenactment of the first great celestial battle begins the film gives itself wholly over to the latter. As channeled by Hopkins the devil comes off as a less eloquent more vulgar version of Hannibal Lecter taunting Michael with naughty words and voraciously devouring scenery. The Dark Lord as a dirty old man is something of a novel concept I suppose. Scary? Maybe a little. Creepy? Oh hell yes.
Eric Windows Hutch Zoe and Linus are the very definition of Fanboy -- five lifelong friends who live for everything George Lucas dishes out at least when it comes to Star Wars. Realizing that the suddenly ill Linus may not live long enough to see the upcoming Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace the gang sets out on a long dreamed-of adventure: criss-crossing the country to go and break into Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch in Northern California. Their amended goal now is to try and steal a print of the unfinished movie for Linus to see before it’s too late. Fanboys has been lovingly cast with a promising group of young actors who instantly get the wit and charm of a smart and funny screenplay that is tailor-made for the inner-Jedi in all of us. As Linus the heart of the film Chris Marquette perfectly captures the obsessive never-give-up nature of a devoted Star Wars freak. Equally fine are Jay Baruchel (Tropic Thunder) as Windows Sam Huntington as schemer Eric and paunchy and funny Dan Fogler (Balls of Fury) as Hutch whose van is used to get to their golden destination. Also along for the ride is Kristen Bell as Zoe the lone girl in the group who apparently loves this stuff as much as the boys. She provides a nice welcome diversion. Showing up in cameos are Seth Rogen and a raft of Star Wars figures including Carrie Fisher and Billy Dee Williams. Even Star Trek’s William Shatner makes a brief amusing appearance. Director Kyle Newman wrapped Fanboys in 2006 only to have the studio take it back have it partially reshot to remove the cancer subplot and then see it trashed on the Internet by real-life Fan boys offended by the studio tinkering. Newman was brought back in and recut the film to its original state and its a good thing. Fanboys is a blast a sweet surprise for the new year –a wise tribute to obsessive sci-fi fans everywhere.
Chris Brander (Ryan Reynolds) a smooth L.A. music exec used to be shy fat and the butt of jokes back in high school. The only bright spot was his close friendship with Jamie Palamino (Amy Smart) a super-popular cheerleader. He of course wanted to be more than just friends but she just didn’t feel the same way. Fast forward to the present Chris has turned into a calculating ladies man who finds himself back in his hometown. He runs into the lovely Jamie and the old feelings resurface. He tries to woo her as the new and improved Chris. But unbelievably Chris finds it even more difficult than ever to escape the clutches of the “friend zone”--or as Chris describes “the penalty box of dating in which a guy becomes a complete nonsexual entity in her eyes like her brother or a lamp.” Ah a zone many men have stepped into. Reynolds’ glib sense of humor has brightened some pretty bad films (Blade: Trinity) and even a horror film (The Amityville Horror). But unfortunately he isn’t nearly as effective as the romantic comedy lead. His consistent sardonic delivery soon starts to grate. And while Smart (The Butterfly Effect) is delightfully perky and down to earth as Jamie there isn’t much zing with Reynolds--another big red flag. However there are some bright spots. Anna Faris (the Scary Movie series) nearly steals the show as a whiny no-talent pop singer whose diva-esque behavior hits close to home. Also hilarious is Christopher Marquette (The Girl Next Door) as Chris’ girl-crazy younger brother. Watching the two brothers slap the spit out of each other is just plain good stuff. Just Friends actually has a pretty good set-up which makes it all the more disappointing the film can’t completely hold up. Roger Kumble (The Sweetest Thing) just paints by the numbers never really offering anything new or different. The best parts are the flashbacks to the early ’90s when the overweight Chris is lip-synching “I Swear” in the mirror or writing the 100 reasons why Jamie is such a great girl. It really will take some of us back a bit. But as you sit there mildly laughing at the film’s earnest attempts at pure hilarity you can’t help wonder what this film would have been like in the hands of say the Farrelly brothers. Just Friends could have definitely used some of There's Something About Mary’s mean-spiritedness and crude bathroom humor.
Let's compare. Like Risky's Joel (Tom Cruise) Girl Next Door's Matthew Kidman (Emile Hirsch) is a straight-arrow overachieving high school senior who wants to get into an Ivy League school and also like Joel he has a horny best friend (Chris Marquette) who urges him to live a little first. In Risky Business Joel falls for the lovely Lana (Rebecca DeMornay) a high-class call girl with a heart of gold and watches his orderly world go haywire especially when Guido (Joe Pantoliano) the killer pimp shows up trying to drag Lana back and nearly ruining Joel's college plans. In Girl Next Door the love interest is the beautiful Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) a onetime porn star who moves in next door captures Matt's heart and rocks his orderly world--but instead of a killer pimp Danielle's pursued by a killer porn producer named Kelly (Timothy Olyphant) who's trying to get her back in the biz. Kelly eventually threatens Matthew for interfering and gets the kid into big trouble nearly blowing his college chances. In both movies Joel and Matthew come up with an elaborate plan to make things right--and aided by their newfound girlfriends and the girls' "work" friends the scheme not only gets them all off the hook but makes them a lot of money as well. See? Same-same--almost.
It's not really the actors' fault they're stuck in a retread. Hirsch who was quite good in The Emperor's Club a Dead Poets Society facsimile is particularly appealing as Matthew. Although he's not as good at doing the wide-eyed-innocent thing as Cruise was Hirsch deftly handles Matthew's burgeoning wild side with comic aplomb especially in the scene where he accidentally takes ecstasy before attending a fancy dinner where he tries to win a scholarship. Cuthbert (TV's 24) however isn't nearly as effective as her co-star or her predecessor. Although the actress certainly looks the part of former porn star Danielle Cuthbert doesn't have that sultry sharp-as-a-tack sensibility DeMornay had in Risky Business. Danielle is more world-weary than anything else and Cuthbert never convinces you that a porn star--even a reformed one--could ever give up her jaded outlook to be with an idealistic high schooler. In the supporting roles Matthew's over-sexed best friend Eli played by the geeky Marquette (Freddy vs. Jason) spouts some amusing quips that never reach the memorable level of the classic "Sometimes you gotta say 'What the f**k '" from Risky Business while Olyphant (HBO's Deadwood) fares well as the menacingly charming Kelly the only character in the film you refreshingly can't quite figure out.
When Risky Business debuted in 1983 the film was an instant classic. It spoke to the male teens of its generation and it made Tom Cruise a bona fide star. No one will ever forget that love scene on the train when Joel came of age with a call girl nor will we forget that he innocently peddled prostitution to get out of a jam. The film was one of the first to portray on-screen teens in a whole new light. (Remember John Hughes' teen angst melodramas like Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club came later). Girl Next Door's director Luke Greenfield (The Animal) is obviously a fan patterning his film after the classic with the same beats the same structure and even the same music. Certainly Girl Next Door brings the idea of a Risky Business to a new generation of male adolescents--who will no doubt drool over the whole porn aspect of it. But unfortunately Girl Next Door lacks Risky's irreverent charm.