Godzilla (2014)

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He’s big, he’s bad and he’s worldwide! Once again, Godzilla stomps his way onto the big screen, hoping to attract a new wave of fans and a bigger audience. Unlike the previous “Godzilla,” which featured Ferris Bueller, this film takes itself VERY seriously. And, in the end, that’s what effectively kills this movie, rendering it top heavy with too much drama and too little Godzilla.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about summer action movies it’s this…keep the action coming fast and the scientific mumbo-jumbo at a minimum. “World War X” did an effective job of that last summer and I thought it was a great popcorn movie! And then came “Pacific Rim,” which was a bombastic, over-the-top, fanboy dream with robots fighting monsters and action galore! Nevermind the ridiculous plot and generic characters…it was the action that kept me entertained and it did its job well (on the BIG screen. Not so much on my iPad). “Godzilla” spends too much time gearing us up for the “Big Showdown” between our friendly neighborhood monster and 2 ginormous bugs who are trying to mate to take over the world. Yes…I said it. Two 50-story bugs are awakened from their slumber and they are set on reproducing and taking over the world. And with that notion, their pillow talk has also awoken Godzilla from HIS long winter’s nap somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. In order to keep ecological balance, Godzilla sets out to destroy the 2 baddies and most of San Francisco & Las Vegas in order to keep the world order.

Ok…so there you have THAT plot…so let’s introduce you to a slew of characters, none of which are ever fully developed, and see if they can draw you in with their performances alone (because the script is terrible)…
Bryan Cranston – wasted as a scientist who just KNOWS there is something going on at a nuclear plant in Japan.
Juliette Binoche – an incredible actress who is TOTALLY wasted in this film in a role so ridiculous that I have no idea why it’s in this movie.
Elizabeth Olsen – an indie darling who is an up & comer who deserves a MUCH better role than this. She plays the wife of the “hero” of the movie and does nothing but act worried the entire time.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson – the “hero” who is a global jumping military bomb defuser who seems to know how to get everywhere and knows everything about how to stop the destruction. As good as this guy was in the first “Kick Ass,” he’s a total bore in this film.
Gareth Edwards – Although he doesn’t have a role in this movie because he’s the director, he is the most important person involved here and I’m sorry to say…this movie is a HUGE disappointment for me. In 2010, Edwards directed and edited the independent movie “Monsters,” a classic film about 2 people who must travel through alien invaded territory in Mexico to get back to the United States. It’s a beautiful film with 2 well-developed characters and a very unique way of looking at human relationships with a sci-fi twist. A lot of people didn’t know what to make of “Monsters” because it’s not a tradition monster movie. I loved that movie and so, when I heard Edwards was helming “Godzilla,” I HAD to see what he could do with the classic monster character. Sad to say, he didn’t add much. Despite the fact that Godzilla LOOKS great, there’s not much else you can do with him other than have him knock down buildings and roar. THAT he does very well in this version but unfortunately we’ve seen it all before. So there needs to be more…but there isn’t. None of the characters have HALF the personality of the 2 main leads in “Monsters” and so this movie heads south quickly. The big finale is even a letdown after seeing “Pacific Rim” and it’s action-packed battles. I was expecting so much more and it didn’t happen.

Needless to say, I imagine “Godzilla” will rank right up there with “Spider-Man 2” as one of the more disappointing movies of 2014. You can’t win them all, I suppose, but there was potential here and it was squandered with too little action and too much talking. Let Godzilla stomp, don’t make him tip-toe. And in this movie…the 15 minutes of stomping can’t save this one from being a ginormous bore.

Overall Rating: D

Total Recall 2012

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Looking at my reviews for the movies that were released in 2012, it appears that it was one helluva year! A lot of movies that I really enjoyed and then…this clunker. How can you take a classic movie, remake it, hire 2 of the most attractive women in show business today and then completely ruin it with horrific dialogue and poor action sequences? THIS is how.

If you missed the 1990 classic starring AH-nold Schwarzenegger and then It-Girl Sharon Stone, then I implore you…go rent it today and completely forget this helpless retread that totally misses the point of the first one. Where the ’90 version has more soul, this one takes itself WAY too seriously and becomes a mess of action sequences that are ridiculous and dialogue that makes no sense. I’m not even gonna bother to go into the plot but let’s just say that for whatever reason, Colin Ferrell has made another clunker of a retread (see “Fright Night”) and it’s about time that he gets out of the remake business and get down to making some movies that have some heart (see “Crazy Heart or “Horrible Bosses”). As for the wasted talent of Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel? Well…there ARE a couple scenes of Beckinsale in her underwear…if THAT’S what you’re going for…

Overall Rating: F

Argo

20121013-204500.jpgLet’s talk details here because, from what I can tell, Ben Affleck has constructed a movie that is so entertaining, so dazzling in the way it makes drama, that there is no way it can possibly be from REAL events…could it? I mean, obviously the Iran hostage situation happened in the late 70’s, early 80’s and there WERE 52 hostages taken for almost 2 years. But the side story, and the one so skillfully crafted by director Ben Affleck, is that of 6 Americans who managed to escape capture and made it out of Iran by posing as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a Hollywood movie called “Argo.” It SOUNDS like a great work of fiction but…it’s not. It actually DID happen and the classified event was called the the “Canadian Caper.”

So now…how much of this movie is historically accurate? Well…I don’t know…but does it matter? In this case, I don’t think it does. But with the amount of detail that Affleck went through to recreate the time period, a lot of the script certainly SEEMS true to actual events. So with that being said…I have to say that “Argo” might be one of the best political dramas I have ever seen! Taking the actual event and adding in some Hollywood drama makes this movie move at a steady clip and with a slew of great actors, some excellent costume design and skillful directing by Affleck, I have to imagine it will be a front-runner for some awards come Oscar time.

The basis of the story is from the man who created the mission. Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck) was a CIA agent who’s primary responsibility was to get hostages out of life-threatening situations. His covert mission in this case had him creating a “film crew” out of the 6 Americans who were looking to escape Iran. With the help of some Hollywood types, makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegal (Alan Arkin), he constructs a fake film in order to set up the Iranians into thinking that their location scout in Iran is legit. From there, it’s a matter of getting the Iranian government to support the movie and release the “crew” so that they can go back to Canada.

First let me just say that Affleck has done a masterful job with this film, as a director AND as an actor. His eye for duplicating the time period is amazing, from the credit fonts to the corded phones to the cigarette smoke in every office. Everything feels authentic and that goes a long way to helping tell the story. As an actor, he plays Mendez as a quiet and unassuming man, blending him in with his beard and hound dog eyes, making him seem distant even in moments when he has to be close to someone. I don’t know if I’d go so far to say that this is Affleck’s best movie as far as his acting goes, but it’s pretty darn close!

And the rest of the cast is excellent as well. The 6 actors picked to play the 6 hostages almost look exactly like the real people! They all do a great job making their plight seem confusing and uncertain. Although they have very small roles, Arkin and Goodman almost steal the movie, acting as the comic relief in some very intense scenes. It’s in those intense scenes that I imagine Affleck has taken some liberties with the true story, adding in some Hollywood drama to bring it to a more exciting climax, but that’s what movies do…they entertain us. And if they can educate us a little bit along the way? More power to it.

Overall Rating: A

20121013-204444.jpgHey! He liked it! Let’s all have a drink!

Drive

Ryan Gosling is on a roll! Unlike “The Ides Of March” where he had to be charismatic and energetic through most of the film, this movie has him in an entirely different role that captures his ability to convey depth and personality in a character that lacks quite a bit of both.

In this movie, Gosling plays a stunt driver in Los Angeles who is also a getaway driver who transports robbers and thieves away from the police after a heist. He also works at a car repair shop for a man (Bryan Cranston from “Breaking Bad”) who is in with L.A. mobsters (Albert Brooks & Ron Perlman). The stuntman also gets to become close with a neighboring mother (Carey ┬áMulligan) who is waiting for her husband to be released from jail. She becomes attached to him (even though he says very little) and so does her son. When the husband (Oscar Isaac) is freed, he returns with a debt that must be repaid in order to buy his freedom and to keep his family safe. He asks the stuntman to drive him to and from the heist. Once there, the entire thing goes to hell in a handbasket and the stuntman must go into hiding to find out who is trying to kill him while also protecting the mother & son from vicious killers who will stop at nothing to get their money back.

This might sound like a typical “shoot ’em up” kind of thriller, but this one is different in a variety of ways. First off, the direction on this movie is awesome! Nicholas Refn is a director that I had never heard of but he is mostly known for his “Pusher” films that he wrote & directed. He uses a variety of styles to give LA that “80’s” feel including a keyboard driven soundtrack and lots of neon and night time shots. It could have easily come across like a bad version of “To Live & Die In L.A.”, but this movie is more like the old Bronson or Eastwood films of the 70’s. With it’s lingering camera work and a slower pace than most action thrillers, this is a new twist on an old style of movie-making that deserves recognition at the Oscars next season.

And the cast is top notch! Gosling is perfect in his role as the stuntman. Mulligan and Cranston are fantastic as his closest confidants and friends. Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman are excellent as the mobsters and the city of L.A. plays a role also, often as a background character but always there, glistening in all it’s bright lights. If it weren’t for “The Ides Of March” being brilliant in its own right, I would say “Drive” might be the film that gets Gosling more notoriety. But with both sharing time at the multiplexes, you can’t go wrong with either. Although not as interesting as his role in “March,” the stuntman definitely delivers the goods as a subtle ride with violence and mayhem. If you are a fan of thrillers that take their time setting up the story, this will be right down your alley. Think “History of Violence” without the sex scenes and you have “Drive.” And it’s awesome!

Overall Rating: A