Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston
Release date: May 16th, 2014
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 123 minutes
Best part: The impressive action sequences.
Worst part: The underdeveloped characters.
Remember the 1998 Godzilla reboot? It featured a post-Independence Day Roland Emmerich, a bumbling Matthew Broderick, a kooky Jean Reno, and bizarre parodies of film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. Obviously, thanks to these ingredients, it was a bomb of gargantuan proportions. So, after that critical and commercial flop, how could Hollywood possibly re-reboot the King of Monsters on the big screen?
Bryan Cranston & Aaron-Taylor Johnson.
Well, the re-reboot could look at and imitate other blockbusters of its type. Subtly, this is what this year’s Godzilla re-imagining does. After Cloverfield and Pacific Rim took on the mega-monster genre and came out on-top, Godzillawas tasked with salvaging the titular beast from the disgraceful depths of a cinematic tomb. Thankfully, and ambitiously, the studio executives hired an intelligent and efficient director to tackle this popular subject matter. Gareth Edwards, known for creating indie sci-fi effort Monsters on a $500,000 budget, takes on this project with wide eyes and unique ideas. Indeed, his direction saves this blockbuster from becoming a forgettable retread. However, despite the high points, the movie still comes close to being inexcusably dour and laughably bland. So what does this reboot/remake/whatever do to separate itself from everything else? Ambitiously, from the opening frame, the narrative delves head-on into the darkest aspects of conspiracy theories, military control, and natural disasters. This version kicks off with a family on the edge of obliteration. Nuclear Plant supervisor Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) oversees one of Japan’s most important facilities. Looking out for his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche), Joe must watch on in horror as she and the plant are eviscerated by a cataclysmic event. The movie jumps 15 years ahead, and Joe’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is now a US Navy bomb expert with a lovely wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), and a son of their own.
With familial feuds tested by horrific events, Steven Spielberg’s overwhelming influence casts a gargantuan shadow over Edwards’ style. Here, we see Spielberg’s thematic motifs and technical tropes being checked over and re-tested for our viewing pleasure. Admittedly, I know Edwards isn’t the only action-adventure director to be influenced by Spielberg. However, Godzilla never allows Edwards to craft his own style. Is this a conscious decision or a mistake Edwards will learn from in future sequels/prequels etc? We still aren’t sure, yet. After our characters are introduced, Edwards examines their identities as major life-changing events begin to transform our world. Bailing Joe out of prison, Ford is pulled into Joe’s peculiar conspiracy theory about the events in Japan. Simultaneously, two obsessed scientists Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) discover that these 15 year-old events add up to a much larger problem for mankind. These conundrums, used to set up the second-two thirds, rely on the characters more so than the skyscraper-tall monsters. This reboot, despite delivering several jaw-dropping set-pieces, is infatuated with human drama and quiet moments. In fact, Godzilla himself is, ironically, only a minuscule part of this intricate journey. Beyond the first-third’s father-son conflict, the narrative approaches much larger ideas than previous instalments and the aforementioned genre-smashing epics did. The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster and the US Military’s all-encompassing stranglehold lumber through this otherwise efficient re-imagining.
“The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around. Let them fight.” (Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), Godzilla).
King of the Monsters!
Sadly, though Edwards’ focus on human drama and relatable situations is appreciated, the narrative is hindered by action-drama clichés and awkward moments. With two-dimensional characters and conventional plot-threads smashing into one another, this reboot lurches lazily between set-pieces and revelations. Thanks to Max Borenstein’s by-the-numbers screenplay, plot-holes and contrivances also disrupt this otherwise entertaining thrill-ride. The characters, continually rattling off exposition and reacting to approaching beasts, distract from the premise’s most alluring conceits. Taylor-Johnson, working with a generic character, is upstaged by his more experienced co-stars. Olsen is under-utilised in a blank-faced role. Meanwhile, Watanabe, Hawkins, and David Strathairn aren’t given distinctive character traits. Thankfully, thanks to Edwards’ vision, the movie’s technical elements reign supreme. Thanks to a dynamic and intriguing opening credits sequence, the movie successfully establishes an ominous tone. Beyond this, the action sequences are wholly awe-inspiring. Defined by an epic scope, confronting cinematography, and impressive creature designs, Godzilla‘s monster battles and gunfights are more momentous than anything Emmerich or Michael Bay could ever hope to deliver. In true Spielberg fashion, the monsters are kept hidden from view throughout the first half. Building to an impressive final third, the movie’s promises pay off thanks to Godzilla and the MUTOs’ ever lasting might.
This Godzilla reboot, hiding under the 1954 original’s monstrous shadow, is a worthy effort. In fact, Edwards and the cast sufficiently overcome the underwhelming material. With the monsters and explosions pushed aside, the human characters do little but yell, look frightened, and run. Edward’s ideas are note-worthy, but would be more interesting if they were able to rise above the premise. If it’s any consolation, Godzilla’s trademark roar is still worth the price of admission.
Verdict: An underwhelming yet enjoyable blockbuster.
Writers: Chris Terrio (Screenplay), Antonio J. Mendez (book), Joshuah Bearman (article)
Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin
Release date: October 12th, 2012
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 120 minutes
Best part: Affleck’s work as director and actor.
Worst part: The uneven tone.
Throughout the last decade, Ben Affleck was seen as nothing more than an acting and tabloid-media joke. Since 2007, however, he has carried out one of the biggest comebacks in modern Hollywood history. After his astonishing directing début with 2007’s Gone Baby Gone and 2010’s thrilling crime-drama The Town, his new film goes in a completely different direction. Argo is a tense and authentic docu-drama, based on one of the most emotionally powerful and influential events from the past 50 years.
In 1979, Iranian protesters took over the US Embassy in Tehran and held 63 Americans hostage. During the start of the conflict, six US consulate officials escaped the embassy and took shelter in the Canadian ambassador’s house for over ten weeks. CIA hostage specialist Tony Mendez (Affleck) creates an absurd yet clever idea for freeing the six escapees. He will create a fake Hollywood film production, alert the press and help the victims to escape as members of a film crew currently location scouting in Iran. With the help of CIA supervisor Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston), Mendez enlists the aid of Oscar winning makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and revered producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin). Mendez must pull off his plan however before the Iranian Militia finds the six hostages trying to escape the country.
Affleck & Bryan Cranston.
Affleck has now proven his worth in multiple elements of filmmaking, showing the sceptics that his Oscar for co-writing Good Will Hunting was no fluke. Affleck creates a nail-biting and affecting docu-drama in the vein of Munich and Good Night and Good Luck. Despite faltering under the direction of others, Affleck delivers a subdued yet charismatic performance, showing his determination in getting these prisoners out by any means necessary. The snappy dialogue, delivered by the plethora of underrated character actors here, is a rarity in modern cinema. Argo places the viewer in each heated and engaging dialogue sequence while showcasing Affleck’s talent for obtaining powerful performances. Bryan Cranston, finally proving his dramatic and comedic talents outside of AMC series Breaking Bad, is memorable in his small role as the embittered middle man between Mendez and the Jimmy Carter administration. John Goodman is dynamic as the sarcastic Hollywood heavyweight. While Alan Arkin impresses as the egomaniacal and foul mouthed producer unaware that his best days in the industry may be behind him. This story, known as ‘The Canadian Caper’, is still as relevant today as it was thirty years ago. With the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq being major events in the past decade, the film provides an honest and relevant account of our ongoing political strife with the Middle East. Based on information declassified by President Bill Clinton in 1997 and a Wired magazine article by Joshuah Bearman, Argo provides an objective yet enrapturing look at this harrowing true story.
Constantly on the lookout for danger, climactic scenes between the six hostages effectively create an intense and claustrophobic feel. As illustrated in his first two films, Affleck knows how to create tension in many of the film’s most terrifying sequences (similarly to the underrated thriller Spy Game). This is a situation where being seen means being killed, and the Iranian people’s anger towards american superiority provides a substantial threat for everyone involved. Affleck subtly increases the tension with each suspicious figure and militant roaming the streets. Meanwhile, the anticipation builds to an edge-of-your-seat final third. The film, however, loses the grit and danger of its opening kidnapping sequences, shifting focus to the absurdities of the major Hollywood system and its broad yet profound similarities with the US Government. Despite many humorous and satirical moments, the bold look of the 70’s era studio takes the urgency away from the situation on the other side of the globe. Affleck does, however, create an inventive and pulpy visual style in these sequences, in the vein of the 2007 political dramedy Charlie Wilson’s War. Constant references to classic film and TV icons such as Star Wars, James Bond, Star Trek and Planet of The Apes, along with the salty bite taken out of mainstream studio practices, are entertaining yet diffuse the importance of this particular situation. The film walks a fine line between patronising and complimentary. The film manages to succinctly touch upon various Hollywood and government systems.
This story is about globalisation saving people’s lives whilst, at the same time, condemning them to be targets of the Iranian people. Argo, thanks to Affleck’s momentous will to succeed, pulls its audience in, shakes the viewer around, and sends them packing!
Verdict: An intelligent and nail-biting political thriller.
Writers: Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback (screenplay), Phillip K. Dick (short story)
Stars: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston
Release date: August 3rd, 2012
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 118 minutes
Best part: The action sequences.
Worst part: The generic plot.
The problem with both 2012’s Total Recall and many remakes of its type, is that they ask the audience to endure a completely useless and unoriginal experience. Straight from the Hollywood cash machine, this interpretation of Phillip K. Dick’s short story ‘We can Remember it For You Wholesale’ is ironically forgettable and lifeless despite its interesting and relevant premise.
Colin Farrell & Jessica Biel.
Borrowing straight from the original 1990 film at every turn, Total Recall presents a familiar story with shallower ideas. factory worker and loving husband Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) is sick of being the average workaholic struggling to move around a cluttered, favela-like environment. Working for the upper class in one of two remaining districts on Earth at the end of the 21st century, his trip to a memory recall clinic reveals more to his life story. A spy in hiding now brought back to the surface, His deadly conflict with wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) and ongoing war with Cohaagen (the ubiquitous Bryan Cranston) over both cities will reveal Quaid’s importance in the crumbling remains of 21st century living.
This action packed yet dull and humourless interpretation loses both the campy fun and thought provoking subtext of the Paul Verhoeven satirical version. Total Recallis a strange broth of other Phillip K. Dick adaptations, CGI effects, action set pieces and wacky mise-en-scene, none of which congeal to create a worthy sci-fi entry. The film represents the problem with most sci-fi flicks in modern Hollywood; it loses the grit, violence and ambiguity of its 80s and 90s predecessors. without the witty humour, brutality and mutant-filled weirdness of the revered original, the film creates a lurid feeling with every multi-layered green screen sequence. While the lack of emotional depth throughout this chase story leads to a confused and bland final third. The settings of Blade Runner, chases of Minority Report and The Fifth Element, and plot twists of I, Robot create nothing but this prime example of derivative and uninspired blockbuster filmmaking. Len Wiseman (Underworld, Die Hard 4.0) directs with eyes set on visual flair but sorely forgets brains, brawn or heart. The ambiguity behind Schwarzenegger’s character “gettin’ his ass to Mars” created a puzzling and entertaining sci-fi actioner once before.
“Trust me, baby, you’re gonna wish you had three hands.” (Three-breasted woman (Kaitlyn Leeb), Total Recall).
Wiseman, however, loses this tone, explaining everything to you in its simplest, spoon-fed form. Quaid is a character simplistically lost in existential crisis, struggling to create emotional resonance between every thrilling car chase and gun fight. Awkwardly proposing Inception-like questions separating reality from fantasy, this version loses every chance at tension and grit with Quaid’s gruelling search for identity. Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, Bill Nighy, Bokeem Woodbine and John Cho try their best with the tiny character development given to their bland, small roles. While Farrell, suitably intense in dramatic roles from films such as Tigerland and In Bruges, struggles here to maintain any charisma, attained comfortably by Arnie in the original. This noisy and explosion-friendly version also loses the thematic subtlety significant to the sci-fi genre. The two districts themselves create visual metaphor as obvious as a man’s attraction to a three-breasted woman. Featuring a war for living space between an over-populated and decaying society known as ‘The Colony’ (‘cleverly’ representing Australia) and the United Federation of Britain, Bryan Cranston’s Cohaagen is nowhere near the only over-the-top, underused and stupid aspect of this unnecessary and simplistic questioning of reality itself.
Sadly, despite the exorbitant budget and A-list performers thrown at this production, the Total Recall remake is a bland, cumbersome creation. With Len Wiseman’s hack direction sinking this space craft, adaptations like Minority Report and A Scanner now look a helluva lot better!
Verdict: Yet another spineless sci-fi remake. Yawn.