Sunday, 20 July 2014

For A Good Time, Call...



Title: For A Good Time, Call…
Director: Jamie Travis
Released: 2012
Starring: Ari Graynor, Lauren Miller, Justin Long, Sugar Lyn Beard, Mimi Rogers, Nia Vardalos, Mark Webber, James Wolk

Plot: Lauren (Miller) and Katie (Graynor), college frenemies now suddenly forced to live together after Lauren is dumped by her boyfriend and Katie is being forced out of her apartment due to not being able to afford the rent on her own. However the pair soon form an unlikely bond, after Lauren uses her business smarts to help kickstart Kate’s phone sex business.


 
Review: One of the recent spate of female scripted and fronted comedies to follow in the wake of “Bridesmaids” which honestly is no bad thing especially as this film proves. Say that I think I have to say that this is the first female sex comedy I’ve seen, especially when the usual fodder for these kind of movies tends to be overly horny high schoolers trying to get laid, so needless to say it was kind of refreshing to see a pair of attractive 20-somthings even if it might be lurking a little too close to “Sex and The City” territory. Thankfully though it never fully crosses over that line especially when a fancy apartment and garish pink phone are really as close as they get to that vacuous world. Instead it ends up falling somewhere outside of the mumblecore relm of “Girls” and “Tiny Furniture”.

Written by Miller and her former college roommate Katie Anne Naylon based on their experiences living together, though there is no mention of if they were also running a phone sex line as in the film. Miller here also gets her perfect co-star in Graynor for whom she wrote the part of Katie with her in mind after seeing her in “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”, Graynor would be cast for the film after receiving a letter from Miller stating why she would be perfect for the part. Unquestionably this would turn out to be a masterstroke as both girls truly embody their roles that you can truly believe them to be best friends.

The film plays like strange combination of “2 Broke Girls” and “The Odd Couple” Lauren and Kate are quickly established even before they have met as pretty much the polar opposite of each other. Lauren fresh from being dumped by her jackass of a boyfriend for being too boring is the business minded and straight edged family girl with dreams of being a writer, while Lauren is the filthy mouthed wild child whose relationship was strained even without their clashing personalities thanks to their original meeting in college which ended in a mishap with a slushie cup of pee.

It is of course far from the most traditional bonding opportunities that the girls finally find their common ground and once on their sex phone venture it could easily have dissolved into an onslaught of innuendo and slutty jokes, but surprisingly it never does. True there is much talk of various naughty acts and an even more questionable reunion scene which really needs to be seen, but instead you frequently find that you are more focused on the growing friendship than the general naughtiness.

Okay since we are on the subject yes you do get to see the girls working the phones as it flicks back and forth between the girls and their various clients, which include a sleazy cabby played by Kevin Smith who seems to think nothing of phoning sex lines and jacking off while he has a fare in the backseat. We also get to find out a possible reason for planes being so frequently delayed when the girls are called to double team as pilot played by Miller’s real life husband Seth Rogen. For both this is familiar territory, especially in the case of Smith who these days seems to take any opportunity to talk about his masturbation activities (when not arguing with airlines and dissing critics) both for such an indie film their cameos are both fun and only add to the film without taking anything away from the leads.

This however now leads me to one main criticism for this film and that is that all their callers are so nice and generally normal. Where are all the sleazy guys? Honestly the sleaziest caller they have is a prison lesbian and most of that is her taking about how she is going to work off her frustrations. The ultimate highlight though has to be Sean (Webber) who Katie has frequently been talking to with their conversations slowly becoming less about sex and more about getting to know each other and leading up to them finally meeting. Needless to say Sean soon turns out also not to be a secret sleaze and instead perfect boyfriend material especially with his adorable nerdish qualities. True its nice to see more Geek Chic guys rather than the guys who typical play the romantic interest, but seriously would it have hurt to have atleast one of two truly sleazy callers.

One of the interesting aspects of female headed comedy (surely there has to be a better name for this genre) is getting to see what women actually find funny and thankfully it seems that it’s not just men are all dicks as the assumption would have lead me to believe and while this is a film about sex phone workers it also a surprisingly sweet film while managing to not sacrifice laughs for Smoltz.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Titan A.E.



Title: Titan A.E.
Director: Don Bluth, Gary Goldman
Released: 2000
Starring: Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, Bill Pullman, John Leguizamo, Nathan Lane, Janeane Garofalo, Ron Pearlman

Plot: In the year 3028 A.D. Earth is destroyed by the Drej leaving humanity scattered across the universe. Now fifteen years later Cale is recruited by the space captain Korso and his crew to help them find the Titan which might just hold the key to saving humanity.



Review: Western traditional animated films it could be argued (and please feel free to correct me in the comments section) fall into three distinct styles belonging to

* Disney
* Don Bluth
* Ralph Bakashi

While Bluth and Disney’s styles could be mistakenly seen as being the same seeing how both produced films for a younger audience, unlike Bakashi whose productions were certainly much more adult in scope. Bluth’s films also contained a much darker edge to Disney, especially when he favoured snarling drooling, cigar chomping villains while equally happy to have characters killed off with no hope of a final act surprise return which Disney tend to favour.

While his work might not be as wildly recognised as Disney’s especially with no one rushing to build Don Bluth land, it is not to say that it should be dismissed especially as throughout his career he proved especially with his earlier films that he was able to go toe to toe with the Disney output. Sadly his later films would not reflect this quality as they became a sucession of diminishing returns with this being Bluth’s final feature film (to date) before he retired from film making to pursue a career in teaching and video games, something which may have been spurned on by this film being a box office bomb on its release thanks to some lousy promotion work which not only failed to tell anyone what the film was about but left audiences unsure of who the film was intended for, after all animation was yet to be viewed as a valid style for adult films, especially with western audiences.

Since then the film has continued to gain a cult following, no doubt thanks in part to Joss Whedon working on the script and who at this point in his career was still best known for “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, while looking at this film now it is clear to see so many elements which he would carry over to “Firefly” as seen in so many scenes in this film especially those aboard Korso’s ship the Valkyrie even if this film takes a much more traditional sci-fi approach than Whedon’s western in space. Whedon’s mark on this film though is especially clear in the dialogue which zings with great one liners while never feeling that it has to dumb things down for the audience or resort to slap stick antics to keep their attention.

While it might not be a Disney production it is still a top cast who are assembled here, even if their star power might be more now than it was back on the films release, especially in the case of Barrymore who makes for a feisty Akima and Matt Damon here is still a fun actor rather than his constantly serious form that his work now seems to constantly take since “Team America: World Police” burned him as memorable as they did. Equally on great form is Pullman who still leaves me wondering why he’s so underused especially when he has put in so many great performances, especially with his indie films like “Surveillance” while also representing the indie scene Leguizamo is ever the human chameleon and almost unrecognisable as the fast talking scientist Gune. The real scene stealer here though is Lane who dials back his usual camp tone to a sideshow bob style snobbish and frequently sarcastic tone as Preed, who not only gets most of the best lines, but frequently keeps you guessing as to where his true allegiance lies.

Unquestionably though one of the most noteworthy things about this film is the animation and that is because even now it still looks absolutely stunning and even though Bluth is an old school traditional style animator, here he clearly shows how open he is to embracing new techniques as he combines both traditional hand drawn animation with computer animation to powerful effect as he takes the strengths of both styles to make something truly special here. This is no better highlighted during the ice rings sequence, which only becomes all the more complex as it goes on. Throughout the film though there are numerous great sequences like this including an exciting chase sequence on the swamp planet Sesharrim, featuring multiple switches as it takes place both on the water and in the air. It is during these set pieces that the film really comes into its own.

One of the aspects of the film which does come off kind of dated is in the soundtrack which features  late 90’s bands like Lit, The Fun Lovin’ Criminals and Powerman 5000 and lets of course not forget that the trailer music for this film was supplied by Creed who are noticeably absent from the official soundtrack. Personally though I liked the general nu-metal soundtrack and made a refreshing change from the usual overblown orchestral score which tends to overpower most sci-fi pictures as if they feel the spectacle on screen needs supporting.  However in choosing to go with a modern soundtrack the film does loose its timeless quality as its soundtrack selections now leave it tethered to its year of release.
 
The other downside to the film is that outside of a recording left by Cale’s father, the film can feel like its lacking in an emotional core, especially when the focus seems to be primarily on the journey these characters are on to find the titan, that the emotional connections do seem to be put on the back burner in favour of another action scene or a fun character interaction. As a result of this it is unlikely that you will care too much about this until after the film has finished and no doubt by then you will be wanting to see more from these characters, maybe not as another movie but certainly as a tv series were the characters could be developed further and the universe of Titan further expanded, something which it seems is as likely as "Firefly" getting a second season at this point but even as a one off adventure this is a blast from start to finish.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Life Itself



Title: Life Itself
Director: Steve James
Released: 2014

Plot: Documentary charting the life and death of legendry film critic Roger Ebert



Review: On April 4, 2013 a dark shadow was cast over the film critic community as Roger Ebert lost his 11-year battle with cancer. Ebert was seen by many of us as a titan of the critic community and while I might have written off his relevance at during the early years of this blog it would be after I saw how he championed smaller and lesser seen movies like “Welcome tothe Dollhouse” that I finally got the importance of his work and realised that he was not another mainstream critic simply reviewing movies, but rather a man who truly loved films and saw his critical work as a way to share this love with others and perhaps encourage people to view films in ways they might not have otherwise seen them.

Director James who previously gave us the basketball documentary “Hoop Dreams” here crafts a touching tribute to the life and ultimately death of the legendry critic as he was still filming right up until Ebert’s death. Ebert and his wife seemingly give him here seemingly unlimited access to their lives as well as home movies and photographs to craft a truly full picture of his life, starting from his early writing assignments with his university paper the “Daily Illini” were he also served as the editor before starting his role as a film critic for the “Chicago Sun-Times” which in turn would lead to his now legendry partnership with Gene Siskel.

Narrated by a spot on impersonation by voice artist Stephen Stanton reading passages from Ebert’s autobiography from which the film takes its name, the film is guided by these passages while being added onto by interviews with his friends, family and more surprisingly only a handful of director interviews with Martin Scorsese being the biggest named of these directors to appear and this might be more down to the fact that he is one of the executive producers, but as always makes a warm and welcome contribution to film, aswell as highlighting the contribution Ebert made to his career revival with his contributions to the promotion of “Raging Bull”. On the other end of the scale we also have directors Ava DuVernay (I Will Follow) who shares memories of meeting Ebert as a child and meeting him years later when she made her directorial debut. Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart) equally shares a number of happy memories, while seemingly also appears to have had a mentor and apprentice relationship, with Ebert clearly having held out hopes of big things for Bahrani’s career from some of the stories he shares, while scenes of him visiting Ebert in the hospital show a friendship much deeper than critic and film maker.

Needless to say the most interesting parts of the documentary revolve around his professional rivalry and unique friendship he had with Siskel. While the question as to how much of their rivalry was for show still hangs in the air, it is clear from the interviews with those closest to them that they held a level of respect for each other, with Marlene Siskel really nailing it when she quotes her late husband as saying

“He was an arsehole, but he was my arsehole”

Ebert’s quotes from his memoir do also outline much like the well-publicised footage of them finally finding in religion something they can finally agree on that while they might have had their disagreements on screen that off screen they shared many moments he held dear. What is clear though here though as it was then is that both clearly relished the fact that both could give as good as the other.

Equally interesting here though are the sections surrounding Siskel and Ebert constantly promoting the smaller and frequently less seen films, something that Ebert continued to do through his website which would become the home of his critic work for the latter end of his career. The example of this kind of promotion given here though is the Errol Morris documentary “Gates of Heaven” which they managed to sneak onto their show three times. Sadly though this is really the only example given, with the likes of “Dark City” for which he contributed a commentary strangely not even being mentioned which I found to be one of the more frustrating aspects of the documentary much like how his work on Russ Meyer’s “Beyond the Valley of Dolls” is only really glanced with no mention of the adopted father figure he found in Meyer’s thanks to a shared love of large breasted ladies, as highlighted in the Meyer’s biography “Big Bosoms and Square Jaws”. At the same time these things are more of a minor concern if you knew they existed in the first place….so sorry for giving you that irritation I guess.

Ultimately this is both a touching and moving tribute to the life and work of the great man and one which fans will not be left disappointed by, especially as it trades a star studded interview list to craft a truly intimate portrait, especially when the gaps are filled by his wife Chaz whose extensive interview footage ensuring that that this really as complete a profile of the man as possible and an ultimate tribute to the staggering body of work he left us.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Roujin Z



Title: Roujin Z
Director: Hiroyuki Kitakubo
Released: 1991
Starring:  Toni Barry, Allan Wenger, Barbara Barnes, Adam Henderson, Ian Thompson, John Fizgerald Jay, Nicolette McKenzie, Sean Barrett, Blair Fairman, Nigel Anthony

Plot: A bed ridden old man is recruited by the Department of Health under the so-called “Project Z” in which he is given a special nursing bed with a built in computer to handle his every need. However when he brings projecting his pain and loneliness to his ex-private nurse Haruko (Barry) she sets out to rescue him, as the bed soon starts to take on the personality of the old man’s  dead wife.



Review: One of the seemingly long forgotten old school anime, it was around the time that I was first getting into the genre that I first saw the trailer for this film and typically it has taken me until now to actually get around to watching it and while the animation might look slightly dated by today’s standards there is still a lot of charm in the frequently amusing writing

Of course its hard to tell the humorous tone from the opening which sees the old man who soon will find himself at the centre of this bizarre tale, shouting out that he has wet himself while an overweight cat sleeps on his chest. True this might be a pretty dark opening to what is actually a very light hearted and fun film and while it might have you reaching for the eject button I can only urge you to stick with it past this rather uncomfortable opening, which is not so much about shock tactics and seems to have been included by director Kitakubo as something of a wakeup call to the audience about the treatment of the older generation, a theme which certainly runs through this film even if it might be under the disguise of another giant mecha anime.

Centred around a new prototype bed the Z-001, which provides the ultimate in around the clock care for its elderly user, as any number of hidden screens and arms appear when needed to take care of any needs the user might have and in the process eliminating the need for home nurses or family members to burden themselves with caring for elderly relatives. While it might seem like the perfect solution it would seem that the users don’t exactly feel the same way and what initially starts out as a straightforward film about Haruko trying to rescue her former charge, soon become awhole lot more surreal when the bed, seemingly develops a mind of its own with things only getting stranger still when it takes on the personality of the old man’s deceased wife complete with seemingly an endless list of pet names for her husband.

While the opening might be uncomfortable viewing the film surprisingly actually gets lighter and more humorous the longer it goes on, especially as the bed starts to evolve from its original form as it begins to adapt and absorb other machines into its framework as it makes its way through the busy streets on a single minded mission to get to the sea. A plan which the project heads are soon quick to launch into action to stop happening, while ensuring in the process that the action quota for the film is handled as the film soon changes from a comment on the health care system to a chase movie, before finally ending with some come frenzied mecha on mecha action, as another robot is unleashed to stop the Z-001.

Despite coming being written by Katsuhiro Otomo, who most memorable gave the world the legendry “Akira” this is a much smaller and lighter film, even though it was released in the wake of that film and ultimately it wouldn’t be until 1995 with the release of “Ghost in the Shell” that any film would come close to beating it, while director Kitakubo would much later equally come close with his own “Blood: The Last Vampire”. Still despite the lack of scale the film still manages to make its own impact with some beautifully detailed setting aswell as Haruko being joined on her mission numerous colourful characters which this film certainly doesn’t have a shortage including a group of elderly hackers while even the bed takes on a playful personality even if it’s essentially just a synthesised voice.

True it might lack the grandeur of some other anime’s, especially in these times were fans are literally spoiled for choice with the range or titles which are available and even more so by the standard for anime which Studio Ghibli have established, this remains still a fun dose of nostalgia for older anime fans, while the more open minded fans able to get past the older style of animation here will still find this an enjoyable film, which doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Mr and Mrs Player



Title: Mr and Mrs Player
Director: Wong Jing
Released: 2013
Starring:  Chrissie Chow, Matt Chow, Pang Ho-Cheung, Chapman To

Plot: Feng Shui master, occasional con-man and general ladies’ man Carson (To) has never been in a stable relationship, until he meets his match in the veterinarian and fellow player Chi-Ling (Chow). Now challenged with going 100 days without any sexual contact to win her affection, the games are truly on as Carson is determined to in win her affection.



Review: Certainly one of the more random films I've watched as of late, while unbeknown to me upon entering into it that it would would go some way to filling that Stephen Chow shaped void in my life….seriously has it really been 10 years since his last film??
 
Playing like the Hong Kong version of “40 Days and 40 Nights” the film best remembered for the scene in which Josh Hartnett’s character was raped by his ex-girlfriend! Thankfully there is nothing so morally questionable here, while the differences in censorship do mean that this was a sex comedy very different than any of its western counterparts, as while Eastern censors frown on nudity, but seem pretty much willing to let anything outside of that slide which is something director Jing certainly runs with here to create a truly filthy comedy without a single moment of nudity.

This film however is very much a showcase for the talents of To, who essentially steals the whole movie with a frenzied and energetic performance that dominates the whole film and despite my reservations about a portly actor convincingly playing this kind of role were quickly evaporated within the first ten minutes of this film as somehow he makes it work. At the same time it could be down to how relentless his style of comedy is, as he combines frequent costume changes (and boy are there some questionable costumes here) slapstick and sheer hyper activeness to sell the role of Carson, who easily could have come off as a truly despicable and unlikeable character in the hands of another actor, especially with his severe lack of moral compass which sees him more than happy to con, lie and swindle anyone to get his own way.

On the flip side of things Cheung really mixes things up as Carson’s female counterpart, even if it is a performance that relies on her generally looking pretty and doing pretty much nothing else. Refreshingly though her character is not chastised her dating habits and instead viewed as on a level playing field as Carson, even if the naughtiest of her antics is being on a date with two men at the same time, but at least she’s never seen as being slutty for such antics, a view which Hollywood much like the rest of society is to get behind. Having set Carson the herculean task of surviving 100 days without sex, she certainly doesn’t make it easy on him as she installs a glass divider in her bed (complete with kissing hatch) to ensure that he cannot try anything. To add to Carson’s pain Chi-Ling also recruits the assistance of her equally stunning flatmates to further torment him as she dress provocatively, eat suggestive food and generally find ever more inventive ways to torture him to the point where he even has to get a chastity belt fitted.
 
The tone of the film is surreal to say the least, especially when so many scenes don’t make the blind bit of sense yet as the viewer you still find yourself happy to except, such as a flashback to Carson’s school days which sees Carson and his friends still being played by the same actors with no attempt being made to make them look any younger. At the same time the randomness is only further cranked up when Carson and Chi-Ling watch a film showing highlights from their relationship only to use clips from the film itself!?! Perhaps its because these scenes are so funny that you find yourself able to look past things such as logic, which is something this film really is lacking much like any grasp of reality. Could there be any other reason to explain why its so easy to accept a scene were male cast members dress themselves up as various sexual organs.

Alas if only the randomness ended here. For some reason Director Jing feeling that perhaps things are already not crazy enough also throws in sub-plots involving Ghosts and demonic possession, with the latter somehow being part of his job as a Feng Shui master which if your excuse my ignorance I personally thought was more to do with positioning your furniture than anything involving being an exorcist. However it is hard to fault these scenes like so much of the aforementioned randomness as like those scenes they are played with such fun and energy by Chow that you won’t even question what they are doing in a romantic comedy.

While the first half of the film is a frenzied blast, the second half suffers as it becomes increasingly bogged down in the romantic aspects of Carson’s relationship with Chi-Ling and in particular their perhaps slightly unbelievably fast move to get engaged thankfully due to the short running time this doesn’t ultimately detract too much from the film, even if it does cause it to drag noticeably towards the end.

Overall while this might be a romantic comedy unlike any other you have seen it is still a fun if disposable experience, while providing yet another reminder of why Asian cinema is still frequently the source of truly inventive cinema.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Stone



Title: Stone
Director: Sandy Harbutt
Released: 1974
Starring:  Ken Shorter, Sandy Harbutt, Helen Morse, Roger Ward, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Vincent Gill, Bindi Williams, Dewey Hungerford, Rebecca Gilling

Plot: Police officer Stone (Shorter) goes undercover with the Gravediggers, an outlaw motorcycle gang to find out who is murdering their members.


 
Review: Originally I had intended to review this movie way back when I did “Ozsploitation Month” only to get distracted by other films to the point were I’ve only now finally got around to watching it. It is also safe to say that it is also far from the biker movie I first expected going into it, as what director Harbutt gives here instead is more of a tibute to biker culture and the outlaw lifestyle than most biker movies would concern themselves, as the focus is put less on their hell raising antics and instead more on the family unit they have crafted for themselves.

Released five years before the first of the “Mad Max” films, which several the cast would also go on to appear in, this film would also have the honour of being the first Australian biker movie, which considering what gear heads Australian audiences are really makes it all the more surprising that no one made one earlier. At the same time the Ozploitation era would frequently be responsible for so many of firsts like this including giving the world Australia’s first Kung fu movie with “The Man From Hong Kong”. Sadly though despite this legacy the film has largely been forgotten and no doubt I too wouldn’t have known about it like so many films in the genre had it not been for the truly essential documentary “Not Quite Hollywood” which equally served to provide a handy watch list for the Ozploitation genre aswell as countless stories to highlight the indie film making methods being used to make them.



Opening with not only with some seriously trippy visuals as one of the bikers witnesses the assassination of a politician while on a serious acid trip, but some fun bike porn for those of you who like your motorcycles as the Gravediggers roll out on old school Kawasaki’s (according to Wikipedia) with the opening credits being made up of sudden freeze frame shots of different parts of the motorcycle as the rider prepares for a ride. From here we get to watch various members of the Gravediggers being taken off in a variety of creative ways including the old wire decapitation aswell as an incredible cliff jump. While these moments are fun they are then completely overshadowed by arguably the best scene of the whole film with a biker funeral precession complete with motorcycle and sidecar coffin and a line of bikers which never seems to end, as some four hundred bikers turned out to help with the filming of the scene.

The downside of this scene appearing so close to the start though is that the rest of the film never manages to better it, especially as the pace becomes more sedate with Stone slowly earning the trust of the Gravediggers while at the same time becoming ever more drawn into their outlaw lifestyle, which here Harbutt chooses to show as being less anarchic in nature than other biker films and instead showing the group living in an almost hippie commune style situation. Equally interesting is the fact that Stone openly admits to being a police officer from the start, rather than the film taking the more well-travelled road of him hiding his true identity and finding a way into the gang. This honesty does as a result create an almost anthropological style situation, as the bikers immediately distrust Stone due to him being a cop and hence the embodiment of everything they despise. The scenes which follow all charting the slowly increasing trust he earns from the group by participating in gang brawls and from his riding skills all the while finding himself slowly being increasingly drawn to their lifestyle the more he learns about them. This is of course only further helped by the Gravediggers being slightly deeper than your usual bikers as highlighted during the scene where they share their stories of what brought them all together, with the majority of them taking on the outlaw lifestyle due to delusion with various aspects of society, with most falling under hot topics of the period.

While Harbutt might not here be focused on the usual biker antics he does however still give us a fair few including a parking lot brawl with a rival biker gang. What is especially interesting about these scenes though is trying to figure how much of the action was planned, seeing how Harbutt recruited a number of real bikers for the film who he was also paying in beer leading unsurprisingly to a number of fights breaking out on set, with the situation only being further antagonised by Roger Ward who for some reason thought it would be a good idea to call the local Hell’s Angels chapter a bunch of poofters from the hotel balcony. Harbutt aswell was a big fan of the group being believable in their roles and insisted on the group living embracing their roles as much as possible which saw them living the biker lifestyle throughout filming, a situation which also reportedly made it far from a fun set for the female cast members many of which complaining of being objectified throughout filming.

While it might be now more overshadowed by the “Mad Max” films this is still an enjoyable movie, even if its opening fifteen minutes is misleading as to what the rest of the film will be like, especially with the earlier mentioned funeral scene but it ensures that while the tone for the majority of the film is pretty sedate that it still saves a jaw dropping surprise for the ending! True it might be a very different biker movie and more for the completest than the casual viewer, but as a curious watch the set pieces alone make it a worthwhile watch.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

A Fistful of Gojira Part 7: Godzilla (2014)



Title: Godzilla
Director: Gareth Edwards
Released: 2014
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathaim, Bryan Cranston

Plot: In 1999, The Janjira nuclear plant was mysteriously destroyed in what was presumed to be an earthquake, while also killing plant supervisor Joe Brody’s wife Sandra. Years later Joe is still obsessively searching for the truth, while his now grown up son Ford now works as a Navy ordnance disposal officer. Together they now discover the real truth behind the accident at the plant, as the world is now faced with a horror which only Godzilla can save us from.


 
Review: It’s hard to believe but it really has been ten years since the release of “Godzilla: Final Wars” the film which many saw to be the final Godzilla film, something which only seemed to be resonated at Toho, the studio which had been the home of Godzilla for over fifty years and whom following “Godzilla: Final Wars” had dismantled their legendry water stage which had played such a key part of numerous Godzilla productions. Elsewhere Tristar Pictures who had been responsible for the much lamented 1998 American adaptation had let their rights expire in 2003 having long since given up on their idea of producing their own trilogy of films. The fans meanwhile continued to hold out hope for a new film as their love for the Giant radioactive lizard continued to live on through their repeated viewings of the of the original films and in 2009 their prayers would be finally answered when Legendry picked up the rights the long awaited end results of which we now see here and finally confirming if it was really worth the wait or if final wars really should have been final. Thankfully the wait has been worthwhile as here Director Edwards gives a film which is not only a worthy addition to the franchise (doubt anyone will be calling this version zilla in the future) but still manages to add his own style to the film in the first of a proposed trilogy films and more impressively managing to do all this without technically rebooting the franchise.

Edwards whose previous film was his low budget debut “Monsters” is certainly an interesting choice, but seeing how the 1998 version had been helmed by blockbuster director Roland Emmerich, you can hardly blame them for choosing to take a risk on a relative unknown especially to mainstream movie goers who no doubt missed out on the genre jumping antics of his debut film, a trait which he chooses to carry over here. Not content it would seem with telling a straight giant monster story it would seem here he actually pushes the giant monsters bizarrely to the background preferring to give us a road trip movie (of sorts) as Joe makes his way from Japan back to San Francisco to get back to his wife and son. Bizarrely rather than detract from the film, this unique approach strangely works even if you’re not quite sure what you’re watching exactly as for a Godzilla movie he does spend a fair part of the movie feeling like a supporting character rather than the marquee name we expect.

While Edward’s approach might certainly be unique there is still an overwhelming sense of respect that he clearly has for the franchise, approaching Godzilla without the slant of being either good or evil, but rather as very much a force of nature and every bit the anti-hero that he was in his early films and throughout the Showa era. This vision of Godzilla is instead a monster driven by the single minded desire to hunt and destroy his prey and its really just good luck for the human population if said prey happens to be attacking major cities. It is also an approach which is carried over to both Muto’s who equally care only about getting to sources of radiation in an interesting counter to the anti-nuclear stance which Godzilla represents. Edward’s however gets things spot on when it comes to highlighting the size of his monsters, with the frequent use of low angles and scale establishing shots such as the ones of Godzilla swimming underneath battleships. Unquestionably though the real highlight here though is Godzilla’s first full appearance which sees him first highlighted with signal flares before being given his full reveal which squashes any grumblings regarding a Western Godzilla having the same presence as the original and for the record no I don’t think he’s too fat, though still confused as to why Edwards insisted on giving a face similar to King Kong? Did he not think that audience could feel for a radioactive lizard?

The human cast are all great, even though "Breaking Bad" fans might be a little upset to see Cranston reduced to more of a supporting role than the trailers suggested. Taylor-Johnson meanwhile still seems be being pigeonholed into being an action star and while he is still believable you can't help but feel that he would be more comfortable in a more dramatic role. Elsewhere Watanabe seems to only be on hand to spout philosophical musings and if its like the screening I was at provide some of the audience with a cheap thrill of how he pronounces the word Godzilla.

Needless to say with Edward’s aiming for a more realistic approach to the series, which is hardly surprisingly considering how leaps of fantasy are not exactly in vogue in Hollywood thanks to the success of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. This of course means no Kung fu antics from Godzilla or Muto which I didn’t honestly expect to see anyway and such didn’t disappoint me that it is a much more animalistic and natural fight that we get when the monsters meet (if one were they breath radioactive fire) and seeing how Godzilla maintains the rest of his traits including the aforementioned radioactive flame breath whose appearance would have been more of a showpiece had it not been ruined by one critic’s twitter feed after attending one of the advance screenings (cheers for that). What frustrated me though was that it was during these scenes that the fact that Edward’s is using the monsters as the background for Ford’s journey really became apparent, none more so than the first meeting of Godzilla and Muto were just when we expect to see the two monsters clash, the film suddenly cuts to Ford’s son watching the attack unfold on a news report! Seriously if you’re going to play the tease these are really not the scenes to do it with and its only how unexpected and well cut this scene is that it stopped it from frustrating me further.

The other niggling issue with Edward's directing is the worrying amount of shots which seemed to have been borrowed from other films, with Jaws and Jurrasic Park, aswell as more interestingly "The Abyss" all having seemingly being homaged here only sadly with none of the fan boy nodding flair that Tarantino brings to his own homages. At the same time the film frequently can't decide what sort of films it want's to be which might be a lot to do with its placement on the summer blockbuster schedule and why we get so many shots which made me feel like I was on a Universal Studios thrill ride, with the monorail attack being a prime example of this.

True this film might have some issues with some of its directorial choices, but this is still a great addition to the franchise and a promising start to what will hopefully be a great trilogy, especially if Edward's is to stick with it and maintain his creative vision throughout like Nolan got to with his Dark Knight trilogy even more so when the prospect of Monster Island and Mothra have both been seriously hinted at as making an appearance in the next film. At the same time though I still have o view this film as its own film and should be viewed as its own trilogy rather than an extension of the original saga but needless to say the King of Monsters is most certainly back!
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