REVIEW: Godzilla

8 06 2014

GodzillaIn 2010, Gareth Edwards unleashed the ultra-low budget flick “Monsters” on the world.  It was a striking debut, and it also wound up serving as an audition tape for the job of reenergizing the “Godzilla” franchise.  Indeed, if there was anyone to scoop up from the world of independent cinema for large-scale filmmaking, Edwards seemed like a natural due to the way he emphasized human relationships over flashy computer graphics.

Sadly, what ultimately hits the screen in “Godzilla” is something far more in the mold of Marvel than Edwards’ own “Monsters.”  The plot structure resembles the paradigm perpetuated by films like “The Avengers;” I’d like to call this formula “30-40-50.”  The first 30 minutes of the film introduce us briefly to the characters and cap off with an inciting event that sets up a climactic clash with an opposing villainous force.  The next 40 minutes vamp up to this giant conclusion, showing the various heroes and their preparations.  And it all caps off with 50 minutes of destructions, explosions, collapsing buildings … you know the drill.

The scariest part of “Godzilla” is not the monster; it’s realizing how quickly the art of screenwriting has transmuted into an engineered science.  It favors empty computer graphics over real suspense and rewarding characterization.  Edwards’ penchant for thrilling action goes woefully underutilized as he settles to provide a standard entry in the genre “Monsters” so ably defies.  He gets to be somewhat ironic on occasion but never subtle.

Actors can often rescue movies that sag under the weight of a bloated effects budget, but no such salvation is available for “Godzilla.”  Here, Bryan Cranston is forced to play a Walter White-lite variety and acclaimed actresses such as Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, and Juliette Binoche are relegated to serve perfunctory roles on the sidelines.  But don’t worry, Aaron Taylor-Johnson fruitlessly channels Mark Wahlberg trying to save the day, an archetype he’s ill-equipped to play.

But hey, who needs actors when you can watch a giant lizard destroy the Golden Gate Bridge and the rest of San Francisco?  Not like we got to see it terrorized in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”  Or the “Star Trek” movies.  (Heck, even the animated “Monsters vs. Aliens” got in on the action.)  Sure, it’s probably more extensive here in “Godzilla,” but it all just feels so familiar and generic.  No better way to sit through the threat of near-apocalyptic extinction than comfortably numb, right?  C+2stars

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REVIEW: Inception

16 07 2010

Filmmaking is about creation.

The creation of a character, a couple; a feeling, a frame; a narrative, a novelty; a relationship, a romance; a moment, a mystery.  Have no doubt about it, filmmaking is creation, no matter the size of the budget or scope.

But there are very few filmmakers with the knowledge, the willpower, and the vision to create a world.  We all remember the first time we stepped into the galaxy far, far away that George Lucas took us to in “Star Wars.”  Recent examples include The Wachowski Brothers leading us into the world of “The Matrix,” Peter Jackson lifting Middle Earth off the page and displaying it before our very own eyes in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and, very recently, James Cameron giving us a crystal-clear, in-our-face look at Pandora in “Avatar.”

And now, with the release of “Inception,” we can officially add Christopher Nolan to that impressive list of filmmakers.  He unravels before our very own eyes what he envisions to be the world of the dream.  It’s an incredibly complex world, governed by a set of rules that have graver implications that we could ever imagine.  Only he holds the keys to unlocking the secrets of his creation, and he tantalizingly dangles them before our eyes.

Yet he also challenges us to use just the sight of them to figure it out for ourselves.  I have no doubt he left us clues throughout the movie, but it’s not possible to catch them your first time.  You are simply too awe-struck by what’s on the screen, too busy puzzling out the intricacies of the plot, and too preoccupied trying to stay ahead of Nolan to go a layer deeper.  And to go that extra mile, to find what’s really bubbling under the surface of “Inception,” you will have already dug to a great depth.  Some people won’t even be willing to go that far, and they will feel left in the dust by the movie, like a kindergartener sitting in a calculus class.  But Nolan doesn’t design it for those people, making it an even sweeter treat for those willing to take their mind on a journey it won’t always understand.

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