Godzilla (2014)

GodzillaReleased: May 16, 2014. Directed by: Gareth Edwards. Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston. Runtime: 123 min.

Gareth Edwards brings his latest film to life with ambition and a great scope. Edwards previously dabbled in the monster genre with his refreshing low-budget film called Monsters, which was impressive in its effectiveness. This time, Edwards gets a gargantuan budget of $160 million for Godzilla, which only seems right for the King of the monsters. Godzilla thrives in its cinematography, visuals and score. It’s a visually stunning film, but it’s disappointing that there’s only twenty seconds of daylight monster clashes. At least there isn’t as much rain as in Pacific Rim, but it’s a bit disappointing that the monster clashes are basically all at night. It must be less expensive to render the creature effects in a darker setting. 

The plot is that Godzilla has to stop these malevolent creatures who threaten humanity. They gain their strength by absorbing radiation as a food source, and there’s no short amount of that in 2014. The strange creature design makes them look like hybrids of a praying mantis and a pterodactyl covered in some sort-of metal coating. Well, that might be the worst explanation of what they look like, but trust me – they look weird. A team of anthropologists and scientists were experimenting on the radiation beasts to learn about their species. Ken Watanabe is only okay but that’s basically because his character, the boss behind the research in Japan, is so boring. David Strathairn has a role as a military general who orders bombs to be brought into this whole situation. Their interference is how the film suggests that humans only make matters worse. Just let the giant lizard handle it. Why not, right? 

Godzilla is the star of the show, even if his screen time is basically the same amount as Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love. But when he’s on-screen, the film is an absolute blast. And when fire-breathing is brought into the mix, it’s truly exciting. Director Gareth Edwards is able to orchestrate fine intensity throughout the film. He does it like a master with the film’s phenomenal score. Edwards has Godzilla swim beneath boats, teasing characters like Bruce the Shark of Jaws might. (Edwards is smart to take tension building inspiration from Spielberg’s films.) Since Godzilla has mildly limited screen time, Edwards spaces out four nifty action set pieces with intelligence – the HALO jump is awe-inspiring, made even better being set to the Monolith scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey – teasing us with little tastes of what’s to come before a memorable finale. 

His direction is the film’s saving grace. Godzilla’s most disappointing aspect is that it is phenomenal in so many areas but just awful in so many others. When action isn’t happening, or when Godzilla isn’t on-screen, this is so boring – save a great opening half an hour, because they are emotionally charged and gripping. During those thirty minutes, Bryan Cranston compels as Joe, the film’s strongest character. He delivers the film’s only strong performance. Joe becomes obsessed with a project after a loss (his drive as a character, as well as sacrifice and love) which leads his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to assume that he’s bat sh-t crazy. The strong character development for one person is strange, because this way you’re allowed to expect other characters to be solid as well, but nope – the others are quite poor.

Elizabeth Olsen’s Elle Brody is mediocre. She’s okay for what she is, either a crying or smiling character. She’s only elevated by Olsen’s appealing tenderness as an actress. Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Ford is a different story. After the death of his mother, he picks the basic human reaction of the latter of the fight or flight concept, while his father goes deep into the former. Ford, a military Lieutenant whose expertise is bombs, initially gets separated from his wife when he is called to Japan to pay his dad’s bail after he is arrested for trespassing on an evacuated radiation site, which is the location of his old home. Ford’s motivations are his family – and that’s the only reason you’ll want him to get home safely and see his lovely movie family again. He’s one of those average guy characters plunged into a greater situation, but he’s so freaking boring. Taylor-Johnson isn’t able to make this character remotely interesting. Where’s his charisma from Kick-Ass? He doesn’t bring any of that to the table, and he’s like a different actor with little charisma. The only strong aspect of his performance is his chemistry with Olsen. 

The boring characters might stem from the film’s grave tone and Gareth Evans’ inability to make his film consistently fun. I haven’t felt this dead inside since August: Osage County. This is like the monster movie equivalent of Man of Steel because it will either be perceived as fun or boring, and if anyone makes a joke, it feels foreign. You will beg for the so-called comic relief character that is usually a point on the modern summer blockbuster checklist. Couldn’t have they broken tone by having a well-known comedian roaring back at Godzilla? That would be welcome as one of his long roars feels empty. Maybe Godzilla could have broken the fourth wall and said something witty. Like this for example: “If I’m monster royalty, I need a stronger Hollywood film for me to headline next time.” 

Score: 58/100

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August: Osage County (2013)

August Osage CountyReleased: January 10, 2014 (wide release). Directed by: John Wells. Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor. Runtime: 121 min.

When a film starts out with the line “Life is very long,” that’s the first hint that the drama you’re about to watch isn’t going to be the feel-good film of the year. “August: Osage County” is a bleak feature with a prominent theme of the hollow emptiness of modern mid-western life. And hollow it is! The film follows the strong-willed women of the Weston family, who return to their family home in Oklahoma because of a family crisis. This means they have to face the devil woman that raised them.

The synopsis states that there’s a family crisis, and usually, one knows that it’s likely that it’ll either be a funeral or a life-threatening disease; and since Violet (Meryl Streep) already has mouth cancer, it looks like people are going to be dressing in black and are going to pretty upset throughout. The film’s trailer isn’t so subtle about who dies, either. In case you haven’t seen the trailer, I’ll try not to spoil it. This is a film about how family tests you and how it lifts you up but can kick you down, as well. And if you have a mother like Meryl Streep’s character, it’s going to kick you down a lot.

I like films with a focus on characters, and most of these are pretty good – but since there are so many, there’s a limited amount of layers for all of them. But the performances are pretty spectacular, and one of my favourite aspects of the film. Meryl Streep is great as a devil woman named Violet with emotional issues because of all the pills she takes. She’s one of those people who criticizes everything and blames people for things that happen, and make your insecurities known which makes one feel crappy. Because she’s so domineering, and since Streep is such a powerhouse dramatic actress, I think that’s why some people consider her a Leading Actress here, even though I’m nearly convinced she has about the same screen time as Roberts. I’m thankful she’s absent for about 25 minutes of the film because the character’s personality is very irritating. Since her sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) is a similar personality, one can tell their mother screwed them up pretty harshly. 

Though, while Violet is critical of everyone, Fae is mostly critical of her son, Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch). Violet has three daughters, the main one Barbara is portrayed by Julia Roberts. She’s just great as a character who’s more likeable than her mother, but a bit similar – showing the influence of parental figures. Barbara is trying hard to keep the relationship with her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and her daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) intact. Violet’s other daughter is Karen (Juliette Lewis) who is a bit of a ditz, but not much smarter than her fiancé Steve (Dermot Mulroney). Violet’s most likeable daughter is Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) who was the only daughter to stay close to home, which creates tension between the three daughters. Ivy is criticized greatly by her mother because she hasn’t found a man yet. The only characters who actually rarely have rude things to say to each other are Ivy, Little Charles and Mattie Fae’s husband Charles (Chris Cooper).

Everybody’s just fighting constantly and it doesn’t make the experience enjoyable. There are bursts of comedy here and there that keeps the film from being completely boring, so that’s a good aspect. It seems to me that when one thinks family drama, it’s reasonable to expect people smiling and being nice to each other, isn’t it? But that so rarely happens in this slowly-moving picture. The only scenes some might find theirselves enjoying the film is when Julia Roberts launches herself at Meryl Streep because it’s freaking awesome, and there’s a sweet song that Cumberbatch sings at one point. Along with the little bursts of comedy, that’s the only time I really liked this. Its ending is unrewarding and the film is generally depressing. It’s one of those films where you walk out of the theatre and say, “Hey, could you say something kind to me? I’ve hardly heard a nice thing for two hours.” To have that depressed feeling for these two hours is an emotionally exhausting experience.

Score50/100