Wednesday 21 May 2014

Review: Godzilla

Year: 2014
Director: Gareth Edwards
Screenplay: Max Borenstein
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston

Synopsis is here

I found myself grappling with my thoughts on this latest rendition Godzilla since my viewing last Friday. I had more than enough time to piece a review together since then, but I wanted to figure out if my thoughts of the film would develop into something more than just "fine". As a big fan of Edwards last feature; Monsters (2010), I had some high hopes for whatever project would come the young director's way and while a $100millon plus blockbuster was possibly not what I was thinking, but I was more than willing to see what he would do with Japan's iconic, atomic beast.

Edward's Godzilla feels less like Roland Emmerich's flat 1998 adaptation of the material, yet it struggles to bring across the gloomy, tragic tone of the 1954 original. The film stumbles somewhere along the middle of both. Doing its best to project the huge amount of money spent on it and fumbling a plot that has a refreshing change of pace in comparison with other blockbusters, in terms of structure and themes, yet no interesting human characters to engage with. Edward's film excels when Godzilla makes its appearances in the film, but most of the films downtime is spent with people that hold no real interest. Edwards clearly likes to display the idea that when such creatures appear on earth, we are of little significance, and I enjoy how his displays this in such moments as the glorious skydiving set piece. If we are to spend so much time with its human characters, however, I would not mind some emotional connection.

The 1954 original film cleverly used the Japan as a collective source of character, utilizing isolating moments of terror and despair and unifying them as an emotionally connective tissue. There is no main character because Japan is the main character. 2014's Godzilla decides to lump its heavy weight upon Aaron Taylor Johnson, whose board shoulders aren't strong enough to carry it. Johnson plays the role barrel chested but cardboard faced. Other actors I expected more from (Olsen, Binoche, and Hawkins) are either bland info-dumping mouth pieces are unfortunately shoved into either dull homely or info-dump characters. This is the second film to place a female character within a uniform of a nurse and believe that's enough to sell the idea of the character (see also The Amazing Spiderman 2). Bryan Cranston tries hard to inject the kind of energy we expect from such a film, as yet another pent-up father figure, while Ken Watanabe is allowed inform us of the nature of the beast, yet the amount of screen time they are given to place any gravitas, is limited. A strong international cast is wasted, while we wait for what we actually came for.

Edward does deliver when it comes to the film's scale. The film generally feels large. We witness helicopters appear as mere specks on landscapes of foliage. Watching landscape shots of soldiers against the sheer size of the mutated monster only amplifies the feelings of insignificance of the human species as the rampage of the creatures takes place. Edwards also nods back to his first feature (as well the Godzilla franchise) with a solid sense of wit. Meanwhile cinematographer Seamus McGarvey's beautifully ashen cinematography and Alexandre Desplat winking score sets the right tone.

Godzilla 2014 tries hard to juggle a few pies in the air and only manages to a few of them up. Edward's film is making a summer blockbuster with very particular B-movie-like undertones. But while the original film smartly captures a country's pain with a sense of melancholy, Godzilla fumbles its human story with unengaging characters. The film really hits its stride when it all kicks off, but I would happily be calling the film great if the film's quieter moments had anything approaching the subtly affecting Mexican vigil scene found in Monsters. Godzilla is best viewed for its splashes of spectacle only.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Review: Bad Neighbours

Year: 2014
Director: Nicholas Stroller
Screenplay: Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O'Brien
Starring: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Dave Franco

Synopsis is here:

If you squint a bit, you could possibly imagine Bad Neighbors (Neighbors in the U.S) as a sequel to 2008's Knocked Up. The appearance of Seth Rogen; here as stoned, nearly adult trying to cope with becoming a father and getting a little older, feels like an accurate continuation point for the comedian. Despite not being written by Rogen, Bad Neighbors harbors the same loosey goosey style that we've come to expect when have when Rogen appears on screen. Yet Bad Neighbours would appeal to me more if it simply had more focus. After This is the End (2013), I'm really starting to miss actual jokes.

Bed Neighbors may have a screenplay credited to two people, yet the film still gravitates towards shiftless improvisation which slowly becomes more tiresome as the film wears on. Stroller is more than willing to let scenes drift into unamusing and jarring dreariness as you realise the actors are trying too hard with their ad-libbing. The stoner references and the college party hijinks still have a certain allure to me, I guess (the film handles itself better than, say Project X), yet watching Zac Efron and Dave Franco push a "bros before hoes" sequence until it fizzles to an unfunny puddle is generally not needed. A shame as Franco has great comic presence, while Eforn shines brightest in the film as a whole.

The film is sporadically amusing, with some of the (actual) jokes and quips actually striking quite hard on my funny bone. The airbag sequence from the films marketing spots still made me laugh out loud in the cinema, while the Robert De Niro party appeals to the film nerd in me. As does the use of Batman actors to show the gap in two side's ages. There's a small amount of quirky moments that kept me from doing what I witnessed a couple do halfway through – walk out.

That said, I found myself more interested in which role we could see Zac Efron play next. He has a right amount of charm and presence to play an effective sociopath. The fact that I was more interested in Efron's future than the cheap gags he was performing on screen, says to me that the film just wasn't doing its job to it's full potential.

Thursday 1 May 2014

Review: The Amazing Spiderman 2

Year: 2014
Director: Marc Webb
Screenplay: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Colm Feore, Felicity Jones, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field,

Synopsis is here:

Two years ago on what was likely to be a wet day in Peterborough (can't remember), I found myself leaving The Amazing Spiderman (2012) with a beleaguered look on my face. Sony’s redeux of the story felt more like the contract cash grab by many people, including myself. I found it not only to be wallowing in its own angst, but also quite dull in its execution. I can’t honestly think of a moment or sequence that truly stuck with me after it’s 136 minute running time.

Now in 2014, on a wet weekday in High Wycombe, I once again found myself struggling to find myself enthused with Marc Webb’s second entry to this rebooted canon. Although it’s worth noting that The Amazing Spiderman 2 shows a large improvement from the previous film.

Webb once again shows that his strength lies within the bonds he forms with the relationships. As much as I enjoyed the Sam Raimi movies, it’s Webb that really seems to nail the dynamics of these comic creations. Garfield and Stone really click as a couple, while Sally Field is most certainly a stronger Aunt May. With the likes of Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker) and Dane DeHann (Harry Osborne) in place of Toby Maguire and James Franco respectively, one may feel that Webb has lucked out with a better suited cast, yet there’s an affection that Webb coaxes of situations that Raimi overlooked. The dynamics between Garfield, DeHann and Stone (Gwen Stacey) in quieter scenes have better judgement than that of Raimi's. It helps that Webb and the screenwriters have clearly matured the characters and toned down the angst somewhat, although the role of Gwen Stacey feels underdeveloped.

The film's action is strangely forgettable. Despite the clear improvements to Spiderman’s web slinging and New York swinging (the opening intro trounces anything Raimi in the air), the films actual set pieces don’t really have too much to say and still feel slack on the physical front. They also feel odd in terms of pacing. The sequences don’t particularly feel well balanced to all the downtime we share with Peter as he tries to patch his personal issues. The Amazing Spiderman 2’s set pieces seem to finish quite quickly (with certain villains suffering under the too many antagonists theory). They also don’t feel that connected to the narrative. The film's opening and climax are very guilty parties, feeling more tacked on than they should. Of course, like so many of these adaptations, both the beginning and end are really about the NEXT escapade and to try and get you hooked on what comes next. More shadowy figures for Roberto Orci to get his teeth into.

It’s a shame The Amazing Spiderman 2 doesn’t reach the kind of heights we now expect for a second entry of a these recent franchise. The film feels less rushed, but still doesn’t define it’s villains as well as the previous series. The relationships work well, but the narrative still buckles under the strain of having to balance so many plates.

We get a film which is still more of a simple distraction than anything really distinctive. Even Jamie Foxx's Electro feels more of an echo of Jim Carrey in Batman Forever (1995) than anything particularly idiosyncratic. The most unfortunate thing about this is that Garfield is the better Peter Parker by quite a long way. I wish they could combine his smart-Alec attitude with Raimi’s knock around vibrancy. Then again, we all know that comic books do a great job at alternate universes. Maybe something for Sony to perhaps chew on while they slap their products all over their films.