Review: Godzilla (2014)
The Pitch: The ever-so-slightly-less-jolly green giant.
Review Extended Pitch: ROLL UP! ROLL UP! Ladies and gentlemen, take your seats for the ninth wonder of the world, behind the Pyramids, those other six that no one can ever remember and how Miley Cyrus manages to have a career! WITNESS the enormity of a fifty year old legend! Only realise if you’ve seen an infographic somewhere that he’s much, much bigger than any of his predecessors! DON’T let your memories of a wizened lizard with a ridiculous chin from the Nineties put you off; this monster is SERIOUS! As is every human being he comes into contact with! Be RELIEVED that Warners gave responsibility for this to someone who’d proven himself with a monster movie, rather than just the nearest hack looking to make a quick buck! MARVEL at just one summer blockbuster that isn’t reliant on a comic book character (apart from all the comic books featuring Godzilla, including the Marvel series from the Seventies).
BE ASTOUNDED by the simplicity and directness of the plot! WATCH as a scientist (Bryan Cranston) attempts to convince everyone he’s not crackers and that something otherworldly is about to throw the world into DANGER! SYMPATHISE with me as you realise that I normally write a whole paragraph on the plot, then realise that this might be quite a SHORT paragraph! Be RELIEVED as the plot starts in Japan, staying true to Godzilla’s roots! FEEL SLIGHTLY UNCOMFORTABLE as you realise the enormous parallels to a real life Japanese disaster, then become JUST SLIGHTLY MORE COMFORTABLE as you notice allusions to other major global catastrophes but realise it’s all being done reasonably tastefully for a disaster movie! Be THANKFUL that the plot aims for simplicity and realism, rather than the convolutions of some of its predecessors! Be AMAZED that such a simple plot (monsters fight each other, humans chase around after them to generally very little effect) still manages to generate so much interest and, just occasionally, TENSION!
Be EVEN MORE ASTOUNDED at the wonders of Incredibly Convenient Man! OBSERVE as Aaron Taylor-Johnson follows the path of Godzilla so closely ACROSS TWO CONTINENTS that the monster would be within his rights to file for a RESTRAINING ORDER if he wasn’t a monster and so unable to follow DUE LEGAL PROCESS! Become SLIGHTLY DISAPPOINTED that no-one else much has anything significant to do unless they’re a monster! Be GRATEFUL that the likes of Sally Hawkins and Elizabeth Olsen are willing to invest nothing roles with feeling and give them a lot more than they deserve! ENJOY Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche while they last, because they’re not exactly the leading roles you might have thought! WONDER just how Ken Watanabe seems to know exactly what Godzilla is thinking at any given point, and how the movie would have played out if he didn’t! (It’d probably be a LOT SHORTER!)
Be AMAZED at the monsters, who all seem to be invested with more character development than most of the humans! Be IN AWE of the images that Gareth Edwards has composed, including FANTASTIC scenery with lumps knocked out of it and STUNNING vistas such as a group of HALO parachute jumpers descending into the maelstrom created by the monsters! Be ASTOUNDED by the sheer scale and weight of Godzilla and the other monsters, and be ASTONISHED at just how epic Edwards makes the adventures of his monsters feel! THINK BACK to the likes of Jurassic Park or even Close Encounters, for Godzilla the film contains truly Spielbergian levels of wonderment, beauty and sheer scale. TRY NOT TO GET HUNG UP on the lack of real character development in the humans, consider this a monster story that just happens to have some people in, and you’ll truly get the most from this monster mash-up. Be, er, (gets out thesaurus) FLABBERGASTED that Godzilla succeeds where Pacific Rim fails, and makes a monster movie to truly care about, rather than just witnessing oversized reptiles and insects clobbering each other! RUN NOW to your nearest auditorium to WITNESS the SPECTACLE that is GODZILLA!!!
Why see it at the cinema: I don’t care how big your home cinema is, it’s never going to have quite the same impact as seeing this humongous beasts going at each other on the big screen. Immerse yourself for the best experience.
What about the rating? Rated 12A for moderate violence, threat. Is that moderate threat as well, you might be wondering? Thankfully the extended classification confirms that it is, although if 300 foot high monsters are a moderate threat, I’d hate to see what’s at the top of that scale.
My cinema experience: The second half of a late night double bill at the Cineworld in Bury St. Edmunds. With it being quite late on a Tuesday evening, consequently a pretty empty screening allowed me to sit pretty much where I wanted with my traditional cinema fallback of a bag of Revels and a large drink.
The Score: 9/10
The Friday Encourager: Do The Monster Mash
Another Friday rolls around, and normally at this point I’d be attempting to cajole you, dear reader, into a trip to the cinema at some point in the coming week, for as we all know that is the place where movies must be watched for the fullest effect. But this week, with snow on the ground and the country grinding to a halt, I find it harder than ever to suggest that those of you living in a winter wonderland should trek out and find something to watch. (And it’s not even winter yet – an autumn wonderland?)
But there is something that is worth making the trek for this week, and it’s from a British director who’s marked himself out as a real talent to watch, Gareth Edwards. His first feature film is a labour of love, and has the look of a movie ten times its budget. But there’s something lurking in this Monster’s closet; the marketing campaign.
There’s a number of different cuts of the trailer around, and some of them err on the side of suggesting this is another District 9, a monster mash with the emphasis on the monsters. I attempted to draw the distinction in my review that this isn’t just about the monsters by drawing out the differences, and if anything the title itself may be misleading. It’s a hard movie to pin down, being part road movie, part love story and part giant monster movie, but it’s absolutely not a thrill-a-minute action ride, so try to go in without expectations, and just let Monsters grab hold of you. I hope you’ll be as enraptured as I was.
Cambridge Film Festival Review: Monsters
The Pitch: Districto Nueve: Una Historia de Amor.
The Review: Since it came out last year and nabbed a Best Picture nomination, one of the commonest descriptions being attached to upcoming movies is that it will be ‘this year’s District 9’. Low budget but high on street cred and turning a good profit, the Neill Blomkamp sci-fi action thriller seemingly sets a good template for variations on the ‘War of the Worlds’-style alien invasion movie. So it’s my great relief to be able to tell you that the only similarities that Monsters has with it’s South African cousin are unknown actors and alien visitors in a realistic setting. If that sounds, in fact, very similar, let me reassure you that Monsters is a very different beast.
There’s a more traditional separation between man and alien here, the giant creatures kept at bay in an isolation zone, but it’s the fate of two humans that concerns us most. Whitney Able is the daughter of a publisher stuck on the wrong side of the Mexican border, and Scoot McNairy is the put-upon photographer tasked with getting her home safe. When things start to go wrong, he starts to take that mission personally, and becomes determined to get her home safely. Unlike District 9, there is a significant difference in scale between us and them, so the interactions and encounters are less frequent, but are no less effective for that.
It’s difficult to pigeonhole Monsters even as a particular genre. To call it a road movie feels a disservice, while the sense of the epic trek that our pair must undertake cannot capture the full nature of what’s within the narrative. There’s an air of creeping dread and the situation is expertly used to push the two leads together. But while there are some tense scenes, and a palpable sense of peril at times, there are also moments of real beauty and the characters and their back stories come over as wholly authentic. In particular, the final third of the movie manages to combine the nervousness and thrills to most satisfying effect, and the whole movie has a feeling of reality and believability, both in its settings and in its characterisations.
Then you discover how things were done – Able and McNairy are the only two actual actors, the rest being made up of locals as the small crew went on their own road trip across three countries. Edwards had an outline, but allowed his actors the freedom to improvise based on some brief guidance. Then the effects, which are never less than impeccable and put a lot of this summer’s blockbusters to shame, were all done by Edwards using off-the-shelf kit that you could buy yourself for the price of a small car. The first time director has heard this described as both a monster movie for girls and a love story for boys, and seems comfortable with both descriptions. There is no denying that anyone not put off by the concept or the marketing stands a good chance of falling into a demographic that will get something special from this; not only an absorbing and epic journey for our protagonists, but also one of the most technically accomplished debuts in living memory. The thought of what Edwards could do with a big budget is inspiring, but if he can do this much with so little, just maybe he doesn’t need it?
Why see it at the cinema: The stunning landscapes, impeccable VFX work and even the intimate moments between the leads make this an essential cinema experience.
The Score: 9/10