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

Killing Them Softly (2012)

Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly

Release Date: November 30, 2012

Director: Andrew Dominik

Stars: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins

Runtime: 97 min

Tagline: In America, you’re on your own

Note: I love the idea of a good mob flick. I have a large list of ones I have to check out, including ‘Goodfellas’ (cue the gasp); and in all honesty, this is my second mafia related film (I think). The first being ‘Road to Perdition’. But I loved this. Enjoy the review. 

Ah. Hitmen meet the economy; they go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is an enforcer hired to restore order after three dumb guys, who think they’re smart, rob a mob-protected card game, causing the local criminal economy to collapse.

Johnny Amato (a.k.a., Squirrel; portrayed by Vincent Curatola) is the so-called mastermind behind the heist of a mob-protected card game. He enlists the assistance of Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), and the plan is seemingly golden. The host of this card game is Markie Trattman, a man who hosted another card game in the past, and he then robbed his own card game. Due to that, card games went away for a little while. Now they’re back. The local criminal bosses believe that if this one gets robbed, Markie will have to be behind it. That’s what makes these three dumb guys believe that this is a foolproof plan.

Because of all this, Jackie Cogan gets called in to restore a little order to this imperfect local economy.

The film opens with Frankie (Scoot McNairy) walking down a rundown street, and the film cuts between a politician speaking (Obama or George W., possibly) and him. The wording constantly gets off. This is both stylish and artistic, but it will get irritating to the impatient viewer. It becomes known that this film is set when George W. Bush was still leader of the free world, and America was in an economic crisis. The card game being robbed doesn’t particularly assist the local criminal economy in any way.

In that way, this is both a story of violence and despair, and a compelling and complex social commentary of 2008 America in the midst of one of the worst financial situations since the Great Depression. The concepts in Killing Them Softly are complex, but they aren’t hard to comprehend. The film suggests that America is not a place where one could easily raise their kids. It is not a community, it is a business. However, these concepts of economics and capitalism are not subtly explored. The political voice-over speeches are practically right in your face, as if they’re 3D. Though, this barely bothered me.

Jackie Cogan is an awesome character who is filled with philosophy and mystery. Though, he isn’t the only interesting character in this. There is also Frankie and Russell, who may be a little dim-witted, but they are nonetheless good characters. Russell is often really there just for comedic relief, and he is also a representation of the stupid people of America. Frankie may be sort of dumb, but he is much smarter than Russell. Both the characters are good enough to carry the film for their scenes. In fact, they practically carry the film for the first twenty minutes – with a little help from Curatola and Liotta. These actors remind us that a film can be good, even when Pitt isn’t onscreen. Also, Brad Pitt entering the screen to the sound of Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” is the perfect touch.

Brad Pitt, as usual, is a booming screen presence. Put him next to Richard Jenkins’ character, he’s cool and he has a mysterious bravado. Speaking of Richard Jenkins’ character, his name is never revealed. He is just the middle man of crime who pays Cogan. Though the question of who Jenkins works for is left unanswered. That is one of the pleasant ambiguities and mysteries of the film.

Though, put Pitt next to James Gandolfini’s character of Mickey (another hit man called in by Cogan to help out with killing the twerps), he’s nothing special. Only because he’s listening to Mickey talk his ear off. Mickey’s character hardly fascinated me.  He talks too much, and he doesn’t kill enough. Don’t get me wrong, Gandolfini’s a great screen presence. I just wasn’t digging the character. So don’t you tell Gandolfini to put out a contract on my head. I don’t want to die, man. I’m just telling it how it is.

Scoot McNairy has proved to audiences that he is a solid supporting presence (Exhibit A: this; and Exhibit B: Argo) and also a good leading man presence (as shown in 2010’s Monsters). I look forward to more performances by this promising actor.

The story, the cinematography and the editing are the real highlights of the film. There are a few other vividly cool editing sequences, that leave me feeling impressed. There’s one scene where Pitt is firing a gun in the rain in a slow-motion sequence, that is stunning. It’s vividly cool, and is worth the watch simply for that. Don’t stay for just that, though. This is one of the best films of the year!

There is a whole load of killing, but not as much as it seems to promise. In that way, the advertising is sort of deceiving. That’s okay, though, the other things that it never promises make up for it. There’s a fair share of soft, but brutal, killing to satisfy all, even though the kills are far between each other. The social commentary it offers is also profound. Sometimes it gets talky, but it is never uninteresting. The film has its fair share of intensity. The soundtrack is great and the atmosphere it offers is one of the most unique of the year. The writing is great, and the actors are great. They don’t disappoint one bit. There’s enough violence, and enough politics and economics to leave both crime movie lovers and scholars with a smile on their faces by the time the end credits roll. Just don’t expect non-stop carnage, and you’ll be good.

90/100

Monsters (2010) Review

Monsters

Release Date: September 30, 2010

Director: Gareth Edwards

Stars: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able, Mario Zuniga

Runtime: 94 min

Tagline: Now, it’s our turn to adapt.

It’s actually a pretty impressive flick.

Six years after Earth has suffered an alien invasion, a photographer must take his boss’s daughter across through an infected zone of Mexico back to the safety of the United States of America.

It’s a fairly simple plot, and a really nice character driven narrative. The characters can be easily relatable and are actually likeable, even for the standards of a film with horror elements.

If you go into the film with the only knowledge of it being the title, you’ll be surprised by it because it’s a character driven science-fiction tale rather than just a horror film about the world being attacked by monsters. While it is something like that, there’s so much more substance here. There isn’t a lot of scary moments but when there are, it’s pretty effective.

The film does a nice job of blending elements of good characters, some horror, drama, science fiction, and some romance. It’s a pretty nice road trip flick.

The two leads actually deliver some really good performances, and play their characters really well.

The alien beings sort of made me think of those of War of the Worlds, not because that they’re metal or that they’re really colorful; but because of their height.

The camerawork was pretty good, and is a very impressive film made with a budget of $800,000. The filmmakers really don’t waste a penny.

The film is pretty well-paced and doesn’t drag on in many areas, but some of it isn’t completely compelling, but it doesn’t thoroughly boring either.

The characters are fairly well-developed and you want to see them get home safely, rather than be attacked by the aliens.

It isn’t completely must-see for those of you who don’t like science fiction flicks, but for those of you who do, it’s something worth checking out.

It isn’t completely memorable but it’s a fairly interesting story, which is not completely compelling but pretty good, it’s great enough for a watch. I won’t buy it, but for a film I really didn’t know a lot about and saw it because I caught it on TV, it was a solid flick.

This film stars Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able (who is attractive and a great actress, which makes the film that much more enjoyable). There are quite a few extras. For a film with two stars as the main focus, they do a really great job even with so much pressure put on them.

A film that isn’t too scary or too long, but the plot didn’t win me over completely. I wouldn’t watch it again but it was a pretty unique experience.

Monsters is really worth checking out if you want a cool science fiction experience with nice characters, and a fairly fresh plot idea; you just may be impressed. I was impressed by the quality of the film that they were able to make on such a low budget for something of this science fiction caliber, but the story didn’t compel me as much as I would have liked.

70/100