Thursday, May 29, 2014

Godzilla, Still King Of The Monsters

Gojirah returns in a fitting reboot of the world’s most notorious Atomic fire Breathing Lizard. 


ARTH VADER (AV): In 1953 (1948?) TOHO Japan released the first in what would be a 60+ year love affair the world would have of downright campy films about a giant 300-foot bi-pedal lizard who emerges from the ocean to lay waste to mankind as punishment for all the nuclear testing performed in the Pacific. He also spews radioactive fire like a 19 year-old who swears she can down half a bottle of Taquilla in one sitting. Godzilla captured the imagination of us all and quickly went from destroyer of worlds to savior of mankind. We soon had such a fondness for the big guy, the storyline quickly evolved into tale sod Godzilla saving us from such horrible nightmares as Rodan, King Ghidra and (my favorite) the smog monster. They even had King Kong go a few rounds with Godsy. So it comes as no surprise that Godzilla is not really a terror but an avenging knight who rises from the sea when giant misters threaten us all. Pontificator, you are a giant in your own right, how say you? 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): This film is definitely a throwback and nod to the original Godzilla films of our youth Vader. It’s everything we saw as children, but with updated… well, everything! They even set the film in Japan which absolutely had to be done, in my opinion, since doing the film right means going back to his roots and staying true to the character. This is nothing less that an icon getting his due…finally.


AV: When I heard Godzilla was coming out, I thought to myself “Yes! Finally we’ll get an American version done well!” When I go see a Godzilla movie, I want monsters, disaster porn by the zip codes and lots of fire-breathing action. You know what I don’t want to see in a Godzilla flick? A love story. Aaron Taylor Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen spend so much time searching for each other and their young son that there were times I was questioning what film I was watching. Even the uber-talented Bryan Cranston couldn’t make this story matter. So stop it. I want to watch some ugly monsters get stomped by the Big G and I want to watch some tanks get crushed and I don’t want know how Nurse Olsen’s patients are doing. 

TP: Well…uh, ok Vader. Let me say that the supporting cast was very good (I say supporting because Godzilla is obviously the star). I was particularly moved by the performance of Bryan Cranston as Joe Brody. His delivery really gave weight and credibility to the film.  Aaron Taylor-Johnson also did very well, especially in those scenes shared with Cranston as we saw the strained relationship between father and son in the wake of a past tragedy. Going on to play the hero (with Godzilla) was more meaningful in the wake of the character’s past, and present circumstances. Although Ken Watanabe played more of a supporting role, his screen presence is always pronounced and memorable. The film had a moderate flow, knowing when to tug on emotions and when to dazzle with action.


AV: So this movie is the bomb when it comes to visual effects. A terrific visual event. Loved watching the US Navy escort Godzilla across the Pacific. Seeing the giant buggy-things decimate Las Vegas is funny and fun. And don’t even get me started about the final fight sequence. As Johnny Bravo would say “Ohh-h-h-h—Momma!” From the collapse of the nuclear power plant in Japan to the shootout with the buggy-things in Nevada, the visual effects are top-rate, Ponitificator!

TP: IMAX 3D is always my preferred venue and the roar of Godzilla was certainly made for it. There was really no way to go wrong here, and they didn’t. Giant monsters have been done successfully already (Pacific Rim) and in this film there was more of the same but with probably a bit more refinement. The angles were excellent and the cinematography just enhanced the experience. Although there was no new ground broken, the fact of bringing old material into the present so spectacularly certainly counts for some extra points in my book.


AV: If ever a movie did NOT need a deeper look, it’s a Godzilla flick. If you are looking for deeper meaning, engaging screenplay or solid emotional melodrama, you are looking in the wrong blast crater. The true flaw to this film is the belief that anyone care about Aaron Taylor (Kickass but not yet Quicksilver) Johnson and his dopey family issues. I don’t care about him. Not here. When he shows up as Pietro Maximoff in next year’s “The Avengers 2” I’ll be a big fan. But Aaron, take your dopey family out of my Godzilla movie. Replace his 35+ minutes with more Godzilla kick-assery (see what I did there?) The vapid, empty-headed, lam-duck lives and dialogue of this film’s too-many-to-count one-dimensional characters were less interesting to me than watching a congressional hearing on the national state of crosswalk buttons. The only dialogue I need in a Godzilla flick is “Run!” “Fire!” and “Lookout!” 

TP: Well sue me O’ Dark One…I actually did look a little deeper, my apologies. At the core of this film is the narrative of man versus nature and how nature will always find a way to endure and correct the hubris of man. It is not a fictional narrative, not by a long shot, as we can easily look around in our world and see where nature is being violated by our ignorance and apathy. Godzilla has traditionally been the product of our nuclear carelessness and it’s only fitting that the demise of man be bound to this. Of course, man has to endure (or else Hollywood can’t cash in on a sequel), but it’s only by the forgiving nature of, well, nature…that we are able to do so. Aside from that, the narrative that we can’t trust government (any government) is obviously a given (or at least it should be by now).


AV: In Hollywood, a movie deemed to purposefully be a ‘franchise-starter’ is called a tentpole movie and Godzilla is certainly pitching them tents. I am all aboard minus more scenes of Ken “The Last Samurai” Wantanabe uttering heart-felt please to the US Admiral to “let them fight.” If the teaser shot of Mothra was any indication, we could be in for some more Monster-on-Monster awesomeness in years to come.

TP: I would be surprised if there wasn’t a sequel. The film obviously resonated with everyone that has ever watched classic Godzilla in their youth, and thus there is a proven market for it. While the MUTOS in this film were not the classic Godzilla adversaries, that simply left the door open to introduce more of our childhood favorites down the line.


ARTH VADER rates Godzilla: If you’re looking for lovey-dovey love story crap, tales of human perseverance in the face of adversity, poor scientific explanations for hyper-fantastic events with lots of monster-riddled disaster porn, then the frustratingly fun eyegasm-inducing hot mess that is Godzilla is for you!  Honestly, the screenplay is all over the darn place but I am nothing if not a dyed-in-the-wool Godzilla fan, right down to my irradiated DNA. I even had a 2-foot plastic Godzilla as a kid that had fire-breathing tongue that emerged when you pressed down on the lever in the back of his head. And for that little boy that still breaths atomic fire who still resides in me, well, he was thoroughly satisfied. With that set up, my tail lights up and blows out 8 radioactive busted blocks. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Godzilla: Being an updated version and throwback to the classic Godzilla films, this movie hit all the right cords. From solid acting and story to spectacular special effects, there was very little room for this film to go wrong, and it didn’t operate in those small spaces. Instead it delivered a childhood favorite, vaporizing eight (8) busted blocks with radioactive breath and a thunderous roar.

Godzilla: 8 / 10 Busted Blocks

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Amazing Spider-Man 2 Senselessly Jolts Moviegoers

Glitzy effects and stellar chemistry can’t save Spidey 2 from a choppy plot and shoddy screenplay.


ARTH VADER (AV): Since SONY acquired Spider-Man from Marvel back in the late 1990’s, they had done a decent job of entertaining us with previous films. Spiderman (2002) was stellar and Spiderman 2 (2005) was a solid, not-without-thought fun ride. As for Spiderman 3? We don’t discuss Spiderman 3. As Mustafa told Simba in the Lion King; “You must never go there, son.” Still even the re-boot of Amazing Spiderman, though a hot mess, was entertaining and still left audiences with a sense of promise for the franchise. Borrowing from Spiderman’s rich cache of characters and stories, this movie recants the rise of the Rhino (such as he is), the origin of electro and the debut (again) of the Green Goblin. If one follow’s SONY’s 5-picture run on the franchise, then no, there is NOT a run of continuity and that, old friend, is the least of the problems with this film. 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): The first film flows right into this one with an ease and clarity that suggests they might have been written at the same time (don’t know if they were). Continuity between films is really all you can hope for these days as filmmakers seem all too eager to abandon the source material. That said, there were many elements from the various Spider-Man books to delight the web-slinging fan, even if they didn’t come together exactly like in the comic books.


AV: Honestly, I couldn’t have picked a better cast for this film, Ponty. In fact I'm going to say the chemistry between Ben ‘Too tall to be Spidey” Garfield and Emma “I’m back as Gwen Stacey” Stone is (ahem) electric (sorry about that). I will go further and say that the romance between Peter and Gwen is some of the best hollywood has shown in a while. While RomComs (Romantic Comedies) aren’t really my thing, I could have watched an entire film of these two–sans spiderman–and their zany romantic hi jinx. In other casting, Jamie “Ray” Foxx’s villainous portrayal was fine (even if the character had NO motivation whatsoever). I wish they had taken time to develop the non-Electro side of him more so we could empathize or even understand his villainy. Thoughts, Ponty?

TP: Andrew Garfield plays a good Peter Parker as he tries to navigate his world of danger and love. He also played a rather witty, and somewhat cocky, Spider-Man. I couldn’t decide if he overplayed the role, of if I just didn’t like the characterization. Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy was interesting and well played opposite Garfield, especially in those moments where their chemistry was evident. Dane Deehan played a better Harry Osborn than he did Green Goblin, as I was unimpressed after his transformation, but very much intrigued by how Harry dealt with his situation. Jamie Foxx delivered a good portrayal of his character, even if the writing for it was a little flat. He was far more engaging and interesting as Electro than as Max Dillon. I think the direction of the film could have been a bit better as It seemed to drag in some parts.

AV: The visual effects in The Amazing Spiderman 2 (TAS2) are just that… amazing. While I would debate as to whether or not the fully CGI-ed Spiderman ever truly integrated onscreen with the live-action one, I would would say this movie was downright beautiful visual effects fun. The slow-motion-to-hi-speed sequences are a rush. The scenes where spider is catching flying police cars really sends me into the comic-book-turned-movie zone and the visual effects are the ocular equivalent to eating a box of pop-rocks and washing it down with a can of coke. in short, if you’re looking for hi-velocity, nerve-bending action, then this film is for you. 

TP: This is where the film excelled and took no prisoners. Of course IMAX 3D was the only way I was seeing this, and it was worth every penny. The cinematography was outstanding and the CGI was top notch. The action came right off the screen from jump (no really…he jumped off a building in the beginning) grabbed my attention, and had me lusting for more. Heck, the special effects were so good, they’re probably the reason the film felt liked it dragged at times….cause anytime I wasn’t being injected with effects was a drag!

AV: This movie could have been great. But there are some basic elements every film—even super-hero films–NEED to follow to mean more than 2 hours in a dark room. First, the antagonist (the villain) needs motivation. What was Electro’s motivation? Why was he so pissed off? People didn’t remember his name? So this whole film could have been avoided if Spidey had just sat down and made him feel better over a cup of java? Harry Osborn wasn’t even MENTIONED in the first film. If he was going to play such an important role, why didn’t we see (or hear) about him before? We can’t expect movie-going audiences to just know the cannon when the director and the studio don’t even follow and keep on re-booting it. 


The flippant Spidey (mostly CGI), is mostly true to the character’s personality, but does NOT synch with the Peter Parker personality, at all. This is key. There are too many holes in this film to rant on about here but I will say this; I LOVE this genre and adore Spiderman. I have since age 7. For a combined production and advertising cost of close to $300 Million we can ask for a better Spiderman. We can demand it. This isn’t a shoestring budget, guys. C’mon SONY you have hundreds of millions of dollar, all the visual effects in the world, 50 years of really good material to pluck from and world class actors, screenwriters and even Stan Lee and a Legion of Marvel consultants to refer to. No film is perfect but with resources like these, this film should have been so much better. P-Man?

TP: Agreed Vader. There were a few goofs that stuck out to me, but few besides you watch the details in the hardcore way that I do, and I don’t think they detracted too much from the film… so I won’t get into them. What I found more interesting was the direction they took the character in with so much to shoulder with responsibility and consequences. It’s kind of one of the staples of reading the comic that Peter has to deal with so much angst and tragedy and still keep pushing forward to do the right thing. “With great power comes great responsibility” was really driven home here, and honestly, was also probably one of the key factors that detracted from the film for me. I actually don’t read any Spider-Man comics for that very reason… I don’t want my mood shackled with Peter’s problems. Perhaps it’s me, or maybe they really did something wrong, but I didn’t feel sad or even mildly upset when the focal moment arrived that drove home why Peter should have kept his promise to Captain Stacy. Yeah, something’s just not right about that.


AV: (Andrew) Garfield’s contracts is for three films and even though there are rumored drafts for Spiderman 4 already in the works (along with Venom and Sinister Six films) there will almost assuredly be a Spiderman 3. I was hoping not to have to consider comparisons to Spiderman 3 and the Amazing Spiderman 3 (confused yet?), but apparently Spiderman will be another cluster fornication of villains, heroes and characters because, why develop a solid one hero, one antagonist script when you can have dozens? (sigh) The introduction of not one, not two, not three, not four but six villains is a joke. Want a roll call? Electro, Rhino, Green Goblin all appear onscreen as well as Allistair Smythe, Felicia Hardy and the mysterious hatted man in the shadows (also seen in the post credit scenes in TAS #1) .

On the plus side, the final standoff with the senseless appearance of the Rhino involving a young boy standing in for Spidey is a near-tear-jerker. Proof even at the end of a film that is a hot mess, emotions can carry films of this nature. 

TP: Of course there will be a sequel, the only question is which villains are going to be in it. Of course I will see it, the only question is will I be as impressed with the story as I will be with the special effects (imagine that…a story that matches the effects!) I’m hearing rumors about the Sinister Six…. and wondering if the “too many villains” syndrome can really become that epic… and cringing because I have a feeling Sony will go there.


ARTH VADER rates Amazing Spider-Man 2: If you’re 10 years old, you are going to love this film. Short on plot, little-to-no character development and enough visual effects to choke a Rhino (yes he’s in this film too, though for the life of me I have no idea why). Still the movie is fun, as long as you don’t engage too many synapses and suspend disbelief, story alignment, screenplay, continuity, script… well, you get the idea. The Amazing Spiderman 2 is not bad, its disjointed, listless, poorly handled (as a film) but if you can look past it’s considerable pile of flaws, it’s ok. With that, this film barely charged five (5) Busted Blocks for me but, well, here’s to hoping. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Amazing Spider-Man 2: It wasn’t the best Spider-Man film, but it was certainly entertaining and a visual marvel (pun intended). I think the script could have been better, the goofs were an easy fix, and there were some missed opportunities here, but overall not a bad way to spend an afternoon. Despite my misgivings, this film swung in and webbed seven (7) busted blocks.

The Amazing Spiderman 2 — 6 / 10 Busted Blocks

Friday, May 9, 2014

Transcending Common Sense

The singularity makes for an oddly confusing story in Transcendence 


ARTH VADER (AV): Welcome to the future. Science has long embraced the concept for the Singualrity, the concept outlined by Raymond Kurzweil (yes that one) where mankind and technology meet a finite point in time (2044 to be exact) where machine (or artificial) intelligence meets–and ultimately surpasses–human intelligence. This story has been the backdrop for some of Sci-Fi’s greatest cinematic exploits. Movies like Logan’s Run (1976), Oblivion (2013) Terminator (1984) as well as TV shows like Revolution and even 1984’s War Games act as cautionary tales to the impending technological terrors of an AI gone rogue. Unfortunately, while an interesting take, Ponty, Transcendence doesn’t quite keep with the traditional ‘A.I. over Human’ tale of horror. 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Transcendence is original, and yet familiar at the same time (as pointed out by the Dark One above)…but that isn’t the real news here. My shock was learning afterward that science is actually pursuing, and close to, the technology displayed in this film…and if that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will. 


AV: Johnny Depp is such an accomplished actor, especially in the Sci-Fi fantasy realm, that any film he is part of–usually–is made better just by his presence. Even JD couldn’t save this movie from itself. Depp’s role and character are more props than actual characterizations. The sentiment of machine is evil, so convoluted, so lost and Depp’s role was made so pointless, it played as tireless backdrop dribble. Rebecca “Iron Man 3“ Hall’s role was far more believable as her character’s heart is broken and then made a casualty of science. The depth of her character was far more compelling than any other in the film.

TP: I haven’t been a fan of Johnny Depp, but I must say that he didn’t put me off with his usual weird style while portraying Dr. Will Caster, probably because the role didn’t call for it. Rebecca Hall was interesting and engaging, offsetting the transformation of Depp with her characterization. For me, Paul Bettany is always interesting and here, he makes the most of his supporting role. Morgan Freeman is Morgan Freeman and with the size of his role, I’m guessing he was there for name recognition. The film moved at a moderate pace and kept me interested, although never really got me excited.

AV: While there were some moments where some innovative visual effects played well, for the most part the film presented nothing new in the SF/X category. Sad to, when you think, this movie, down to it’s DNA, is a film crying out for awesome visual effects. Really just amounts to a missed opportunity, Pontificator. What did you think? 

TP: Nothing to write home about, just more of the same done well enough to not have to say anything bad about it Vader. The SFX were simplistic when compared to other films, but effective in moving the story along. Set designs and scenery were excellent and gave extra depth to the film.


AV: As I see it, P-Man, this film’s major flaw has little to do with the film itself. Sure it’s pacing was a downright mess, yes the screenplay reads as if some random mid-range mainframe from the 1990’s actually formed words into a semi-cohesive concoction and spit out a script. And yes, the story made little linear sense and rambled like a gypsy at a Ouija board. But the biggest albatross around this films’s neck was the marketing. This film, if you watched the YouTube videos, TV spots, radio ads and in-theater trailers. This film’s marketing torpedoed this film from the word go, long before it ever hit the big screen. It was sold to the movie-going audiences that this was an action-packed, sci-fi thriller, which is so far from this film actually ventured to. It’s kind of like this, ever offered a cupcake and you were told to expect Vanilla cake with vanilla icing and after you bite into it, you get banana but bread with cream-cheese icing? It spoils you to the latter forever because, by no fault of it’s own, you were expecting something other than you got, forever leaving a bad taste in your mouth for it. Thought’s P-Man? 

TP: There were a few plot holes Vader, but without them the film would have been a lot shorter. We have already seen in other films (and real life) that we have enough technology today to find just about anyone. With the level of access Caster had in this film, it’s just not believable that the anti-tech terrorist group (that uses tech) could elude him for as long as they did. It wasn’t believable that with all his accumulated knowledge, he didn’t figure out his opponents every move days before they even thought of moving against him. The only thing more disturbing than the plot holes is the fact that much of the advances made in this film are actually real life endeavors. The thought of transcendence is interesting, maybe, if you are the one transcending. However, if you are simply a cog plugged into the system that can go “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” on someone else’s whim… not so interested anymore.


AV: Just not interested. Even Depp’s character was unable to make me care enough to want to see or know more. Let’s all just acknowledge this movie for what it was… a swing and a miss. 

TP: Although the ending leaves an opening, the nature of the story just doesn’t call for a sequel. This film is a love story gone awry that comes fully around to complete the “togetherness” circle. This is not to say that the story can’t be built upon, but it would have to be something else which, in my opinion, would defeat the purpose of the characters. 


ARTH VADER rates Transcendence: Unfortunately, this film is mediocre at best and even that was laid waste to the fact that it was so grossly mis-marketed that the film was left to fend for itself in the wake of some other movies more better identified and properly segmented. All of that means, for me at least, this movies is hardly worth the price of a rental (maybe a couple bucks). So for what could have been a moving and thought-inducing experience turns out to be a confusing, uninspired wage of an afternoon. Which means, for me, Transcendence digitally alter just four (4) barely earned busted blocks

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Transcendence: A very interesting story with some roots in reality (as scary as that is), this film was interesting, but not very exciting. I actually found myself hoping Caster would prevail and remake the world… which was probably my delayed reaction to the plot holes. While not a blockbuster, it did transcend six (6) busted blocks onto the next level.  

Transcendence: 5 / 10 Busted Blocks

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