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Entries in roland emmerich (2)

Thursday
May152014

Godzilla

It’s always interesting to see how a director will fare when transitioning from a miniscule independent film to a big budget studio blockbuster. One hopes that the director will bring his or her independent background into the blockbuster and focus on characters and story rather than effects and explosions. Following his terrific low budget 2010 film, “Monsters,” director Gareth Edwards attempts to do just that with the American reboot, “Godzilla,” but it’s a give and take. The focus is indeed the characters and story, but those things are, unfortunately, not very interesting. In a way, it’s like last summer’s “Pacific Rim.” It’s slim on characterization, but it gets by on its fun and impressive action scenes. It’s not the epic movie one might expect from the outstanding trailers, but as a summer tent-pole release, “Godzilla” is entertaining enough.

The movie begins in in the late 90s and follows Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), a nuclear physicist and engineer at a Japanese nuclear plant. One day, some seismic activity rattles the foundation of the plant, which ends up killing Joe’s wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche). Flash forward 15 years and Joe has become obsessed with the event, swearing that the tremors they felt were not natural, but rather from some type of creature that has been lying dormant for many years. His son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), now all grown up and in the Navy, thinks he’s crazy, but, as is typical with these types of movies, it turns out he’s not and the next thing they know, a creature, dubbed a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object), unearths and starts wreaking havoc on the country’s citizens.

Don’t be fooled by the above synopsis and the misleading trailers. While “Godzilla” clearly hopes to ride the popularity of Cranston at the height of his career after a successful stint on “Breaking Bad,” early movie events turn the focus on Ford and Aaron Taylor-Johnson simply isn’t able to carry it to its conclusion. While Cranston’s character is a bit of a cliché in regards to monster movie archetypes, being the seemingly crazy one who is the only one who actually knows the truth, his motivations are nevertheless noble. It’s the love for his wife that drives him to do what he does, which could have worked as the heart and meaning behind the film. Unfortunately, his character becomes nothing more than a catalyst to thrust Johnson to the forefront.

Though it might come as a surprise for those expecting a bombastic monster movie, “Godzilla” chooses to focus on its human characters. Much like “Monsters,” Edwards tries to create a human story out of its creature feature origins, but unlike “Monsters,” the characters, story and themes simply aren’t established well enough to be very interesting. Take, for instance, Ford’s family in San Francisco, a young boy and a wife named Elle, played by Elizabeth Olsen. Olsen brings her natural beauty and talent to the proceedings, but her role is minimal and underdeveloped. The connection the two have is thin, so when Ford is in danger, nothing is felt. He could be eaten whole or ripped in half and the tragedy would be lost on the majority of viewers who have rightfully invested nothing into what’s going on.

What it all boils down to is that Edwards, with a bigger budget and expanded scope, simply doesn’t seem comfortable and is unable to find a rhythm, instead relying on overdramatic character introductions, cheesy motivational speeches and on-the-nose foreshadowing to move his story along (“It’s not the end of the world,” one characters says moments before the potential end-of-the-world event begins). Luckily for the viewers he would lose otherwise, he doesn’t waste much time getting to the action. Sure, it’s so quick that when Joe’s wife inevitably bites the dust, it doesn’t really resonate, but it remains exciting and Godzilla’s introduction is enough to put a big, stupid smile on anyone’s face. It even manages to throw in a few references to both Godzilla movies past and other popular monster movies, including an opening reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 film, “Alien.”

If you’re looking for something with more depth than your typical monster movie, “Godzilla” won’t do much for you, but if that’s the case, why are you watching “Godzilla” anyway? Despite some narrative stumbles and a central character that is impossible to care about, the movie delivers exactly what fans want: monster battles and rampant destruction. It’s a good jumping off point for future installments as well. Past movies, including Roland Emmerich’s 1998 reboot, were a bit silly, but this new film sets a darker foundation, one that could lead to rich drama in more confident hands. As it stands, however, “Godzilla” is unlikely to garner too high of praise, but it’s an entertaining summer movie nonetheless.

Godzilla receives 3/5

Friday
Jun282013

White House Down

It was only three months ago that we sat through “Olympus Has Fallen,” the Gerard Butler action picture where terrorists took over the White House to make a future that matched their skewed ideologies. For all intents and purposes, this week’s “White House Down” is a remake of that film. It’s more humorous and it changes a few things around, but it’s essentially the same movie. A comparison of the two is inevitable and their different tones will split many audiences, half of who will favor the more violent, grittier nature of “Olympus Has Fallen” over the toned down cheese-fest presented here, but they both have their merits and work independently of each other, despite similar premises.

Cale (Channing Tatum) is an ex-soldier who served over in Afghanistan and is now working as a Capital police officer assigned to protecting Speaker of the House, Raphelson (Richard Jenkins). He’s divorced and has a young daughter named Emily (Joey King) who doesn’t particularly like him, but is stuck with him for the weekend. Despite her age, she’s a political junkie and blogger and is a big fan of the current President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), so she’s thrilled when Cale tells her that they’re going to the White House and he’s going to be interviewed for a Secret Service position. Unfortunatley, he’s quickly rejected by Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal) due to his low school grades and unreliability, but before he even has time to process this, the White House is taken over by a group of mercenaries. He’s soon separated from his daughter, so he takes it upon himself to rescue not just her, but also the President and maybe even the country itself.

“White House Down” is a movie that’s so idiotic, it’s actually kind of enjoyable. That’s about the best outcome director Roland Emmerich, the man behind disasters like “10,000 BC,” “Godzilla” and “The Day After Tomorrow,” could have hoped for. His hackneyed approach to directing a movie, which includes his insistence on peppering humor throughout tonally dire moments, has made him a director to hate and with good reason. But given that the mostly straight faced and excessively violent “Olympus Has Fallen” has already delivered on the promise of a gritty White House invasion movie, Emmerich’s weaknesses become his strengths here. “White House Down” is so absurd, so monumentally silly, so preposterously ludicrous, that it proves itself to be wholly entertaining.

Every character in the film is a cliché or caricature and every moment is seemingly ripped from another movie. It mixes the action and humor of the “Lethal Weapon” movies with the concept and protagonist from “Die Hard” and the fearless, gung-ho president from “Air Force One.” One line, as the terrorists force Emily to tell Cale that they have a gun to her head, is even ripped shamelessly from that latter film. But in a weird way, combining all these elements, coupled with its drastic tonal shift from “Olympus Has Fallen,” gives it a unique identity, even as it (probably knowingly) rips dialogue from other movies.

President Sawyer is one of those presidents that doesn’t seem to have a single detractor, someone who makes everyone in the room smile when he walks in. He’s caring of others and puts them and the country above himself. He’s the type of guy who seems to constantly speak in “speech” and whose vocal tone can only be described as patriotic. The movie reinforces this by backing him with slowly swelling patriotic music nearly every time he begins to speak. It’s a manipulative ploy used by many amateurish filmmakers to manufacture the likability of their characters and it’s somewhat insulting to the discerning viewer, but in “White House Down,” it becomes just another dumb thing to laugh at.

And laughing is a big part of what makes the film so enjoyable. Despite the grave circumstances they’re in and the great loss of human life they’ve incurred during it, the film remains as goofy as can be. It’s not the intentionally placed jokes that work the most (though they do offer up the occasional guffaw); it’s the entire situation that is one can’t help but laugh at. A good example comes when the president loses his shoe in one scene and ends up in front of his closet in his room. Instead of grabbing the polished footwear one would expect a president to wear, he grabs his Air Jordans. While it admittedly makes sense given the situation (you’re going to need the flexibility of movement shoes like that will provide), it’s nevertheless endlessly amusing.

Even more amusing is the most worthless Secret Service agents ever assigned to guard a president. They hardly get any shots off at all as the terrorists pick them off one by one, tagging them all with one quick bullet to the head like they’re master arms men, that is unless they’re shooting at Cale or President Sawyer. Then it’s like they’ve been blindfolded and given a gun for the first time. This is standard action movie procedure, so it’s not so much a detriment to the film as it is a necessary element, yet the fact remains, this movie is blissfully stupid.

“White House Down” has stinted, inconsequential dialogue, complete with none-too-subtle foreshadowing bits (“It’s going to be a busy morning, boys,” the Speaker of the House says before everything goes to hell), and the CGI, particularly in the exterior scenes, is downright abysmal. Although fun, in terms of entertainment, it’s not quite as good as “Olympus Has Fallen.” The overrunning of the White House is a bit more believable here, but both are so outrageous that if you’re going to go for it, you might as well go all out. “White House Down” unfortunately plays it a bit closer to the chest than “Olympus Has Fallen,” no doubt to get that coveted PG-13 rating, but that doesn’t mean it’s without merit, even if in this case the merit is that it’s so bad, it’s good.

White House Down receives 2.5/5