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THE INHERENT POWER OF GENRE - PT. 5:
GODZILLA - STILL THE KING (pg. 2)


REVIEWS:

* The Avengers (5/6/12)  * MEMORIAL DAY 2012 – Red Tails, Memphis Belle, Flyboys, The Blue Max (5/28/12) 
* Prometheus (6/11/12)   * The Amazing Spider-Man (7/9/12)   * 42 (4/17/13)   * Iron Man 3 (5/9/13)  
* Godzilla – 2014 (5/18/14)   * Jurassic World (6/21/15)   * Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2/18/16)
* Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice (6/21/16)   * Captain America: Civil War (5/13/16)

* Kong: Skull Island (3/12/17)



VIEWS ON FILM BY CEJ -
The GRINDHOUSE: Reviews





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No Spoilers Review:

"GODZILLA" (2014) TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING

by CEJ
(posted 5/19/14)

GODZILLA (2014)
(Legendary / Warner Bros.)
GullCottage rating (***** on a scale of 1 - 5)

Dir. by - Gareth Edwards
Screenplay by - Max Borenstein
(David Goyer - uncredited /
Frank Darabont - uncredited)
Based On the Character "Godzilla" created and owned by - Toho Co. Ltd.
Prod. by - Thomas Tull, Josh Jashni,
Mary Parent, Brian Rogers
Exec. Prods. - Patricia Whitcher, Alex Garcia, Yashimitsu Banno, Kenji Okuhira
Dir. Of Photography  - Seamus McGarvey ASC, BSC
Edited by - Bob Ducsay
Production Design by - Owen Paterson
Costume Design by - Sharen Davis
Music - Alexandre Desplat
Running Time: 123 mins.


CAST:
Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ford Brody), Ken Watanabe (Dr. Ishiro Serizawa), Bryan Cranson (Joe Brody), Elizabeth Olson (Elle Brody), Juliette Binoche (Sandra Brody), David Strathairn (Admiral William Stenz), Sally Hawkins (Vivienne Graham, Richard T. Jones (Capt. Russell Hampton), Victor Rasuk (Sgt. Tre Morales), Carson Bolde (Sam Brody), CJ Adams (Young Ford), Patrick Sabongui (Lt. Comm. Marcus Waltz)


     The Godzilla character in the hands of Americans has had a long and spotted history.  Toho Studios’ original 1954 GOJIRA (renamed GODZILLA for western audiences) was redubbed into English, had a number of it’s scenes excised, and others inserted featuring future IRONSIDE actor William Conrad as an American journalist in Japan making jangled commentary (war correspondent-like) while the titular creature makes landfall, wrecks havoc and becomes the literal incarnation of Dr. Oppenheimer's nuclear nightmare prophecy (actually borrowed from ancient Hindu text) "I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds". 


     30 years later THE RETURN OF GODZILLA - renamed "GODZILLA: 1985" (Hmmm, is there a pattern or something goin' on here?), would do the same, ... to the point of even bringing back Conrad for more of those America-friendly insert scenes.  And, of course, INDEPENDENCE DAY / 2012 director Roland Emmerich’s 1998 "Zilla" reboot, while a financial success, was deemed by many to be a shameful bastardization of everyone’s favorite giant radiation-breathing lizard, who over the years had undergone transformation from Hiroshima / Nagasaki-like menace (those analogies intentionally peppered throughout the early films) to anti-hero guardian / protector of the earth.



     When early buzz began building about a new film from the production gang at Legendary Pictures (the team who over the years gave us 300, BATMAN BEGINS, INCEPTION and more); when footage was shown at last year’s San Diego ComicCon, and (especially) when the first teaser trailer hit depicting a HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) skydiving military force descending onto a monster ravaged San Francisco, the Internet went as ballistic as any sidewinder missile which had exploded off the scaly spiked back of the “King of the Monsters” during his near 60 year reign as one of the most popular, iconic and lucrative filmic icons in all of cinema history. 


     Interestingly however, we weren’t all that impressed by these teasers as the rest of the world seemed to be.  We’d see the new GODZILLA to be sure.  How could we not!  The King was every bit an indelible part of our childhood as the all-day TV Creature Feature marathons featuring his Royal Highness and the (eventually destroyed by much loving play) models and toys based upon them.  But we did have reservations …

 
     … All of which turned out to be wholly unfounded.  Wow!!! This new GODZILLA rocks!


     123 minutes of one narrative surprise after another -  the first one being how good Elizabeth Olson looks with a little meat on her bones, Gareth Edwards’ new reboot manages the three-pronged near impossible feat last accomplished by Rupert Wyatt’s 2011 RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES: being an intelligent reboot which doesn’t insult it’s audience, reminding the audience of what it loved about the original series, helping said audience erase the memory of it’s immediate predecessor reboot (in the case of APES, Tim Burton’s misguided 2001 “re-imagining”), and lastly and most importantly giving that audience it’s “blast you outta the back of your high-backed seat” money’s worth - a tougher and tougher task when expectations continue to rise proportionately with those ever ascending IMAX 3D ticket prices.  

     Oh, and one thing … PLEASE!!! DO YOURSELF A FAVOR AND DON’T READ ANY SPOILER REVIEWS TILL AFTER YOU’VE SEEN THIS FILM.  EVEN USE DISCRETION WHEN DOING A WIKIPEDIA OR GOOGLE SEARCH … OR EVEN READING VIEWER COMMENTS ON PAGES SUCH AS MOVIEFONE AS THEY WILL MOST CERTAINLY RUIN ONE OR TWO GREAT SURPRISE REVEALS! 



       That said, on to our (we assure you) NO SPOILER review, ... which in order to do we must concentrate on the film’s technical achievements rather than narrative ones, as it’s niftily constructed plot is of the nice “layer of the onion” reveal structure rather than the standard “search and destroy” line of so many summer tentpole franchises of late.   

     Apart from Elizabeth Olson’s healthy look (okay, no more on that, we promise!), Bryan Cranston’s performance left us rather moved.  In the trailers (to us at least) he came off as histrionic, crazed and overacting.  But we realize now it was a nice mislead “red herring” of sorts.  One of the most important things to remember when doing a reboot of a beloved fun franchise is not make it soooo serious and damned dark as to pummel the fun right out of it.  Some (though not us) feel Marc Webb’s two most recent SPIDER-MAN films were guilty of this.  And we certainly disagree with those who always harped on how Tim Story’s two FANTASTIC FOUR entries should have been more "dark and intense".  No.  Batman was always a dark and brooding character.  The original Fantastic Four comics, with their dysfunctional family slant, were always of a lighter vein, and very enjoyable because of it. 


     Director Edwards has stated that he wanted Cranston not based on his most obviously well known character - that of cancer diagnosed high school chemistry teacher turned methamphetamine maker William White in BREAKING BAD, but rather because of the actor’s earlier portrayal of Hal, the head of the dysfunctional family on TV’s earlier MALCOM IN THE MIDDLE.  Cranston, along with AMELIE actress Juliette Binoche (who portrays his wife in the new film) both took the roles based on the depth of the emotional reality of their characters evident in the script.  NOT the kind of thing you usually expect to hear for a summer tentpole actioner, and certainly not for a GODZILLA film.  But Edwards, his actors and screenwriters find the perfect balancing act of making their characters realistic enough that we honestly care for them.  And by extension this makes the dire circumstances they later encounter (when the genre / action stuff kicks in) that much more intense and involving. 

     There’s always lots of industry press junket talk during the release of big film about how an up and coming director, plucked from the salt mines of independent cinema after a festival hit, was chosen to helm the latest super epic because the studio wanted their “unique vision” brought to bear. But how often soon into production it becomes all to evident they were chosen a) because they’re relatively inexpensive to hire and don’t necessarily come with a contracted team of co-creators (composer, writer, cinematographer, etc.), and b) because of the size of the project, they must rely on the studio and therefore are more readily controlled than an established star director such a Robert Zemeckis or Roland Emmerich who want to do things “their way”, and who (damned those pesky visualist) will demand final cut on the finished product.  One can’t come away from director Scott Derrickson (THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE)’s “not-bad-but-still-ultimately-disappointing” 2008 remake of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL without feeling this kind of scenario was most likely in flux. 




     And to tell you the truth we really don’t know if GODZILLA’s “unique narrative and character stamp” are the results of director Edwards being granted carte blanche, or because those among his screenwriter staff are actually “stars” in their own right powerful enough to do things “their way”.  Perhaps it’s a bit of both.  For while (because of Writers Guild stipulations) GODZILLA is officially credited to Max Borenstein (the festival fave SWORDSWALLOWERS AND THIN MEN) and David Callaham (THE EXPENDABLES), subsequent script rewrites were handled by writer / directors David Goyer (DARK CITY, the DARK KNIGHT trilogy, TV’s DA VINCI’S DEMONS) and Frank Darabont (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, THE GREEN MILE, TV’s THE WALKING DEAD).  And, if one is familiar with Goyer and Darabont’s brand of characterization, their contributions here are quite obvious.

 
 

 

 


     One of Goyer’s maxims is, and has always been, that (with a comic book hero for example) a character HAS to be fascinating BEFORE he / she dons their cape.  And his BATMAN BEGINS is a sterling example of this.  One is so caught up in the saga of Bruce Wayne traversing the world in order to find the meaning of his soul, we almost forget he will eventually become Batman.  And both Cranston and Binoche have stated it was Darabont’s final rewrites - putting more emphasis on the family relationships between Cranston and his son - nicely portrayed by ANGUS and KICK-ASS actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and on Johnson and his wife - portrayed by the aforementioned Olson.  It was also Darabont’s narrative conception to cleverly alter certain details concerning Godzilla’s 1954 origins - this first hint of this in the film’s stylishly clever Main Title sequence montage, designed with the names of the film’s production personnel as the only text remaining on “censored” classified government documents.



     Oh, and one more thing.  This reviewer had a sit down conservation with a couple of friends the other day, friends who's outlook on film I greatly admire and respect.  And one of them despised this film.  Their reason?  They felt the original 1954 Toho GODZILLA was a dark and serious tone poem of a movie which effectively and cleverly mirrored the inner trauma of the age.  And guess what? - they're 100% correct.  I however, grew up watching all-day-Saturday Godzilla TV marathons which spanned the original 1954 film all the way through to DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968).  I was also a fan of lighter "kaiju"-inspired TV fare such as ULTRAMAN, THE SPACE GIANTS and even the animated JOHNNY SOCKO AND HIS FLYING ROBOT.  So my childhood view / experience of the Godzilla / kaiju-film canon ran the gamut from serious sci-fi treatise on nuclear trauma all the way through to none-too-serious city-destroying flat out monster actioner.  This new GODZILLA manages to (in our opinion) cleverly touch upon ALL of those things. 


    Too dour and brooding and a film such as this can become self-serious and (far worse) not a lot of fun - a criticism which greeted Zack Snyder's MAN OF STEEL this same time last year.  But go too far in the other direction, and create something which becomes nothing but a character-less excuse for big budget CGI widescreen wanton destruction, then go on and claim it's all "childlike fun", and the action eventually becomes irritating "background noise" - a criticism which also greeted Synder's film.  Edwards' GODZILLA finds a nice balance.  But be warned, if you're looking for a 100% remake of the original, you'll be sorely disappointed.  If however you take into consideration the entire Godzilla series, we think (like us) you'll walk out of the theater with the biggest grin you've had on your face in quite some time.




      Along with RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES the last few years have seen a number of damned well realized reboots and adaptations of old favorites (THE AVENGERS and SKYFALL anyone!).  And GODZILLA continues the movement with style, heart and more than a couple of memorably hair-raising suspense / action sequences.  If this is what we can expect from a new Godzilla franchise, then thaw that great big lizard out again and again.  We’ll pony up the IMAX 3D fee for another ride on the “King of the Monsters” thrill ride express.




  CEJ (5/19/14)
       

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play GODZILLA (2014) score - "Inside The Mines" (A. Desplat)



THE KING IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE KING:



     At the climax of the original 1954 GOJIRA (GODZILLA), scientists descend to Godzilla’s resting place at the bottom of Tokyo bay and, while the King slumbers, detonates the “Oxygen Destroyer”, presumably annihilating the beast.  But the “Oxygen Destroyer” was no match for ticket sales - with the original film generating over 152 million yen (approx. $2.5 million U.S.), over twice it’s production budget.  

     The King would rise again, to date being resurrected in 28 Toho films between 1955 - 2004, two American re-boot / remakes (including the currently in release 2014 Warner / Legendary epic from director Gareth Edwards), a 1976 Italian colorized and (sort of) modified version of the 1954 original - this one from Dario Argento special FX technician and STARCRASH director Luigi Cozzi (aka “Lewis Coates”); and even a 1985 North Korean production from South Korean director Shin Sang-ok, who was actually kidnapped by future leader Kim Jong-il and brought to North Korea specifically to make films of quality.  In the 1990s Sang-ok would, under the pseudonym “Simon Sheen”, also direct a series of popular 3 NINJAS children’s adventure sequels in the U.S. 

     But, once again, why the over half-century world wide popularity and staying power of the King? 




     To crack that chestnut one has to do a cursory look-over at how the Godzilla series and character (yes, we called him that!) have evolved over time.  Film historians and fans generally break them down into four categories: 1) the “Shōwa series” of GODZILLA films (1954–1975), 2) the “Heisei series” (1984–1995), 3) the “Millennium series” (1999–2004), and 4) the “American Films”. 


  MOTHRA (MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA) - 1964


1) SHOWA SERIES (1954–1975)

* GODZILLA (GOJIRA) - 1954
* GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN - 1955
* KING KONG VS. GODZILLA - 1962
* MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA - 1964
* GHIDRAH - THE THREE HEADED MONSTER - 1964
* MONSTER ZERO (GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO) - 1965
* GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER - 1966
* SON OF GODZILLA - 1967
* DESTROY ALL MONSTERS - 1968
* ALL MONSTERS ATTACK (GODZILLA’S REVENGE) - 1969
* GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER - 1971
* GODZILLA ON MONSTER ISLAND (VS. GIGAN) - 1972
* GODZILLA VS. MEGALON - 1973
* GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA - 1974
* TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA - 1975


     So named in reference to those films produced during the reign of Shōwa Emperor Hirohito (1926 - 1989), this is (of course) the classic original Toho franchise on which an entire generation (our's in particular) first became enamored during Saturday afternoons in front of the tube - devouring shows such as (and every city had their version) “Creature Double Feature” and “Science Fiction Theater”.

     Part of Godzilla’s lasting appeal is that he, over time in this first dispensation of films - which became increasingly popular with children, went from “terrifying villain / nightmarish threat” to “good guy / protector / father figure”.  In the first three films Godzilla is a straight-up dangerous destructive and scarily antagonistic killing machine wrecking Hiroshima-like havoc upon the populace.  For example - in the immediate sequel GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN “another” Godzilla - also presumed to have been created by nuclear testing (“another” as the first in the original film was supposedly killed at the bottom of Tokyo Bay), does battle with the equally villainous fire-breathing dragon creature, Anguirus, who was also created by the nuclear age; the two of them leveling contemporary Osaka to ruins during their climactic part "kabuki" / part sumo-inspired super slam. 

  GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1955)


     The same for KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (one of the most popular and lucrative of the entire franchise) wherein Godzilla returns and continues his destructive anti-social proclivities until a group of scientists strike upon the original notion of helicopter dumbo-dropping King Kong (earlier brought to civilization by a greedy corporate magnate) atop the King in order to destroy him in an epic FX-heavy fisticuff.  This entry is considered by many to be the penultimate "tokusatsu" film.




     In 1964 however, Godzilla would become the “fight fire with fire” weapon brought to bear when earth is threatened by the gigantic three-headed flying extraterrestrial being Ghidrah.  At this point the King (preceding by many years THE FRENCH CONNECTION’s Popeye Doyle, Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt, Gordon Park’s SHAFT, and Martin Scorcese’s Travis Bickle ) would become one of filmdom’s first bonafied “anti-heroes” - the bad guy who “brought it to badder guys with equal fervor” but for the greater good.  Think of Godzilla as the 1950s - 60s version of the X-MEN’s Wolverine, and you get the idea.


     Interestingly, as the film’s at this time, in order to appeal to an increasingly younger worldwide audience, were
being consciously “watered down” by their creators in their depictions of on-screen violence and horror, Godzilla’s transition from threat to ally would subconsciously come to mirror the thawing of relations between the United States and Japan over this same time period. 

     Just as, in the eyes of many, the U.S. had gone from a destructive force leveling entire cities to a trusted ally and even protector, so would Godzilla.  So much so that in later films like ALL MONSTERS ATTACK (1969) - a sequel of sorts to the previous year's fan favorite DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, Godzilla would become a paternal and defending image / icon with the introduction of  his very own son - “Minilla”.  
 


  GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA 2 (1993)


2) HEISEI SERIES (1984–1995)

* RETURN OF GODZILLA - 1984 (released in the U.S.
  as GODZILLA 1985 - 1985)
* GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE - 1989
* GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH - 1991
* GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA - 1992
* GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA II - 1993
* GODZILLA VS. SPACEGODZILLA - 1994
* GODZILLA VS. DESTROYAH - 1995

     In the same manner in which Godzilla had proven himself one of moviedom’s first “anti-heroes”, so would, long before the critical and box office popularity of Christopher Nolan’s BATMAN BEGINS (2005), Sam Mendes’ SKYFALL (2012) or Zack Snyder’s MAN OF STEEL (2013), Toho prove itself as one of the first studios to successfully implement the concept of the cinematic “reboot”.  

     In the mid 80s, as a hard-edged cynicism engulfed media in the form of popular entertainment like RAMBO, SUDDEN IMPACT, and the resurgent interest in darker comic book characters such as THE PUNISHER and WATCHMEN, so would Godzilla return to his darker origins with GODZILLA 1985 (aka - RETURN OF GODZILLA). 



    

     Proceeding with the narrative conceit that NONE of the GODZILLA follow ups ever existed, GODZILLA 1985 - released to coincide with the character’s 30th Anniversary, would be a direct modern day sequel to the original 1954 film, and it would present the King once again as a dark and dangerous antagonist who mirrored contemporary world anxieties.  In this case a “new” Godzilla returns to destroy a Soviet submarine.  And, during this pre-Glasnost era, a group of Japanese scientists appear to affix responsibility to the new creature all the while the Soviets and Americans creep closer to a breakdown in civilities (Russia blaming America for the vessel’s destruction) which could lead to World War III. 

     As with the original 1954 film, there would be an American version augmented with new footage.  And this new footage would (to the delight of fans around the world) include the return of Raymond Burr as American journalist Steve Martin.  And yes!, that’s the character’s real name in the film!

     Over the next decade the new series of films would remain faithful to the darker tone, and would also attempt to provide somewhat scientifically logical “filler material” to explain the creation of Godzilla and the other creatures now inhabiting this cinematic universe.  

  GODZILLA: FINAL WARS (2004)


3) MILLENNIUM SERIES (1999–2004)

* GODZILLA 2000 - 1999
* GODZILLA VS. MEGAGUIRUS - 2000
* GODZILLA, MOTHRA AND KING
   GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS
   ALL OUT ATTACK - 2001
* GODZILLA AGAINST
   MECHAGODZILLA - 2002
* GODZILLA: TOKYO S.O.S - 2003
* GODZILLA: FINAL WARS - 2004

     While enjoyable, many concur the “Millennium Series” is perhaps the least interesting run of films within the entire GODZILLA franchise.   

     Once again rebooting it’s narrative arc into “direct sequel to the original 1954 film” mode, the new series of films (kicking off with GODZILLA 2000), would begin with contemporary Godzilla battling invaders from other worlds, then end up in GODZILLA: FINAL WARS with a future-set story.  This time around, mutant soldiers and a recently unfrozen-from-the-ice Godzilla battle not only aliens, but a legion of giant monsters loosed upon our world by them as an advanced invasion force.  With this series the darker Godzilla character would once again over time evolve (some would insist he “de-evolved”) into “anti-hero” status.

                                                                                        
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