Godzilla (2014) Movie Review

Godzilla [2014]

Godzilla [2014] 
Director: Gareth Edwards
Writers: Max Borenstein (screenplay), Dave Callaham (story)
Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe
Running Time: 123 minutes

Sixteen years.

That’s how long it has taken for another American attempt at a Godzilla film after Roland Emmerich’s critically-maligned 1998 blockbuster. With up-and-coming director Gareth Edwards (Monsters, and soon-to-be director of Star Wars), a star-studded international cast and a massive budget, all of the pieces appeared to be in place for a proper reboot. Yet while impressive in spots, Edwards’s Godzilla unfortunately manages to be underwhelming overall.

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Movie Review: Argo [2012]

Argo [2012]

Argo [2012]
Director: Ben Affleck
Genre: Biography/Drama/Thriller
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin
Runtime: 120 minutes

It’s always a joy to watch a film that is based on a true story so unbelievable that it just couldn’t be a work of fiction. Ben Affleck’s latest directorial effort focuses on one such tale, a CIA case that was not declassified until nearly 20 years later in 1997.

Argo begins in 1979 during the Iranian Revolution. The film faithfully reenacts the depiction of a large group of Iranian revolutionaries protesting outside the U.S. embassy in Tehran. The protests grow larger and more violent, and eventually the mob swarms the embassy, taking 52 Americans hostage. A group of six men and women manage to escape before this happens, and they are eventually taken in by the Canadian embassy.

Argo [2012]

Faced with an international crisis, the U.S. State Department begins looking for ways to extract the escaped six before the Iranians realize they are missing. This is where CIA specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes in. Faced with a number of unfeasible extradition suggestions (one of which entails giving the group some bicycles and telling them to bike 300+ miles to the Turkey border), Mendez comes up with one of his own: pretend to be a Canadian film scout who is visiting Iran as a possible shooting location. In return, he will bring back the six Americans as members of his film crew.

As the “best bad idea” the CIA has, Mendez gets approval from his supervisor, Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston), and heads to Hollywood to set up a fake studio. With the help of John Chambers (John Goodman), a master makeup artist, and Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), a film producer, the trio set up a phony office to lend credibility to the project. They even invite the press to their fake shooting in order to get additional publicity. It’s a wild idea, no doubt, but Mendez is determined to see it through, and he flies to Tehran in hopes of accomplishing his goal.

Argo [2012]

Now, since this is based on a true story, many will already know the outcome of the film. Pay no mind to this — knowing what happens does not lessen this film in any way possible. As a director, Affleck knows how to ramp up the suspense, creating a number of tense, memorable moments that will leave viewers doubting their recollections of the actual events.

Affleck also nailed the 1970s setting. Everything here is expertly portrayed, from the absurd fashion choices — complete with shaggy hair, thick moustaches and large-rimmed glasses — to what looks and feels like authentic archival footage of the revolution. Seriously, the man did his homework.

Argo [2012]

It helps to have a strong, witty screenplay, especially one that is delivered by an impressive arsenal of top Hollywood stars. Affleck shines in the lead role, but it’s especially fun to watch the group of character actors attached to the project. Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin (who gets to deliver the film’s most memorable line), Kyle Chandler, Philip Baker Hall and others all turn in memorable performances, even if they are ever so small.

It’s hard to find fault in Argo. Perhaps more emphasis could have been placed on character development when it comes to the American Six, but they are just pieces in what is a large, encompassing operation. As far as historical films go, this is a great one, and it is one of the year’s best. Don’t be surprised if Argo comes up in quite a few categories in this year’s awards season.

9/10

Movie Review: Drive [2011]

Drive [2011]

Drive [2011]
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Genre: Action/Crime/Drama
Language: English
Country: USA

Hijinks Ensue, a “geek” web comic by Joel Watson, sums up Drive better than anything else I have seen:

Drive isn’t anything like the trailer, as I am sure most of you know by now. The fact that the trailer markets the film as a “Fast and the Furious” type adventure has pissed off a lot of people, even causing one Michigan woman to file a lawsuit against the film’s distributor. All of this is pretty ridiculous, but if you go into Drive with an open mind, it’s easy to see why it has received so much critical acclaim.

As more of an arthouse film than an action saga, Drive follows the man only known as Driver (Ryan Gosling), a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver. Long story short, the dude loves to drive. He builds a soft-spoken friendship with his neighbor next door, Irene (Carey Mulligan), but just as they are starting to hit it off, her husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), comes back home after getting out of jail. Things begin to spiral out of control after this, as Driver takes on a major job that changes the worlds of everyone around him.

Drive [2011]

As the above comic states, a significant portion of the movie revolves around dialogue. Sparse dialogue at that. There are moments of terrific action, including a couple of adrenaline-spiking driving scenes, but the film moves along at a much slower pace than the trailer may lead viewers to believe. I loved the pacing of the movie, especially as the dialogue was sharp and well-written despite being very minimalistic. It was refreshing to see an “action” movie that is not made up of endless explosions and cheesy one-liners.

The aforementioned bursts of violence are extreme and happen completely unexpectedly. The audience I was with gasped in horror as characters were taken down in some of the most brutal ways possible. Director Nicolas Winding Refn sure knows how to use violence to make a statement, especially given the fact that it was only used in short spurts.

Much can be said about Drive’s style as well. The opening credits use a retro pink font that harkens flashbacks to the 1980s, and the music is obviously inspired by past influences. College’s “Real Hero” is used effectively in what is a defining moment in the film.

Drive [2011]

Drive wouldn’t be as memorable without its stellar cast. Ryan Gosling, Hollywood’s darling of the moment, is simply excellent here. He is absolutely convincing as Driver, a man who seems to have a boyish charm at times but can also produce a nasty mean streak. Carey Mulligan, as his neighbor, is someone who I thought was miscast at first, but I quickly became a fan of her chemistry with Gosling. She is one of my favorite young actresses going today, and this role helped solidify this status. Other notable performers include the always fantastic Bryan Cranston as Driver’s employer, Albert Brooks as a vicious mobster (a nice diversion from some of his past roles), and Ron Perlman as a badass Jewish mobster. There’s even a blink-and-you-miss-it performance from Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks — always a treat to see her on the big screen.

As long as you don’t go into Drive expecting a generic action flick, there’s a lot to like about it. In fact, there wasn’t much I didn’t like. The patient pacing, the brilliant cast, the slick style, the great soundtrack. This may be the best movie I have seen this year, and it’s going to be hard to top it in the next couple months. If you haven’t already, go see this in the theater.

9/10

Movie Review: Contagion [2011]

Contagion [2011]

Contagion [2011]
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Genre: Drama/Sci-Fi/Thriller
Language: English
Country: USA

Pandemic movies are hardly anything new. More often than not they tend to delve into far-fetched scenarios where zombies run rampant and feast on human flesh. In this regard, Contagion is almost like a breath of fresh air. There are no zombies, and the situation is entirely feasible.

The movie focuses on a rapidly progressing virus outbreak, not unlike the swine flu, that kills those that come in contact with it in a matter of days. It is unknown where this virus came from, at least initially, and it becomes a worldwide concern as the medical community frantically attempts to develop a vaccine. Meanwhile, people everywhere are freaking out, causing mayhem to the streets and others while trying to avoid getting sick. To put it bluntly, this is total chaos.

Contagion [2011]

Rather than dwelling on an individual story or small group of people directly involved in one aspect of the pandemic, director Steven Soderbergh chose to follow people from all over the world. The movie keeps tabs on regular folk, doctors, scientists and even conspiracy theorists. The fact that the movie is spread out with so many different subplots is both a blessing and a curse. I loved the global feel of the movie, as we saw viewpoints from all over the world. However, with so many characters introduced and then dropped in and out of the main storyline, it becomes difficult to feel any connection to them. The multi-character arc is a great idea, but a few characters here and there could have probably been cut out.

I also noticed some issues with the movie’s pacing. Even though it is labeled as a thriller, Contagion really lacks any sense of excitement. The general feeling of hysteria is always there, but the movie tends to rely too heavily on random subplots that offer little emotional weight. As a result, there are moments where things feel like they are crawling along. This is a bizarre problem for a movie that pushes through over 100 days of action in under two hours.

Even though it is difficult to get behind some of the characters, it must be stated that this is of no fault to the cast. Several of the actors have been nominated for Academy Awards in the past, and they certainly do as good as they can with their small roles. Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne and Jude Law seem to get the most screen time. Damon is great as a normal guy who just so happens to be immune to the disease. After his wife and one of his daughters die at the onset of the virus, he attempts to recreate a normal life with his remaining daughter. Fishburne is in excellent form as Dr. Ellis Cheever, an employee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Jude Law delivers perhaps the most enjoyable role of all as a conspiracy theory blogger, even taking a cheapshot at blogging in stride.

Contagion [2011]

Other noteworthy additions to the cast include Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle and John Hawkes. Winslet in particular shines in her limited role, as she usually does. Cotillard’s character arc is perhaps most frustrating, as she enters and then disappears from the movie at long intervals. Again, kudos to everyone involved for getting all of these big name actors, but it would have been great to have them fleshed out some more.

Regardless of these faults, it would be inappropriate to call Contagion a bad movie. It has an excellent cast and a great concept, and I really enjoyed the tense soundtrack as well. The problem is that it simply could have been a lot better.

6.5/10