Godzilla (1998)

Director: Roland Emmerich

Release Date: May 20th, 1998 (US); July 17th, 1998 (UK)

Genre: Action; Science-fiction; Thriller

Starring: Matthew Broderick, Maria Pitillo, Jean Reno, Hank Azaria

Remakes of classic films are often shunned before the celluloid film reel is placed in the projector (or, more likely these days, before the digital on-switch is pressed). When it was announced that a reboot of the Evil Dead franchise was in the works, fans of the scintillating original were probably more unappreciative than they were excited — although Sam Raimi’s involvement most likely eased the pain for many. Ensuring their favourite film’s legacy is not put at risk is at the forefront of a lot of cinema lovers minds, and so it should be. In return, this amps up the pressure placed upon the shoulders of directors who are at the helm of remakes, particularly in the eyes of the fans.

When May of 2014 comes along and Gareth Edwards’ recreation of Godzilla hits cinema screens across the globe, he will need not worry too much about living up to the expectations set by his predecessor. Unfortunately, Roland Emmerich’s 1998 version of Godzilla misses the mark on just about every level.

Godzilla follows Niko Tatopoulos, a scientist whose work in Russia is interrupted when he is recruited by the American government to analyse the origins of a giant mutated lizard, and help find a way to stop it from wreaking havoc in New York. That is it — the whole film is essentially Godzilla clumsily stomping its way through the streets of Manhattan. There is absolutely no time at all set aside for any dramatic tension to build (the monster appears on land not long after the film begins) and this means the majority of the film is very anticlimactic. For example, when historic buildings are being decimated later on in proceedings, there is no element of shock or outrage because dozens of such buildings have already been left lying in ruin over an hour beforehand. This is an enormous problem that the film never manages to overcome, and as a result Godzilla is ultimately a tedious, repetitive watch throughout.

Of course, Godzilla‘s desperate need for a slither of drama is not the only nuance missing and in dire demand — there is also the need for a semblance of plot (that is, other than a giant monster swinging its tail into bricks and metal for almost two and a half hours). The audience is told early on that the origins of the monster Godzilla is connected with radioactive, nuclear testing in French Polynesia, where an iguana nest is exposed. This opens up a multitude of opportunities for the filmmakers to install social or political issues into the film, and use the abnormal, human creation of Godzilla as a metaphor for humanity’s (and, in particular, the western world’s) disregard for the consequences of their power struggles. Adding elements such as this to the film would invigorate it, generating greater depth and giving the audience something to think about during the events. Instead, the viewer is subject to a messy, uncoordinated plot, where the ‘bad guy’ (Godzilla) does not really evoke that sense of fear or tyranny that a monster should, and the ‘good guy’ (Matthew Broderick) spends the entire time running aimlessly around New York not doing anything in particular.

The lack of continuity throughout the film is a cause for concern as characters end up being perceived in ways they are not meant to be. There is a scene where reporter and former love interest of Tatopoulos, Audrey Timmonds (played by Maria Pitillo), meets Tatopoulos for the first time since they split up many years before. After holding Tatopoulos in a bad light for him still feeling angry towards her after she walked out on him all those years prior, Timmonds decides to steal Tatopoulos’ secret tapes and (lo-and-behold) they somehow end up on the national news. This not only makes Timmonds, a character who the audience are supposed to be rooting for, look dastardly, but it also shows the main protagonist and ‘hero’, Tatopoulos, as nothing more than a gullible fool. In terms of the acting in the film, it relents from being satisfactory and therefore is in keeping with the rest of the offering. Matthew Broderick is a shell of the charismatic, funny and reliable lead he was in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The humour is also off-key and bland, so much so that the normally on-point comedic timing of Hank Azaria cannot aid goings-on.

Harking back to the lack of sense or continuity involved in Godzilla, at one point during the outing the giant lizard sinks a navy submarine before the screen cuts back to a navy general who is informed by one of his subordinates that the submarine has been destroyed. This particular scene is placed in the film in order to encourage the audience to feel great sympathy towards the now deceased officers who were on board the ship. However, rather than successfully creating a sombre atmosphere, it only highlights that the monster Godzilla has already spent an hour rampaging through streets filled with people, yet there has been no mention of the obvious and unfortunate consequences of this.  Perhaps the seemingly customary deaths of average civilians does not need addressing, and this would almost certainly be the case in any other disaster film. Unfortunately, Godzilla is lacking so much in any form of substance that when conventional features such as civilian deaths occur and are not highlighted, it is at least something for the — probably now bored — viewer to focus on. Also, apparently this gigantic, bellowing monster can successfully sneak underground and even hide in buildings. Who knew? James Bond could learn a thing or two about stealth from Godzilla.

A big-budget re-imagining of the classic 1954 Japanese monster film, Roland Emmerich’s take on Godzilla is one which fails to deliver in almost every department. From a non-existent story to nonsensical plot points to unconvincing acting, the film is ultimately devoid of that sense of dread and imminent danger which every successful, encapsulating monster film should boast.

Next time, can we keep Madison Square Garden and just take our chances?

CBF’s Genre Toppers: Comedy

After spending most of the day trying to fix my laptop (and succeeding, evidently) I think some laughs are in order. Therefore, it is time for five funny comedies! Everybody loves to laugh and there are not many better places to go than the cinema to be prompted in that direction. I have been a fan of comedy for as long as I can remember and the great thing about the genre is that it does not discriminate — everybody enjoys it.

Anyway, let the hilarity ensue!

Johnny English (2003)

I am okay with this.

Released in 2003 and directed by Peter Howitt, Johnny English stars the incomparable Rowan Atkinson as the title character and the only British spy left in action after an attack on MI5. English — confident, yet lacking in the intelligence department — is tasked with finding the perpetrator of the attack and recovering the stolen Crown Jewels, with assistance from the far more capable Interpol Agent Lorna Campbell (Natalie Imbruglia).

This is the one of the first comedy films that I can remember watching and laughing uncontrollably at throughout. Rowan Atkinson really is a comedic genius, with everything from his facial expressions to his timing absolutely spot on here. The film acts as a sort of parody of James Bond, and Atkinson is exceedingly good at making the audience root for a rather unintelligent, out-of-depth British spy. There are a few particularly funny scenes (the sewers), but in general the film is bursting with laughs. Natalie Imbruglia does a fairly good job at portraying English’s more sensible partner, although the apparent romance between the two is a little far-fetched (I guess that is comedy though, right?). John Malkovich hits just about all the right notes as the villain of the piece with his dodgy French accent (it only adds to the humour) and sublime hair.

Johnny English does not attempt to take itself too seriously and this works in its favour as the film delivers barrels of laughs and entertainment.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

“Come on! Bin bags make great clothes, we could sell millions of these!”

The first film to be nominated in all four acting categories at the Academy Awards since 1981, David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook stars Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper as recently widowed sex addict Tiffany Maxwell and bipolar Pat Solitano, respectively. After being released from a psychiatric ward, Pat’s primary aim is to reconcile with his ex-wife who wants nothing to do with him. Meanwhile, having just lost her husband Tiffany has her focus on an upcoming dance competition. After the two meet, they agree to help each other out with Tiffany ensuring Pat’s letters reach his ex-wife, as long as he partners Tiffany in her dance competition.

Well that was a long synopsis. The first thing to say here is Jennifer Lawrence is the greatest living being and Bradley Cooper have tremendous chemistry which more or less makes this film as good (and funny) as it is. They work so well together, in fact, that they are working together on another two future films, one of which David O. Russell is back directing. Lawrence is absolutely on fire at the moment (no pun intended) and can do wrong, and Cooper has put in a steady stream of really great performances in recent films such as, The Place Beyond the Pines and Limitless. It is no surprise, therefore, that the foundation of all things good about Silver Linings Playbook is in the dynamic between the duo. Combine that with a witty, energetic and sensitive script, along with magnificent supporting actors like Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver and you have a very funny but also very moving film.

Much has been said about this film’s careful depiction of mental illness and how positively it is put across on-screen, but purely in terms of comedy, Silver Linings Playbook is up there with the funniest films in recent years.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

“For the hundredth time, the camera’s this way!”

Next, we take a trip back to 1986 where Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has just graced cinemas around the world, garnering much critical acclaim. Matthew Broderick stars as Ferris Bueller, a teenager who decides to take a day off school (imagine that?) with his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck), where they go out and explore their freedom whilst simultaneously attempting to avoid the school principal in any way they can.

It took me a long time to get around to seeing this film, which is regrettable because it is one of the best feel-good comedies out there in my view. In terms of sheer laughs, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off probably is not the funniest on my list, but it certainly is the funnest. Be it the inventive ways the trio try to avoid the principal or the principal himself’s various ordeals throughout, this film grasps the ‘be positive’ attitude more than any other I have seen. Broderick, Sara and Ruck work well together in the three prominent roles, with Broderick keeping the audience on their toes as he breaks the fourth wall a number of times — this I thought was an interesting ploy used by director John Hughes and one which worked well. Jeffrey Jones is hilarious as the principal (or ‘Dean of Students’) and makes a more than adequate nemesis opposite the trio.

John Hughes has a brilliant knack for comedies and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is definitely one his more heartfelt, if not one of his funniest.

In Bruges (2008)

Directed by Martin McDonagh, In Bruges was released in cinemas back in 2008. It stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as two Irish hitmen who are relocated to Bruges, Belgium after a hit goes wrong. But what they believe to be another job turns out to be something else entirely.

“Man, you’re small.”

Since its release in 2008, In Bruges has gone on to claim cult status and is regarded as a classic by many. McDonagh’s brand of black comedy is in full force here, and both Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson deliver it with ease. The two leads are hilarious in their roles, playing off each other to great effect and both generating much empathy from the audience, particularly Farrell whose character, Ray, has played an accidental role in the murder of a child. McDonagh’s sense of direction comes through in abundance here, with each character playing an important part in the film and each scene executed with finesse. The Bruges setting is beautiful and greatly adds to the poetic nature of the script and the fairy tale aspect of the film. Although this is primarily a comedy, there are a few touching moments which take the film above and beyond the comedy genre. Ralph Fiennes and Clemence Poesy are both effective in, metaphorically, very different supporting roles — the former about order and conviction while the latter exudes freedom and new beginnings.

In his directorial debut, Martin McDonagh has created a gem in In Bruges: often hilarious and occasionally touching, this is a winner.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

O Brother, Where Art Thou? opened in cinemas in 2000 and is directed by the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan (although Ethan is uncredited). Set amid the Great Depression in 1930s America, it stars George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson as three convicts — Ulysses, Pete and Delmar, respectively — who escape capture in order to search for hidden treasure, whilst evading a lawman who is in pursuit.

“My ears are burning. Can anybody smell smoke?”

This is just fantastic. I first watched this in school (school finally comes up trumps) and have been a big fan ever since. The rural Mississippi setting creates a dusty, woody atmosphere (which is by no means a bad thing), shoving the three leads right into the heart of the hardships of the depression in 1930s America. With nothing but themselves and their brains — well, Ulysses’ brain — to keep them on the correct path, they must rely on trust and luck more than anything else. The Coen brothers, as I have mentioned in one of these blogs previously, have an exceptional eye for selecting locations to film and, more than any other film on this list, the dusty plains of rural Mississippi are unequivocally suited to the mood and script of O Brother, Where Art Thou? In terms of the script, it is witty, wacky and insightful and is delivered with nothing but enthusiasm by Clooney, Turturro and Nelson. Of course, I cannot forget about John Goodman, who is very funny playing the brash, obnoxious Bible salesman “Big Dan” Teague. There are plenty of laughs woven throughout the film and they all hit the mark without going overboard — this film is out there at times, but not too far out there. Finally, the soundtrack is rich and hugely satisfying, giving the film a nice twang.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is another corker from the Coen brothers, full of quips and ambition. It is a triumph in filmmaking in my opinion.

 

Here are a few honourable mentions, films that I really like but not quite as much as the aforementioned five:

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) — The original comedy road trip film, Planes, Train and Automobiles sees Steve Martin and John Candy unwittingly team up in order to find a way home for Thanksgiving, but not without a few mishaps on the way.

American Pie (1999) — The raucous teen comedy which paved the way for more like it, the original American Pie is by far the funniest and probably the least offensive. You do not need to be offensive to be funny, right?

Bruce Almighty (2003) — Jim Carrey is in full comedic flow (facial expressions and all) in Bruce Almighty as he portrays an unlucky guy who is given God’s job for a week. Chaos, commence.

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004) — Alongside Johnny English, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story is one of my long-standing favourite comedy films, and it is still as funny now as it was back in 2004. Yes, it is still dodging those wrenches.

The Hangover (2009) — Hopefully Kermode won’t see this.

Which films make you laugh the most?