Sunday, May 25, 2014

Godzilla review; a new take on an old character

When a Godzilla remake was announced a few years ago, I thought to myself, 'It can't be any worse than the 1998 film starring Matthew Broderick'.  That film damn near ruined the character's future in film and put monster movies in a terrible light.  But, time has passed and we've seen some great monster movies the last few years.  JJ Abrams brought us Cloverfield and Super 8, and just last year, we were rewarded with Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim.  All of these films were inspired in some way shape or form by Godzilla.  So it's nice to see the grandaddy of them all getting his own reboot.  Is it any good?  Read on to find out.

What I liked about the film:
The Director
Gareth Edwards doesn't have a long resume as a director, but I think he did a great job with Godzilla.  The tone of the film is very unique for a monster film of this nature.  The film is dark and it's vision was obviously well thought out.  I really liked the way Edwards built up the tension before the big reveal of our starring character.  Hollywood has taken notice of Edwards and he's already been attached to a Godzilla sequel as well as a Star Wars spin off film.  I hope to see a few more of his films in the near future.

It's Different
I really liked how the movie showed us things that are very different from monster movies past.  For starters, Godzilla is a good guy!  Imagine that, the infamous reptile like creature is here to protect mankind against MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism).  There is more that's much different than other films.  The MUTOs (there are two) are in search of one another for the purpose of reproduction.  The fact that their motivation is not just flashed across the screen, but that it is up to the audience to piece it together, is a welcomed changed from Summer movie blockbusters.  The filmmakers do this with another aspect of the plot involving EMPs (Electro Magnetic Pulses).  We get what they do and we thank the writers for not forcing exposition on us (more about that later).

Lastly, the fact that Godzilla is revealed in broad daylight is just awesome.  I enjoyed Pacific Rim, but most of the fights were in the rain, in the dark, and it just wasn't as clear as I'd wish.  I was going to write an entire paragraph about how great the special effects are in this film, but I will leave that nice little caveat for when you watch the film.  Trust me, it's got some great special effects, you won't be disappointed.

What I didn't like about the film:
The Writing
Godzilla is Max Borenstein's first screenplay, and I'm sorry to say, it's a stinker.  While I believe Edwards directed the best that he could with the material he was given, it's ultimately a good story we go to the movies for.  The plot and the toying with the mythology of the character is commendable, but Godzilla essentially plays a supporting role in his own film.  I'm probably not the first person to write this, but why wait so long to debut the main character?  And if you're going to wait that long to do so, why wait another 20 or so minutes to show him again?  The bad writing manifested several other complaints I had about the film too.

The Characters
I. Don't. Care.  It's unfortunate, but true.  I didn't care about a damn human in this film.  We were all duped into thinking that the great Bryan Cranston was the lead actor in this film; let me be the one to spoil it for you, he's not.  He's barely in the film.  So if Cranston is not the lead, who is?  Well that's Aaron Taylor-Johnson's character, Ford Brody.  Yes, I'm serious, the character's name is Ford flippin' Brody.  They give the character a unique set of skills that JUST SO HAPPENS to come in handy later in the film.  But I didn't care about him as a man, or as a human in general.  What drives him is not given enough time to be flushed out, so we're left to believe he's doing so much for the sake of his family, who we've only seen for mere minutes in the film.  Cranston and Taylor-Johnson are just two examples of many actors' wasted talent.

Elizabeth Olsen plays Taylor-Johnson's wife in the film.  And while I think she's a gifted actress, she's given absolutely nothing here.  She essentially ends up being the damsel in distress.  There's more.  Juliette Binoche is a wonderful actress, and she's not in the film for more than a few SECONDS.  David Strathairn is an Oscar-nominated actor, but he basically plays a figurehead for a military that is so obviously useless against these monsters.  Last but not least are Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins, who play scientists in the film.  They are in the film for nothing more than exposition; a devise to bring the audience up to speed on what's happening in the film.  Did I mention they too are both Oscar-nominated actors?

If we don't care about the human counterparts to these monsters, there is nothing emotionally attaching us to the events on the screen.  The film is supposed to be grounded in some sort of reality but the carnage and the loss of life is outrageous.  Man of Steel and Star Trek: Into Darkness got a lot flak for their depiction of entire cities being brought to the ground; Godzilla puts those films to shame.  San Francisco is brought to its knees and in the end the people of the city applaud Godzilla?  Like he's a basketball star walking off the court after sinking a game winning shot?  It's just silly.

The Verdict:
I. Didn't. Care.
I'll say it again, I didn't care for any one particular character in this film.  I didn't care what happened to anyone, and I believe it's the writing who's at fault here.  Gareth Edwards appears to be a great director, with a very promising future; but nothing he could do would overcome this writing.  Same goes for so many gifted actors involved in this film.  Cranston, Taylor-Johnson and the others did the best they could with the material they were given.  But ultimately it's the words on the page that dictate the audience's emotional commitment to the film.  While there were great new spins on a familiar genre, it wasn't enough for me.  Skip this one folks.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past review; the best X-Men film yet

If you haven't heard about X-Men: Days of Future Past (DOFP) at this point, you've been living under a rock.  This movie is everywhere!  The film is a sequel to both, the X-Men movie franchise, and the X-Men: First Class film.  While most of us were worried about character overload when we watched the trailer, it turns out we had nothing to worry about.  Why?  Because Director Bryan Singer and Screenwriter Simon Kinberg have put together the best X-Men film in the franchise's 14 year history.  Rather than wait till later in this review to explain, I will tell you now... Singer rights so many wrongs from previous X-Men films.  His love for the franchise is undeniable and it comes through in his filmmaking.  Every decision is made with precision and care, and it, just, works!  Let's go!

What I liked about the film:
The Script
The script for DOFP is very well written.  For a film dealing with time travel, it is never confusing or difficult to follow.  Kinberg is inventive with the way he handles two parallel storylines, while keeping the film grounded.  And while there are large action set pieces, the smaller, nuanced parts in the film were my favorite.  There is a scene that takes place in an airplane that I loved.  Charles and Erik are arguing over what they think the other person should be doing to help mutantkind.  It's a gripping scene featuring gifted actors; and that's the kind of material that really stood out for me.  Kinberg nailed this script and I'm happy to read he'll be back for the sequel, X-Men: Apocalypse.

The Acting
Legendary actors Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are wonderful in the film.  They bring a certain gravitas to the film, just by being in it.  Hugh Jackman is excellent in this, his 7th time playing the character of Wolverine; more than any other actor has played a comic book character in film history.  Other veterans of the X-Men franchise may not be in the film much, but they are nice additions.

James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult are the main actors alongside Jackman.  McAvoy and Fassbender kill it as the younger Professor X and Magneto.  The relationship between the two was my favorite aspect of the X-Men: First Class film, and it continues on in this film.  It's a complicated relationship held together by respect and admiration; even if they have differing views on the world.  I was curious how the filmmakers were going to make Lawrence's character relevant, but they pulled it off in a convincible way.  I enjoyed Hoult's return as Beast, even if he doesn't say much in the movie.

The character that steals the show, is by far, no doubt, undeniably Quicksilver.  Evan Peters plays the speedster mutant and there is one scene in particular that had my theater roaring.  I won't give anything away, but I will tell you that Peters' performance has created so much buzz, that it has been confirmed the character will play a much bigger role in the X-Men: Apocalypse film.  This movie just had really great acting all around.

What makes the X-Men universe, in film or otherwise, are the universe messages it explored.  The parallels between the mutants in the film and the racism plaguing our nation today is an obvious one.  But there's more; hope is discussed in this film and what it means to people.  Despair is the absence of hope, and without hope, most people have nothing to look forward to in the future.  I love how the film touched on this because it's an incredibly powerful message for young people growing up in impoverished parts of the world.  Not that this film is going change the world, but it might bring hope to someone in despair, and THAT is the kind of power a great film can have.

What I didn't like about the film:
The Villain
Peter Dinklage is a wonderful actor.  When I read he was joining the cast, I was really excited.  While Dinklage does a fine job with the script he was given, ultimately the character is just not very intriguing.  Why is he doing what he's doing?  What is the character's backstory?  And why would the primary villain in the movie receive such a weak sendoff?  None of these issues are Dinklage's fault, but it is a big issue I had with the film.
Limited Action
This is more of a nit pick than anything else.  There was surprisingly very little action in this film.  For being the most expensive film in history, I have to wonder where did all that money get spent?  Don't get me wrong, the movie looks visually stunning, and we know period pieces cost a lot of money to produce; but I wish there was one action set piece that stood out in my mind, and there really wasn't.  But that's ok, because like I mentioned above, it's the character development moments that I enjoyed the most.

The Verdict:
The Best X-Men Film Yet
What makes the X-Men films so great are the universal themes they explore.  And this movie is no exception.  Acceptance and hope are things children, teens and adults alike are faced with on a daily basis.  There is great storytelling and great acting in this film, but ultimately it's the message it delivers that carries the most weight.  Singer and company hit it out of the park with DOFP.  I personally can not wait to see what the X-Men franchise has in store for us.  

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Interstellar trailer; another Nolan masterpiece?

Christopher Nolan has an uncanny ability to keep his films as secretive as possible, yet entice flocks of people to want to see them.  I remember walking into the theater to see Inception, not having a clue what it was about; yet the trailers had me so curious, I couldn't help but see it on opening day.  We know that Nolan has a wonderful gift for story telling, but can he continue his streak of hits with Interstellar?  Here's the trailer, and my thoughts after.

Well, as purely a movie trailer, it's not the best I've ever seen.  It's a bit rushed, and overly-packed with characters that may or may not be an integral part of the story.  Also, it may give away TOO much.  Inception's marketing was wonderful in that it didn't tell you what the exact plot of the film was, but the world in which the movie took place was showcased.  I feel like this trailer is a bit too plot heavy.

I do like however, Matthew McConaughey's character being explored a bit further.  We get a sense of who the character is, what his passions are in life, what his motivations are, etc.  There are other actors shown in the trailer, but only for a second or two; notably, Anne Hathaway, Casey Affleck and Michael Caine.  Look, Nolan and McConaughey's involvement alone will earn my $15.00; but I want to hold out for a bit more before I get as excited as I was to see Inception or The Dark Knight.  Enough about me, who's pumped to see this movie?!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Quickie: Ben Affleck's Batman and Batmobile unveiled

Check out Ben Affleck's Batman!  The photo was revealed today via Twitter, by the director of the Man of Steel sequel, Zack Snyder.  I love what they've done with the suit.  The shorter ears are a welcomed change from Christian Bale's incarnation of the character.  Also, I like the leather cape which we really haven't seen since the 1989 Michael Keaton Batman.  The logo on the chest is different and I'm not much of a fan of it, but I'll have to wait and see more before I rush to judgement.  I like the toned 'superhuman' look of the abdomen and biceps too.  And check out the Batmobile!  It has a much more menacing look than the Tumbler did in the Nolan universe.  It has wings too, which I'm sure will be explained in some snarky line of dialogue.

I know this sounds funny, but this Batman feels like it belongs in the same 'universe' as the Superman showcased in Man of Steel.  What are your thoughts?  Do you like this Batman and the world that's been built around him?

This is the image teased yesterday on Snyder's Twitter account

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 review

When The Amazing Spider-Man was released a few years ago, I was pleasantly surprised.  While the origin story was complete rehash of the Sam Raimi trilogy, everything else was better.  The action, the tone, and the acting were better.  Here we are a few years later with The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  The film is again directed by Marc Webb.  Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Sally Field reprise their respective roles in the film.  Let's go!

What I liked about the film:
The Chemistry (Acting)
Garfield plays a terrific Spider-Man; but he plays a terrific Peter Parker as well.  In my opinion, for an actor to succeed in a superhero film, he needs to make the hero, and his alter ego interesting to watch.  Garfield plays Spider-Man with a joy we've never seen on the big screen.  He loves being Spider-Man and uses his powers for good.  Never wavering from doing the right thing.  I am so happy with the casting of Garfield in this role, and hope he continues to solidify himself as a great actor.

Emma Stone does a fine job playing Parker's love interest in the film.  Stone has an undeniable likeability to her.  She plays the character in a smart and sophisticated way, that really makes her Peter's equal.  She's not a damsel in distress; she can take care of herself.  Garfield and Stone's chemistry is so apparent on screen, you can't help but be reminded these two are dating in real life.  And then there's Sally Field.  I loved that the writers gave her a bigger role in the film.  She has a lot going on and still manages to take care of Peter, when he'll let her.  Garfield and Fields' chemistry was also shown off.

The Action
What Spider-Man can do in this film is no joke!  This is some of the coolest stuff we've seen in a Spider-Man film.  I especially love the opening sequence with the character when he's free falling from a skyscraper, only to quickly web sling himself across the streets of New York.  It was such a well thought out way of showing off the hero's powers.  Also worth noting are the fight sequences.  Long gone are the shaky cams that have made it into WAY TOO MANY films of late.  The action is clear and easy to follow.  I hope other action film directors take notice.

The Score
Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams and Johnny Marr have put together a killer soundtrack!  The music was big, and demanding, when it needed to be.  But the score really shines in the softer moments.  It evokes the kind of emotion that's not usually found in superhero films, or action films in general.  I really enjoyed the score of the film.

What I didn't like about the film:
Too Much Going On (No Character Development)
Because I hate talking plot in my reviews, I'll simply use bullet points to describe all the sub-plots of the film.

  • Jamie Foxx plays Elector (Max Dillion), who was supposed to be the primary villain. He's a lonely guy looking for a friend; all while his employer treats him very badly. 
  • There's also Dane DeHaan, who plays Peter's childhood friend Harry Osborn, who goes on to become the Green Goblin, as seen in the trailers.
  • Peter Parking is still trying to figure out why his parents left him on Aunt and Uncle's house, long ago.
  • Gwen and Peter are trying to make their relationship work, considering he's a superhero and all.
  • Oscorp is working on something big, really big.
  • Peter can't shake the events of the first film from his mind.
  • Aunt May is trying to live a 'normal life' now that Uncle Ben is gone, and maintain her relationship with Peter.
  • Oh, and last but not least, Sony is doing everything in its power to sprinkler in other characters and easter eggs to help push future films, ala the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Ugh, I'm exhausted typing it all out.  I don't even want to say anything else, it's too much.  The writers should have focused on the story at hand and not worry about future films.  I'm sure Sony had something to do with this by the way.  But the film went from being different, to another build-up film like Iron Man 2.

My primary gripe here is with the Harry Osborn character, as it pertains to the film's writing.  It's been how long since you've seen your friend?  They just sort of hit it off again after not seeing each other for years and years?  An illness is moving through Harry's body at a much much faster rate (the length of the film) than it did his father?  Come on.  

Come up with better ideas, and better writing to keep me 'in the film'.  I'll give you my suspension of disbelief (it's a film about a man genetically combined with a radioactive spider for crying out loud), but don't try to make me believe the only parts of the film I could potentially relate to with nonsense.  

The Verdict:
Just Good
That sounds kind of silly, I know; but it could have been great!  If they moved the climax to the end of the second act, we'd have a faceoff that would have been for the ages.  And the fight would have meant so much more then what it did.  Ultimately, the villains were just plain silly.  The best parts of the film had more to do with Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey, and they were few and far between.  Webb and company will be back for a 3rd round of Spider-Man magic; let's just hope it's a better final product than this one.