Movie review – Godzilla (2014)

The world’s most revered monster returns in the middle of a human story of emotion and courage, and is drawn into battle against the odds as humanity stands defenceless.

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Being a huge fan of director Gareth Edwards’ underrated 2010 flick “Monsters”, I was eagerly looking forward to his take on the legend – Godzilla. As with “Monsters”, we’re not thrown into the fast-paced action set pieces straight-away, and instead we’re given a backstory and an understanding of where we’re all being taken.

I’m ok with that, as long as you give me strong actors, no clichés in the dialogue, a solid and meaningful storyline and good pace. Please don’t give me human emotion crap in 3-4 mins segments that are full of boring, repetitive one liners that prove not only didn’t the actors work well together, but that they also rehearsed their lines in the limo on the way to the set.

Godzilla unfortunately delivered too much pulp rubbish to handle and had me checking out the cinema exits and ensuring I had a clear run to the doors. Several quality acting talents were horribly wasted here – Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Juliette Binoche (The Unbearable Lightness of Being), Ken Watanabe (Inception, Batman Begins). The rest of the key cast can be forgiven for having a weak onscreen presence, basically because they are not serious actors. Aaron Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen delivered their underplayed performances with a lacklustre effort and the kind of sparkle reserved for zombie actors in The Walking Dead.

The story, like most of sewer being pumped out of Hollywood recently, was flawed from the start and no glittery visuals could save this movie from deteriorating into a US-flag waving piece of shit. The last 10 mins made me want to punch the guy next to me (not just because he was on his iPhone for most of the movie), because I was so pissed at sitting through over 2 hours of badly written drama and predictable action sequences.

Rules for CGI-driven movies (to ensure you don’t think it’s a CGI-only movie):

  1. Family tragedy in the first 10 mins.
  2. Surviving family member seen as crazy and obsessed, but then proved to be right.
  3. US Army full of over-actors and generally just stupid.
  4. The hero’s family will be at risk several times before the move is over.
  5. US landmarks get destroyed.
  6. There’s always a TV on somewhere throughout the movie so you can get the narrative of the film (in case you’re extra stupid).
  7. Family reunited in the last 2-3 minutes.

And you know you’re in for some dodgy CGI, when it starts raining just before an action set-piece – often used to cover up really bad special effects.

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The only thing that the film makes could have done worse at the end was to give Godzilla a huge “I Love USA” t-shirt to wear as he swam off into the sunset.

I made me wonder why do so many movies made in America these days centre around a single saviour or a group of heroes who have to save the USA? Is this to placate the population that all is well and someone is watching over them? Does Hollywood think they are surrounded by 318 million idiots, not to mention the billions around the world? With so much focus by studios such as Marvel on pushing their superhero movies, the market is saturated and as a result the stories are getting weaker and weaker (written by average joes with no real ability) at the expense of CGI and visual effects.

Godzilla is not supposed to be the hero or saviour to the USA. Deal with your paranoia Hollywood, then take a step back and realise that the shit you pump out to the masses is putting cash into your pockets, while slitting the throat of your own culture.

 

Movie Review – Cedar Rapids

An insurance salesman from Brown Valley, Wisconsin – Tim Lippe (rhymes with yippee) – travels to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and reaches the big time through re-living a lost adolescence.

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Sifting through the new additions to Lovefilm (most of which are just the same old films they’ve had for ages, but needing to re-promote because they are a lazy company), I came acorss Cedar Rapids. I wasn’t a huge fan of Ed Helms, but when i saw John C. Reilly was in this comedy, i had to check it out.

Cedar Rapids was a real surprise, and in a very good way.

Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) is introduced to the audience as a caring insurance salesman, instantly setting him apart from the cliched sales-focused, couldn’t-give-a-shit-about-the-customer type of salesperson we all know and detest. Straight away, we like Tim. the company he works for is his family and so are his customers. He’s not had a perfect upbringing – father left him when he was young, and mother deserted him as a teenager. His replacement father is his boss, Bill (Stephen Root), and his mother in all it’s Oedipus complexity is his former high school teacher Macy (Sigourney Weaver), with whom he is having a loving and physical relationship with.

He’s given a chance at greatness when a colleague passes away and the insurance company needs a representative to go to Cedar Rapids for a very important Insurance Convention. There he makes new friends – Ronald, Dean and Joan (Isiah Whitlock Jnr, John C. Reilly and Anne Heche) and experiences for real the growing pains of a twenty-something.

The movie truly picks up after Tim checks into his hotel and gets to know his colleagues. His relationships with his “proxy parents” back in Brown Valley slowly disintegrates, and Tim’s reactions are akin to those of a teenager or twenty-something coming to terms with life, the many situations we’re forced to face and the realization that the only way is forward.

Directed by Miguel Arteta (“The Good Girl”), this movie is handled without the need to shock the viewer with slapstick gross-out scenes like most comedy offerings. Arteta handles the direction deftly and with real attention to Ed Helms’ Tim, who is constantly in a state of wide-eyed excitement that you would associate with a baby. Helms carries off his role as Tim quite comfortably and keeps us engaged for the 87-minute run time. (Nod to Arteta for keeping the story tight and in control here). The rest of the cast are excellent, although I found Ronald (Whitlock) under-used and possibly could have had more of a story for us to uncover. John C. Reilly has so much fun as Dean Ziegler, and enjoys the funniest scene in the hotel pool – late at night wearing the rubbish bin lid over his head, balancing his drink and imitating R2-D2. Anne Heche as the flirty, melancholy mother of 2 (almost a MILF)  was also outstanding. Best movie I’ve seen her in.

This was a small gem of a film and had the right amount of laughs and the right balance of “real” moments, directed with the care that is lacking in most comedies being churned out by the Hollywood cookie-cutter. Give it look and you’ll see what I mean.

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Movie Review – Kill the Irishman

Jonathan Hensleigh (director of The Punisher and screenplay writer of Armageddon and Jumanji) delivers his take on the true story of the fall of the Italian Mob in Cleveland Ohio in the 1970’s.

I’m a huge fan of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990), as most of my friends will testify to, and I’m always benchmarking any movie of the “mafia genre” to Goodfellas. Sitting through Kill the Irishman was one of those many times where I found myself thinking “if I had never seen Goodfellas, I might think this was a good film”. It’s not a bad film by any standard, and I enjoyed some of the surprise cameo appearances from old favourites – Robert Davi, Paul Sorvino, Vinnie Jones and Christopher Walken. I just wanted the main characters to stand out a little more and give us something we haven’t seen before.

Instead what you get when you order Kill the Irishman is a pretty standard formula for a real-life biopic of 1970’s crime figures, without too many standout performances or storylines.

The movie centres around Danny Greene (Ray Stevenson), a tough Irishman living in Cleveland, who looks out for his fellow blue-collar worker and eventually is drawn into the world of organised crime. A local mob boss (Vincent D’Onofrio) helps Danny take over the the dockside union through some shady deals and both of them develop a taste of glory at the expense of other mobrun enterprises. Val Kilmer always impresses me (especially in his recent roles), although he was badly underplayed in his role as the investigating police detective and seemed lost in the storyline. Strange considering he was the movie’s narrator.

As with such stories, the “good, bad guy” tale is dotted with confrontations, violence aplenty, and an out of context boob-scene with leads to some horizontal folk dancing action, with a side order of poor imitation porn film-music.The violence isn’t as impactful as you might think, and just seems to come along when you expect it. Again, no surprises.

The star of Kill the Irishman, Ray Stevenson is too much like his character – aspires for, but never achieves greatness. He is likeable throughout the film, but when the final scenes are played out , I found I just didn’t really mind where the movie finished. For me that’s the problem: after 106 minutes, I want to care about the characters. Hensleigh borrows from Scorsese with a “let’s finish as many characters off as possible” final 10 minutes, which may have been true to the events of Clevelands’ mob wars of that era, but I felt that an original, less obvious ending would have been a better conclusion.

Not bad, and worth a look on dvd or rental through Netflix or Lovefilm, but could and should have been better with a cast like this.

Movie review: Prometheus

Ridley Scott’s Long Awaited Return to Sci-Fi, and well worth the wait.

When I was 8 years old I remember the most vivid and scary movie poster of the 70’s stated that “in space, no one can hear you scream”. To quote another reviewer “you could park yourself at the other end of the galaxy, and still not drown out the sound of the hype heralding the release of Prometheus.”

Indeed for the hype that surrounded this movie ever since Sir Ridley Scott announced his return to the Sci-Fi genre, you might think that the pressure heaped upon him and his team of fellow movie-makers of Prometheus might cause them to stumble and fall. But as far as I am concerned, the hype got it right. I’m relieved to tell you that Ridley Scott has re-taken the controls of the Alien series in stunning and assured fashion.

The memory of the sub-standard, poorly crafted follow-ups such as Alien Vs Predator should now be obliterated permanently by the stunning visual scale and fantastic performances in this film.

A complex plot unfolds in the year 2093, where a corporate-funded space mission is under way to investigate the origin of mankind. After a two-year journey, the 17-strong crew aboard the spaceship Prometheus land on a distant moon LV-223, where they quickly discover a dome-like structure that clearly does not belong there. Once inside the tunnels and caves within the dome, the visitors experience a sequence of terrifying phenomena hinted at in the first Alien film.

The cast of Prometheus is exceptionally strong, with Idris Elba (the accordian-playing spaceship captain), Charlize Theron (as the pretentious company-woman) and an outstanding scene-stealing performance by Michael Fassbender, as an android with a secret agenda. In the tradition forged by Sigourney Weaver’s immortal Ripley in the first two Alien outings, it is an independent female that stands the best chance of beating the terrifying odds. The original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace, impresses as Elizabeth Shaw, a feisty archaeologist who makes the discovery that takes her and partner Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) all the way from the Isle of Skye to another solar system. There are some unfamiliar faces here, but all deliver under Scott’s direction.

On a visual level, Prometheus truly delivers upon all expectations, with superb creature design, stunning landscapes of LV-223 and remarkable digital effects, such as the map room in the alien ship. The interior designs, especially the space jockey’s set, were truly spectacular and it was good to see H.R. Giger’s influence from the first film visible here.

Unlike many of the visually-driven blockbuster pictures of today, there isn’t a single wasted frame to be found here. Prometheus effortlessly transports us the viewers to another world, and keeps them there. The illusion is never broken.

If there is a sticking point for those who are not die-hard followers of all things Alien, it is the quality of the screenplay. The story told here sometimes lacks both the clarity and urgency many would expect of a blockbuster film. Finger of blame leveled at writers Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts for thinking this was just another TV show like “Lost”. Sorry guys but your dialogue sounded at times like you wrote it on the way to the office on the back of your hand – “I can’t make life, what does that make me?” whispers Shaw in a very boring and badly written scene in the middle of act 2.

However, when you watch Ridley Scott you get a genius at work who wants you to know you are somewhere you’ve never been and you just may not make it out of the theatre (Alien, Black Hawk Down, Blade Runner). This is a modern twist on Sci-Fi / Horror and delivers in the best possible way – visually stunning, fine performances and genuine gut-wrenching horror.

For those other reviewers who turned up hoping for another Alien spin-off, I have some stern words for you. Why did you go with such pre-conceived ideas? Or should that be ill-conceived ideas? Prometheus gives us a glimpse of the Alien universe unlike anything we’ve seen. Ridley Scott gave us the claustrophobia of Alien, James Cameron gave us the unrelenting action thrills of Aliens, David Fincher was forced to give us a poor third act (David, I forgive you as it wasn’t your fault), and the fouth instalment fell over itself to give us a potentially awesome movie that just missed the mark. If you wanted a re-hash of the original movies, go rent them out on Blu-Ray today and enjoy.

And one final comment aimed at the few reviewers/bloggers who didn’t quite get this film: Prometheus takes place on LV-223, and Alien and Aliens took place on LV-426 – different moons, ok? If you thought Prometheus took place on LV-426, then you need to go back to the cinema and watch the movie again (and leave your “smart phone” at home). First class idiots.

The sheer ambition and scale at work throughout Prometheus allowed me to look beyond the scripting issues and treat them as a forgivable flaw. I get the feeling this will not be our last trip to the Alien universe.

June 17, 2012

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Prometheus-Spaceship (Photo credit: Filmstalker)