Godzilla -2014-

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Directed by Gareth Edwards. 123 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Seen at Arclight Hollywood)

This film is the best totally unnecessary franchise reboot since 2012’s surprisingly good Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Director Gareth Edwards, who made the decent Monsters for next to nothing in 2010, packs Godzilla with a (relatively) old-fashioned sense of blockbuster awe, coming off as a second-generation Abrams (or third-generation Spielberg). While it’s wise to imitate the best if you’re going to imitate at all, Edwards’ stylistic inspiration is a double-edged sword. For every awesome shot, there’s a distractingly derivative shot of a stoic child looking at an approaching threat (á la Close Encounters, ET, Empire of the Sun, Schindler’s List, War of the Worlds) or some other tired device.

Edwards’ roots in microbudget filmmaking is a blessing and a curse in the execution of the titular monster. While his decision to focus on human drama rather than dumb Bayish or Emmerichian action works more often than not, I think the film is a little too conservative with its use of Godzilla. Like, I don’t need the dude to be in every frame, but may we please have a little more Godzilla? Godzilla appears in Godzilla about as much as Julius Caesar appears in Julius Caesar. He appears late in the game and sporadically from there on out. At least Peter Jackson made King Kong all about Kong once you waited two hours to see him.

Aside: Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins do a splendid job of looking eternally incredulous.

Aside: Aren’t we kind of over the insectoid kaiju thing? We’ve already seen Cloverfield and Pacific Rim. Think of something new.

Aside: The opening  music (composed by Alexandre Desplat) and credits are fantastic.

(Seen and written on 2014-05-19)

Oldboy -2013-

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Directed Spike Lee. 104 mins.

Worth my time? Yes, but my expectations were modest. (Seen for free at Arclight Hollywood)

Spike Lee’s remake of Park Chan-wook’s 2003 K-vengeance classic isn’t a must-see by any stretch, nor is it the wet noodle (or raw octopus) that many critics have alleged. As I expected, this new version lacks the can’t-look-awayness of the original. Park, is a master of the sensuous and visceral (as his Stoker demonstrated so well earlier this year). Lee is more accustomed to illustrating his points with musical numbers and angry white dudes. To paraphrase a Mr. Thomas Hardy, Lee merely adopted the revenge thriller; Park was born in it.

The film would have been a disaster if Lee had tried to imitate Park’s sensibilities. Luckily, he makes no such attempt. Even though Lee doesn’t have a style that meshes well with the Oldboy story, there was some fun to be had in seeing his interpretation of the material. I’ve glanced through a lot of critics who have panned the film for being stylistically flat and lacking Lee’s interest, but they’re wrong. Sure, Lee isn’t going to be as enthusiastic about this film as he was about Do the Right Thing, but what the fuck were these folks expecting?

Even a mercenary director can leave an unmistakable mark on a film adaptation (see Lynch’s Dune). Here, Lee sniffs out plenty of opportunities of to ruminate on themes such as:

  1. Absent fathers
  2. White exploitation of successful black men
  3. White men hypersexualizing black women
  4. Frustration at New York’s Asian population
  5. Street-level charity and activism for the underprivileged
  6. The arrogance and decadence of old money and society’s elites
  7. Grotesque imagery of Americana
  8. Hurricane fuckin’ Katrina
  9. More New York than you can shake a stick at
  10. George Zimmerman’s home address is constantly displayed in the bottom-right corner of the frame.

Some of Lee’s flourishes feel silly, but I got a kick outta them. The core cast is solid, and Sharlto Copley is as believable as his cartoonish role will allow. Sam Jackson, of course, is so goddamn Sam Jackson that he instantly grows tiresome, but I suppose I’m resigned to that.

Aside: The two frame stories are gone, but it also eliminates the lazy narration of the original. Call it a lateral move.

(Seen and written on 2013-11-27)