Clint takes a look at one or two new releases that come out each week –just a short look at what’s being released in theaters, along with some drinking rules for your own perusal.
Dir. Gareth Edwards
Warner Bros. Pictures
For nearly 15 years, the Godzilla franchise has stunk with the putrid essence of Roland Emmerich’s 1998 effort, an obnoxious, tone-deaf exercise in narrative cynicism that seems to fail to understand what the Big Guy seems to capture in audience’s imaginations. Ishiro Honda’s 1954 Gojira was far from the campy monster-duels of the later eras, a stark, black-and-white existential horror film about the effects, both physically and culturally, of the atomic bomb on Japan. While Godzilla himself has been reinterpreted in many ways and many different tones, this status as the avatar of nature’s dominance over mankind has largely remained intact. Keeping that in mind is one of the things Gareth Edwards’ 2014 reboot gets right – despite some flaws, it’s exactly the kind of palate cleanser America needs to forget our messy first go at reimagining the monster for American audiences.
Gareth Edwards, director of the low-budget found-footage film Monsters, exponentially increases the scale of his monster-based filmmaking for Godzilla, combining the apocalyptic tone of the 1954 original with the plot structures and basic premises of later films like Mothra vs. Godzilla (which we’ve covered before on the podcast). This time, the film follows the awakening of bizarre monsters nicknamed MUTOs, which look like a macabre combination of stick insects and the Cloverfield monster. In many ways, the fight against the MUTOs is much more of the film’s focus, with Godzilla existing primarily as a fact of nature – at one point, he simply shows up, with Ken Watanabe’s Dr. Serizawa expositing that he is representative of nature’s need to “balance the equation” now that MUTO has come into being.
In the middle of this story, we’re also treated to the prerequisite ‘human’ tale, which is admittedly as bog-standard as they come. The charming first act of the film follows Army Lieutenant Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who must dash right after being reunited with his family on leave to recover his estranged father Joe (Bryan Cranston), who is independently investigating the events that led to his wife’s death in a Fukushima-like nuclear reactor meltdown. It is here that Edwards most clearly wears his Spielberg influences on his sleeve; there’s a sense of grounding massive, wondrous events in tales of familial strife and reconciliation. (Hell, the main character is named Brody, and an early scene where scientists are studying one of the MUTOs is reminiscent of the facility at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.) The film doesn’t do as much with the father/son as it should have – the character relationships we follow for the first act are abandoned a bit too quickly, leaving poor Brody to wander from setpiece to setpiece with disposable characters we’re never given the time or the motivation to care about. It doesn’t help that Brody himself is a bit of a ho-hum character, though the film visually links him to Godzilla at various interesting moments. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Olsen and Sally Hawkins are wasted here as women pushed to the sidelines while the men (and monsters) do all the work – it’s a little disappointing to see, if not a little regressive.
In terms of the big guy himself, he is brilliantly realized – he is often shrouded in darkness, rain or fog, but this plays into the horror/war-movie aspect of Godzilla and plays up his mystery and that of the MUTOs, as opposed to the rainy grimness of Pacific Rim’s ostensibly campy robot fights. The film is surprisingly not about Godzilla, but merely features him – the human characters of the film effectively rally around the Big Green Guy when they’re not trying (and largely failing) to manage his movements and limit collateral damage. While this may seem disappointing for film fans who want to see two hours straight of Godzilla fights, it helps with the sense of scale – Godzilla is there to fight MUTO and clean up humanity’s mess, while people are just left to get out of the way.
In terms of filmmaking, it’s a wonderfully elegant picture – the sound design is brilliant, with every creak, roar, grunt and crash painting a comprehensive picture of the huge scale of this interspecies conflict. Alexandre Desplat’s exciting, tension-laden score has just the right shade of Elfman to it, particularly in its main theme, though it can admittedly be overbearing at times. Edwards’ direction is beautiful, though a bit dark at times – you might want to try seeing it in 2D, but on the biggest screen you can, with the best sound system.
All in all, there are some flaws that prevent it from being the movie we all really wanted to see, mostly lying in the lopsided pacing of the script and the somewhat bland characters; however, the film makes up for it with some powerful images and a sense of scale I haven’t experienced in a movie in a long while. For these problems, I’m not giving it a “Loved It!”, but it falls short of greatness by just an inch.
Clint’s Verdict: Liked It
Godzilla Movie Drinking Game (mild spoilers):
1) Drink every time a creature roars (Godzilla or no)
2) Drink whenever a shot prominently features the back of someone’s head
3) Drink any time Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) makes a new discovery about Godzilla or the Mutos
Finish Your Drink When:
Dr. Serizawa says, “Let them fight.”
They Came Together
Dir. David Wain
In the halcyon days of the 80s and 90s, when Saturday Night Live made sketch comedy more popular than ever, The State was one of the finest of those post-SNL sketch groups to make it to television, along with The Kids in the Hall. The echoes of The State’s brilliance is still found in the members’ continuing collaborative projects, from Reno 911! to Stella and more. Founding State member David Wain is yet another outlet for this kind of creative output, directing broad absurdist comedy films that often toe the line between off-the-wall sketch comedy and trenchant satire of the things it’s parodying. His 2002 effort, Wet Hot American Summer, was a parody of teen “hangout” and summer camp movies like Dazed and Confused and Meatballs, and They Came Together follows this tradition by cleverly skewing the time-honored genre of the romantic comedy.
“Imagine if Date Movie worked” – this is essentially the approach Wain takes to the film, as he tells the straightforward story of Joel (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler) meeting, starting and engaging in a relationship. Along the way, they follow all the trappings of everything from You’ve Got Mail to 27 Dresses, including Molly’s whimsically self-sustaining candy shop right out of the Nia Vardalos I Hate Valentine’s Day handbook, and Joel’s group of basketball buddies, all with disparate personalities who help him talk through his problems (while playing basketball, natch). Just as with Wet Hot American Summer, the jokes are all rapid-fire, to the point where it would likely take repeated viewings to catch them all. Luckily, the stellar cast helps to keep it afloat with a zippy energy and infectious chemistry.
It doesn’t all work – there is an unfortunate framing device throughout the film of the couple telling their story to another couple (Ellie Kemper and Bill Hader) over dinner, in which the point of the film is repeated ad nauseum for those audience members who somehow can’t tell that a film where a lovemaking couple vigorously knocks over the same standing wicker shelf four times in a row on their way to the bedroom is a parody of romantic comedies.*
Reviewing a film like They Came Together can be hard – like most Wain films, it holds together mostly as a series of jokes, and makes no bones about its sketchlike nature. There’s no overt message to the film more nuanced than “these tropes of romantic comedy films aren’t realistic,” but even that simple fact is enough to let you in and laugh along with the characters as they continually stop people before leaving a room to say, “and hey….thanks.” Irreverent to an extreme, but not to a fault, They Came Together is absolutely worth a look, and is one of the best comedies of the year thus far.
*I saw this at the Chicago Critics Film Festival with the director in attendance, and he informed us that the framing device was indeed inserted for audiences who legitimately couldn’t tell it was a parody. Apparently, audiences need characters to actually say “Your story sounds just like one of those romantic comedies!” to be able to tell, so I don’t blame the filmmaker for that decision.
Clint’s Verdict: Loved It!
They Came Together Movie Drinking Game:
1) Drink whenever you hear abrupt swearing
2) Drink any time a character openly discusses a rom-com cliche
3) Drink every time you hear a variation of “And hey….thanks.”
Finish Your Drink When:
Joel (Paul Rudd) says, “I told you it was gonna be one crazy day.”