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

Advertisements

In Secret (2014) Review

In SecretReleased: February 21, 2014. Directed by: Charlie Stratton. Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Felton, Jessica Lange. Runtime: 101 min.

Note: I saw this way back in September at the Toronto International Film Festival premiere, I just forgot to post my review of this.

“In Secret” is a period piece that has a lot of history behind it. It is classical French literature written by Emile Zola, and this version is adapted by Charlie Stratton, from that novel and the play by Neal Bell. It’s great to see a movie that feels so fresh, yet has so much history behind it – it’s been around for ages!

Elizabeth Olsen takes on the challenging role of Therese, a woman who is haunted by her own personal demons after an unspeakable act. She is forced into a marriage to her cousin Camille (Tom Felton) by her despicable aunt, Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange). When they move to Paris to open up a shop, Therese meets Laurent (Oscar Isaac), someone who might just be her way out. What happens next introduces themes of betrayal, murder, adultery and guilt.

“In Secret” is a fascinating character study. I can see why it’s such a cherished novel; compelling yet deeply unsettling. Therese is sent to live with Madame Raquin and Camille after her mother dies, and she is basically treated as a servant girl, but perhaps near-servant girl was the role of young women in 1860s Paris. Camille tries his best to make her happy. It makes for some incredibly uncomfortable, yet HILARIOUS, scenes. It’s great to see such comic relief in such a sordid ordeal. Since I am not familiar with the source material, I have no idea if this is an adaptation that stays true in tone. All I know, it’s immensely enjoyable.

The comic relief mostly comes from two characters: Olivier (Bridesmaids’ Matt Lucas) and his wife, Suzanne (Shirley Henderson), and the humour is just priceless. Interestingly enough, Henderson was the oldest woman to portray a student in the “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” (and “Goblet of Fire”) as the ghost who haunts the first floor girl’s lavatory, Moaning Myrtle. Her voice is very distinctive. It’s a bit of a reunion for Malfoy and her.

Initially, the character of Therese gains our sympathies, because this seems like a horrible life. After the acts she commits, she wrestles with receiving the audience’s repulsion and sympathies. At the beginning, it was a bit gross to see her marrying her cousin – but she was forced. For the half of the film, Madame Raquin gains more of our sympathies than Therese. Jessica Lange is such a powerful actress, she can easily portray emotions through her eyes – that’s talent. Some of the comic relief members of the cast portray characters that aren’t bright enough to understand the look of fear. It’s a clever way to get a few big laughs. Jessica Lange is a strong supporting, but Elizabeth Olsen brings such power to the role of Therese. It’s such a treat to watch an Olsen who can truly act.

Stratton’s vision is impressive. The primary cast is all around impressive. There are surreal scenes that are as compelling as they are terrifying. Their roles are fascinating, and it’s a great tale of how guilt can eat a person alive. It does raise one primary question in my eyes: How far would you go to live a possibly happier life? It brings other poignant and eerie thoughts to mind, but I better not spoil them.

Score88/100

Silent House (2012)

Silent House

Release Date: March 9, 2012

Director: Chris Kentis, Laura Lau

Stars: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens

Runtime: 86 min

Tagline: Inspired by true events.

Yet another film sucked me in by the whole ‘inspired by true events’ pitch.

Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) and her father, John (Adam Trese), are renovating their family’s lakeside retreat for resale. Abruptly, Sarah is unable to find her father, and she finds herself trapped in her home. She soon realizes she cannot contact the outside world, as events become increasingly ominous in and around the house.

Silent House offers an okay ride, that has a mediocrely slow build-up that ultimately leads to an extremely moronic and unrewarding ending.

Apparently, this is based on true events that occurred in a small Uruguayan village in the 1940s, and the fact that this actually happened is admittedly a little twisted and eerie. Silent House is a remake of a 2010 Uruguay horror film called La Casa Muda (The Silent House), and the story was originally adapted by Gustavo Hernández. The fact that this film had to be directed by two people feels a little ridiculous to me, because I really don’t understand the purpose of doing that.

The build-up is pretty good, it’s sometimes a little slow – but it can also be pretty thrilling. There’s a fair share of good scenes mixed in here, but the bad ones outweigh those that are good. A big problem with this flick is that it thinks it’s much smarter than it actually is, and by the end of it, a lot of the material doesn’t make a lot of sense. Some of the happenings are extremely ominous, eerie, and mysterious, so that makes for a nice atmosphere for the viewer. Sometimes the film can be extremely ridiculous, because the happenings are just so abrupt and arbitrary that it made me think, “Whoa! Where the heck did that come from?”

There isn’t a whole lot of gore here, so it’s much more a psychological ride than anything else. It’s not a film I regret seeing because there a few redeeming qualities, but there isn’t anything extremely special. The whole convenience of the house not having power, AND the home being all boarded up,  felt extremely clichéd and odd. The panicky performance given by Elizabeth Olsen is pretty fine. It’s not like her character’s a dumb bimbo or anything, because some of her decisions are pretty logical. It’s the decisions of some of the other characters that often feel quite illogical. The continuous take makes a fairly unique experience for a horror film (well, it was shot in ten-minute takes, which in turn makes the editing impressive), and the fact that it was shot in real time makes it unique, too. The cinematography is really rough; it reminded me of The Blair Witch Project, because the cameraman just follows the characters around, I’m convinced he (or she) had a wicked case of the shakes during shooting. The characters are decent for a horror film, but some of their actions don’t make the most sense.

The film stars Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens, Julia Taylor Ross, Adam Barnett, and Haley Murphy.

Silent House offers an okay psychological ride, an okay story, and a unique real time experience. The play-out can be a little slow, and the film has the ability to easily, and unintentionally, confuse its audience. I won’t return to this film, because the ending was extremely unrewarding. There are a lot of other psychological horror thrillers that can satisfy more than this, so you won’t miss a whole lot if you decide to skip it. It’s one of those movies that I could recommend if you found it on TV and there was nothing else on.

40/100