CWM: Godzilla

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On this episode of CWM, I’m joined by fellow life long Godzilla fans Paul Montgomery and Timmy Wood, we first delve into the news of Edger Wright leaving the Ant-Man film, before we discuss our personal histories with the original Godzilla films then getting into our thoughts on this new Godzilla movie. Who loved it, and who thought it was okay? Listen to find out!

Go here to listen to mine and Paul’s talk on the original Godzilla: here

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: X-Men: Days of Future Past

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We’re two for three in superhero movies so far this summer. Bryan Singer’s welcome return to the X-Men franchise is incredibly successful with Days of Future Past. I’m not sure that I can say I enjoyed it more than First Class, which I enjoyed initially and have liked even more with subsequent viewings, but between the two of them, the franchise has officially been rescued from the God-awful Last Stand and only slightly better Origins: Wolverine that were nearly the one-two punch that killed this cash cow. (Maybe I should have hoped for that so the characters could return to the Marvel fold, but we’ll let it go.)

Loosely adapted from one of the most popular stories that the characters have ever been involved in, it begins in an undisclosed future where mutants and many humans have been hunted down by the robotic Sentinels from the comic books. We get to see a few of the X-characters in this future that I honestly never believed would appear unless it was the kind of crap cameo that Brett Ratner relegated Psyclocke to. We get Blink, man. I am honestly flabbergasted about that one. And she is done well. (For those that don’t know, Blink is a popular mutant that creates portals. She seems depowered and decidedly non-lilac in this instance, but still.) It feels much less like the mutants of the film are getting short shrift here just to pack in as many as possible the way some of the lesser movies have done. In a departure from comic lore, Wolverine is sent back in time to stop the Sentinel program from ever being started. (In the comics, it was Kitty Pryde that did the honors, which I would have welcomed instead of getting yet another Wolverine-centric movie, but the bean counters at Fox apparently think only his bub-ness sells tickets, First Class to the contrary.)

It is a little surprising to me that Singer seems more at ease with the cast of First Class over the runtime than those of the original film since Matthew Vaughn was at the helm for that one. I guess maybe he was hands-on as a producer? In any case, aside from some clunky exposition that even Patrick Stewart can’t keep from sounding overdone (and he has a lot of experience with exposition from Star Trek) the movie gets going quickly and doesn’t stop often. It all comes out a bit Terminator-ish, but then Marvel beat Cameron to the punch by a couple of years so all’s fair.

The time-travel reset button is a brilliant thing to do on multiple fronts. Number one, it gives the people currently making the films a chance to eliminate all the horrible decisions made when Fox was in the mentality that the X-Men films a) needed to be forced into a trilogy, because that’s just how it’s done and b) needed to be crapped out as soon as possible in order to punish Bryan Singer for taking a job directing Superman Returns. I think making that movie was punishment enough. Number two, it allows the use of both the original characters and the new cast that earned the right to continue the series. Number three, it creates the possibility of doing two equally deserving continuities, one in the past and one in the present going forward. If this is Fox trying to play catch up with Marvel Studios, all I can say is bravo for doing it in an incredibly inventive and dramatically fulfilling way compared to Sony and their botched Spider-Man experiment.

Even though it is yet another movie with Wolverine front and center, we get to spend a lot of time with Charles (Professor X) and Erik (Magneto) in both timelines, and the film is all the better because of it. Their relationship is by far the most interesting part of this series and First Class made that painfully obvious. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender continue to be fantastic in their roles. At this point they own them just as much as Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan. Combine that with pretty meaty parts for Mystique and Beast and you have a much more rounded ensemble film than it could have been. They lucked out when they cast Jennifer Lawrence and they seem to know it, making her an integral part of the story. As per the aforementioned Blink and Kitty (Ellen Page, returning as one of the two good things from X3 worth saving), as well as other mutants like Iceman, Bishop and Storm, they aren’t really given much to do for an arc, but they’re well used enough in action sequences that they don’t feel like they’re given short shrift. Many others have glorified cameos, but nothing feels particularly forced.

The only other new characters to truly be of note are pretty much Evan Peters as Qucksilver and Peter Dinklage as Bolivar Trask. Both are excellent. For all the hubbub about Quicksilver appearing in both this film and the second Avengers film, I doubt there will be much similarity in the portrayals. In Future Past, Qucksilver, really only brought in for the purpose of one action scene, is less the abrasive speedster from the comics and is instead an carbon copy of DC Comics’ Impulse with a worse costume. An ADHD-riddled kid with bad hair and a penchant for being charmingly annoying. The action scene in question is possibly the most fun scene in the entire film, so it’s understandable that Singer was so hyped to use him.

Trask does horrible things in his quest to realize his dream of the Sentinels. He cautions that mutants will replace humans, citing Neanderthal man’s disappearance as a warning. (Of course he wouldn’t be privy to the current theory that Neanderthals actually interbred with cro-magnon.) We’re given glimpses of his life that indicate he’s a genius and he talks about doing a lot of good things for humanity. But it’s obvious he doesn’t see mutants as humanity, only as a means to an end. They don’t exactly subtle-up the Nazi metaphors. And just to make one statement about who would normally be one of the villains of the film, it was nice to see Richard Nixon portrayed as an actual human being and not a complete cartoon bad-guy for once. The government and the military aren’t shown to be evil or even necessarily in favor of wiping out mutants. They simply get used by Trask as more means to his end.

The movie is paced elegantly with never a dull moment, but also never being overwhelming. It feels like all of Singer’s superhero movie experience has been leading to this moment where he finally feels comfortable with all the things he was holding back on in the second film. (Having the brass at Fox on his side instead of demanding Jon Peters-esque changes on a whim it probably helps.) The action sequences feel fresh, despite several of them having a lot in common with previous installments which is a testament to their presentation and the quality of the effects. There is no question in my mind why this movie cost so much and it honestly seems worth every penny. It is polished and even the questionable CGI just makes it seem that much more comic book-y.

After seeing the teaser at the end which brought many a “What the hell?” from the crowd in our theater, I am very much looking forward to seeing what Singer, Vaughn and their cohorts bring to us next.

(Four damns given out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: A Million Ways to Die in the West

MW2DITWSeth McFarlane wants to make Blazing Saddles so badly, you can pretty much picture him dry humping an old VHS copy through most of watching A Million Ways to Die in the West. While that’s certainly a grand and understandable aspiration (making a movie like Saddles, not the humping), Blazing Saddles was the type of lightning in a bottle genius that even Mel Brooks only really managed to capture once. Young Frankenstein, though equally brilliant, feels like a completely different type of film to me and not just because it’s parodying a different genre. None of Brooks’ other films had that kind of balls to the wall anarchy that worked as the world’s most topical and adult Looney Tune, combining genuinely affectionate parody, anachronism and surrealism in a way that almost never occurs in live action filmmaking.

McFarlane does not achieve the same heights as Brooks. He doesn’t even really reach the same levels as he did previously in Ted. It’s a mix of issues with the script, the tone and McFarlane’s performance as a leading man. Despite these issues it still manages to be funny. I am McFarlane neutral, having enjoyed a lot of the original run of Family Guy before it faced its first cancelation. Since then I’ve been less a fan of his television work, but I found Ted to be quite funny. Those who hate McFarlane will not be swayed by this movie. There will be plenty of his fans for whom he is the white Tyler Perry that will declare the film brilliant. So for those of us that remain in the middle, here’s some dissection.

Let’s start with the writing, which plays in a lot of ways like Shakiest Gun in the West but with a central relationship that plays beat for beat like a teen comedy romance. In so many ways, the movie feels like it was written by a teenager who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else. That’s really only half an insult because teenagers can at times be really damn funny and they’re often willing to do things that older folks know better than to do. The problem is that in many cases they also think they’re the first ones to do it.  McFarlane writes his character as the male Mary Sue that populates the autobiographical writings of every outsider teen boy that has ever felt put-upon. Including myself when I was in high school. He knows better than everyone else and he hates everything about his life. While this leads to a few very funny sequences involving his righteous indignation spilling out in torrents, eventually his limited charisma is not able to make up for the character having some basic issues with likability. Even this would be forgivable if his timing were better, but there are instances when it feels like his punchlines just lay there.

McFarlane’s character, a sheep farmer, is dumped by his girlfriend at the beginning of the film because he’s a “nice guy” and she immediately jumps into a relationship with Neil Patrick Harris, who is the consummate movie douchebag. Enter Charlize Theron, unknowingly the wife of the most notorious gunfighter in the west (Liam Neeson). She decides to help McFarlane try to get his girlfriend back and they fall in love. Now he has to learn confidence and face down the bullies. I’d worry about spoiling the plot if the whole thing wasn’t so paint by numbers that you can predict every single story moment that occurs from the first ten minutes. Like a lot of comedies, it’s not so much that the story is important for its plot, but for being a framework for the gags.

The tonality of Million Ways creates some issues in that it feels like many of the characters act like they’re in different films. Charlize Theron and McFarlane actually have a very easy chemistry and it’s through their relationship that we like him. Her lackadaisical acting style does surprisingly well. The character is the only one that really has much of an arc, even if its one we have seen a thousand times. Amanda Seyfried, by comparison, has nothing to do except be an object of desire and to allow Neil Patrick Harris something to play on. Even Sarah Silverman in a supporting role as a a hooker has more depth. Now Harris… wow. I think he may be phoning his performance in from another planet. His mustache-obsessed store owner feels much more stylized and cartoony than most of the loose performances of the cast.  When he hits, he managed to pull some of my biggest laughs from the film, but he is also so weird that sometimes it’s almost more uncomfortable than humorous. Then you have Liam Neeson, who gives a fantastic performance full of true menace. Which in this case is like dropping Hannibal Lector into The Office. Neeson can be funny, but here he is completely out of place because he’s simply too good at his role. Giovani Ribisi is in the film because McFarlane wants to make sure his family has food.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I laughed a pretty decent amount during the movie because while uneven it has moments where it is very, very funny. (Unfortunately, two of these moments are Family Guy-style pop culture reference cameos, one of which was ruined in the trailer, but I refuse to also do so for anyone that hasn’t seen it.) Like Ted, there are moments when a sweetness manages to break through the rampant gross-out gags involving sheep sex organs. His animation experience also helps some of the physical moments, especially when we see some of the title’s Million Ways that people can perish in the Arizona 1882 setting.

It simply seems to be one of those cases where the problems stand out more than the positives upon reflection, even though I overall liked the film and would recommend it to his fans and those that really enjoy R-rated comedy. It pulls no punches and, like Neighbors, goes right after that particular niche, though I think it won’t have as wide an appeal as that one. Sometimes mixed reviews are the hardest to write. I think this is one of those times. I recommend it, but tentatively.

(Three damns given out of five)

Filmographies: Hayao Miyazaki Part 1

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We’re back with a new director. This time we dive into our first animation director, with someone that is a master if not arguably THE master, Hayao Miyazaki. We’re joined by great guy and Miyazaki fan Paul Montgomery as we dive into this magical world. First we discuss “The Castle of Cagliostro” which was Miyazaki’s first film and a film that was based on a previously existing character. We move into a debate of “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” which some loved, some did not. And finish things off with “Castle in the sky.”

Let us know what you think of the films of Miyazaki by either facebook or twitter, like us on facebook and enjoy!

Better Living Through Filmography Episode 1.2: Double Indemnity

DoubleIndemnityBLTF In Better Living Through Filmography, co-host Kent views classic films for the first time and discusses them through a lens of movies, pop culture and life. Episodes of the first season post every other Wednesday.

In episode two, he watches Billy Wilder’s film noir Double Indemnity and takes a look at its place within the style’s pantheon and what makes it great.

Music:
Laurie Johnson– Happy-Go-Lively
Woolf Phillips and his Orchestra– Cocktails in Bermuda

PLP – Pod Shots – The Amazing Spider-Man 2

imageIn this episode, I’m joined by Plain Label Podcast co-host Rachel Szelag and the host of Cameron Watches Movies and Filmographies, Mr. Cameron Rice! We begin our discussion of this divisive film with our general thoughts before getting into some specific likes and some of our problems with the film. The inevitable comparisons between Sam Raimi’s version and Marc Webb is brought to life as well as a heated discussion as to which is the better or more believable Peter Parker/Spider-Man. The chemistry between Gwen and Peter is mentioned before we get into the villains of the piece and what begins to unravel the film a bit. Be warned, we get into some heavy spoilers and discuss whether it’s necessary to be a fan of the comics to enjoy the film or if that makes it more difficult. Again, it’s a heated, alcohol infused episode, one not to miss, Check it out!

Music:
Hans Zimmer feat. Pharrell Williams – My Enemy

Facebook:
Eric Williams, Rachel Szelag, Cameron Rice, Plain Label Podcast

Twitter:
@EricWilliams79, @LadySzelag @Jurassicalien @PlainLabelPod

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Congrats Jared!

Hey Cine-rama fans, Christian Kocinski here the taller half of the Cine-rama duo.  I wanted to take a second to tell all of you that your favorite co-host Jared Schmitt got married this past weekend to Kari Demien.  You may remember Kari from our Iron Man 3 episode.

I’m sure we’ll be back with some new episodes soon, but in the mean time… send your love to Jared and Kari.

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Godzilla

Godzilla

“Oh, no! There goes Tokyo! Go go Godzilla!”

I am a fan of the big-G, and I’m not speaking in a Judeo-Christian sense in this instance. Godzilla (or “Gojira” if you insist on being a pretentious douche) is one of the biggest movie stars in the world, metaphorically if not literally. Starting with the breakthrough hit in 1954 and it’s subsequent Raymond Burr-ized edit becoming a sensation in America a couple of years later, he has stomped his way into our hearts. He has been a monster, a nuclear metaphor, a savior, a Japanese symbol, a googly-eyed muppet and finally, a monster again. This marks the fourth time that the Godzilla films have been jump started, though the two in Japan both began their continuity anew as direct sequels of the first and best film, proving that no matter how goofy America has gotten with sequels, reboots or any other entertainment buzzword being thrown around lately, we still lag behind the land of the rising sun.

With the exception of the 1998 American crapfest which was so bad that it has been rumored to cause syphilis from casual contact, he’s up to now been portrayed by a man in a suit which, let’s be honest, is as it should be. The excellent trilogy of Gamera films which saw release in the 90s proved that if a suit is well made and used in conjunction with modern effects technology, it is just as effective as CGI ejaculated on the screen by a bunch of Hollywood technowizards. Unfortunately, the new Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards (who until recently I was confusing with Gareth Evans of The Raid fame) by fiat became a computer generated extravaganza. We’ll try to forgive this indiscretion, however. After all, Revolutionary and Warner Bros., the studios behind the film, are the same folks that put out Pacific Rim, a similarly themed giant monster slugfest which ended up being one of my favorite films of last year.

So here’s the real rub that most fans will acknowledge; of all the Godzilla movies, only the first one is really more than just a fun flick where you sit through the human stuff to get to the sweet monster fights. The original is a true horror film. It was one of the first to do the anti-nuke song and dance, but it hit on a deeper metaphorical level due specifically to what the Japanese had experienced in the second World War. Otherwise it would be just another of the anti-science “sci-fi” flicks that have told us how everything from atomic research to cloning to robots are going to kill us and we should seek entropy as a species lest we destroy ourselves by playing God. These films are often fun, but also pretty stupid. With the trailers, it seemed the current Godzilla was trying very hard to evoke the same kind of response as the original by being “about something.” But does it say anything new? Is there anything besides the sound of credit cards swiping at the box office and the excuse of having new technology at our disposal to warrant yet another American-centric remake of one of the best-regarded horror films of all time?

The answer to these questions are “not really.” Is that a death knell to it? No. It still has it’s moments that should satisfy a lot of fans. It’s far from a bad film. What the dirty little secret is, which we didn’t get a hint of until the last trailer, is that this film has much, much more in common with the Godzilla sequels (and even the cartoon) than the ’54 original. Heck, it actually feels a lot more like the aforementioned Gamera trilogy than the original Godzilla. It also feels ready made to spawn a dozen more films as a franchise, though it is not nearly as obnoxious about this as The Amazing Spider-Man 2. I don’t blame the filmmaker for the misdirection in the advertisements. I put that squarely on the marketing arm which often acts under its own discretion. And the only reason I really am disappointed in the blatant set-up is that I am suffering from mythmaker fatigue. I know there have already been 30 Godzilla movies. What’s a few more?

I’ve watched a lot of Godzilla movies, so I can recognize that this one fits the pattern of at least a dozen of them. We are given glimpses of monsters while following some boring humans around, wondering when we’ll get the good stuff. In this case, the boring human is Aaron Johnson’s Lt. Ford Brody, a soldier living in San Francisco who is trained in bomb deactivation and whose family was destroyed by a nuclear incident fifteen years before in Japan. Johnson has proven he can be an interesting actor (even if he was upstaged by Hitgirl in the KickAss movies) but in this case he actually makes a bombtech feel dull somehow. For one thing, the movie is played mostly as seriously as possible. There are some funny in-jokes that will bring about a titter in fans who are paying attention, but most of the characters are played so straight that they don’t even have personality and there isn’t enough tension to offset the problem. The two exceptions to this are Bryan Cranston as Ford’s father and the great Ken Watanabe as Dr. Serizawa (which you may remember is the name of the character that destroyed Godzilla in the original film.)

Cranston, despite being the lynchpin of the ad campaign, is only featured in a small portion of the running time and that is a terrible shame. His character is the most engaging of everyone in the movie and if he’d been the focus, perhaps this thing could have gone from “pretty good” to “great.” He has a real arc, a real drive and motivation and he is able to flesh things out and make his character three dimensional. He is a shell of a man and there is a great scene in which we see an outward representation of how his life has rotted away since the fateful day he lost so much of what meant something to him. Watanabe, meanwhile, starts the film looking harried and lost. He’s been at the front lines, researching these types of creatures for a very long time and he seems to be genuinely shaken and without hope over what’s going on. As the story progresses, we see him slowly develop a new tone, built on what he seems to think is a new understanding of the world.

The “money shots” of the film are surprisingly few. There are many instances when we think we’re about to see something great only to have it pulled away like a cookie being taken from a kid who has been caught trying to raid the jar. Though I’ll admit that the destruction of the world’s most hippie-fueled anti-atomic city due to nuclear-driven monsters is deliciously satisfying. The thing is, we’ve seen so much of this sort of thing in the last couple of years that it is a bit numbing, no matter how much one may enjoy it. There’s nothing particularly new in Godzilla and it doesn’t make up for that in volume. I’d go so far as to say that Pacific Rim and Man of Steel both did wide-spread destruction better and gave you more of it. As for Godzilla himself, he works. They got the scale down, at least. I honestly wasn’t overly impressed by the effect though. I couldn’t tell you exactly what it is that seemed off to me aside from his movements striking me as more cartoony than suit-zilla does, which ironically feels more at odds with the seriousness of the film.

All in all, I’m sure this sounds like I am complaining. And I suppose I am. I just found the film somewhat underwhelming. But the thing is, it still has the same charm that the old films had going for them, despite what seems like a sense of self-importance missing from the monster smackdowns that used to pop up on a regular basis from Toho. If nothing else, it is miles ahead of the previous American version. And we do finally get a knock-down drag out between the big lizard and something that looks like the Cloverfield monster (reasserting his dominance, I guess.) There are a couple of moments that did make my eyes bulge a bit in how awesome they were. Sometimes that’s all you can ask for. Is this a great film? I say no. But it is a competent film that delivers the goods. And I do plan on seeing it again, this time in a better theater with the sound cranked to infinity so see if I don’t end up more pleased with it now that I know what to expect.

(Three and a half damns given out of five)

*author’s note: The film was viewed in its 2-D format.

Sci Fi Noise: Godzilla Parking Lot Review

Host Derek Coward gives his first impressions after seeing the newest Godzilla movie.

PLP – Episode 60 – Murder Mysteries Part 1

imageIn this episode we begin our new theme which is going to be a bit more fun than the previous one. We begin looking at Murder Mysteries with a discussion on the films: Murder on the Orient Express and Tell No One. We begin with a look at the classic Agatha Christie story directed by Sidney Lumet and starring a whole host of tremendous actors. We dig into our main character, how the premise is something that thrills us both as writers and what we thought of the end which was a little bit of a surprise to one of us. We then move into 2006 with a discussion on the French film Tell No One. We discuss our main character Alexander or as we call him, French Dustin Hoffman. We run through the plot in an attempt to make sense of it all as this one has quite a few twists and turns but is definitely a high quality film. It’s a fun discussion as we’re back to talking about some films that we actually enjoyed. Join us won’t you?

Music:
U2 – With or Without You

Facebook:
Eric Williams, Rachel Szelag, Plain Label Podcast

Twitter:
@EricWilliams79, @LadySzelag, @PlainLabelPod

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