Monday, 28 July 2014

Mad Max: Fury Road - Comic Con Teaser Trailer

A teaser trailer has emerged from the San Diego comic con this weekend for George Miller's long awaited return to the Mad Max franchise: Fury Road. Due out in 2015 with Tom Hardy (Bronson) stepping into the road warrior's boots, the trailer seems to indicate a blistering post apocalyptic action flick with plenty of vehicles, explosions and weirdos in bondage gear. Seems pretty faithful to the original series in that case, check out the trailer...

What did you think of the trailer? Will it be worth the wait or a misjudged reboot?

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014): Review (Spoiler-free)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a 2014 post-apocalyptic sci-fi film. Directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) and starring Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, King Kong), Toby Kebbel (Dead Man's Shoes), Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) and Gary Oldman (Dracula). The film is a sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) as well as a prequel to the events of the original Planet of the Apes (1968).

Dawn picks up 10 years after Rise in the aftermath of the deadly Simian flu which has wiped out the majority of the humans on Earth. The intelligent Apes, led by Caesar (Serkis), have formed their own community in the woods under the belief that humans have been wiped out until an unfortunate encounter with a scouting group of humans. We then learn that there is still a community of humans living in San Francisco under the leadership of Dreyfus (Oldman) who are desperate to access the hydro powered dam in the heart of the apes territory. It's down to Caesar and human ambassador Malcolm (Clarke) to form a fragile truce as the warmongers Koba (Kebbel) and Dreyfus threaten to plunge the planet into war.

Dawn is to Rise what The Empire Strikes Back (1980) is to Star Wars (1977), it's a sequel to an incredibly ground breaking first act that matches it for quality and spectacle but deepens the thematic and emotional elements. The revolutionary performance capture technology is pushed to it's breathtaking limit as the audience is sucked into a universe that is meticulously crafted but most importantly, completely believable. The brave first step of basing a whole movie around a non human character is taken to the next level with a whole ensemble cast of apes that you believe in and care about deeply. That an ape falls in battle is absolutely no less tragic than if a human does and this is the genius of the rebooted apes franchise.

The film also takes a realistically ambiguous approach to war in that there are no heroes, no villains, no clear lines between right and wrong, good and evil. Koba is the most fascinating example of this as the nominal villain of the movie as Toby Kebbel often manages to upstage (and out-chimp) Serkis' Caesar, who still remains the heart and soul of the franchise. Whether it's Koba or Dreyfus (an underused but still terriffic Oldman) playing the villain it's always with pathos and it's always a three dimensional character. This is one of the many things that makes Dawn one of the finest anti-blockbusters of this generation and Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver have triumphed again (along with Mark Bomback) with a script that bulges with attention to detail, franchise continuity and sheer emotional depth to the characters.

Make no mistake, Dawn is a war film, and it's one of the most outstanding war films of recent times. You can hold the film up to classics like Apocalypse Now (1979) and Casualties of War (1989) and it will not falter. You can also hold it up to modern classic called Rise of the Planet of the Apes and it will form 2 parts of an epic saga in the making. If the cast and crew can make as good a film for the third in the series then we might just have one of the greatest trilogies of all time on our hands. This has film of the year written all over it and demands your attention.

***** 5 Stars

What did you think of Dawn? How do you think it compares to Rise?

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Forbidden Zone! A Planet of the Apes retrospective (1968-1973)

The Planet of the Apes is one of the longest running sci fi franchises of all time, with enough action, adventure, satire and an ear bleedingly complicated timeline to boot, it has captivated generations for nearly 50 years . Initially adapted from a controversial 1963 novel by Pierre Boulle (La Planete des Singes) , the original film would go on to spawn 5 sequels in as many years as well as a short lived TV series and cartoon. In the 40 years that followed the end of the original incarnation the franchise was nearly forgotten, dragged through the mud by an ill advised remake (Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, 2001) and finally restored to it’s former glory by a dazzling reboot (Rise of the Planet of the Apes). To celebrate the imminent release of the highly anticipated sequel, and middle entry in a planned trilogy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, TMMDI takes a look back at the original series 1968-1973.

Planet of the Apes was released in 1968. Based on the aforementioned French novel the film starred Charlton Heston, the blockbusting action hero of the day, as Taylor and followed the story of 3 astronauts who crash land on a mysterious planet 2000 years in the future where Apes have been able to evolve into the dominant species. After being captured, then helped to escape by 2 sympathetic chimpanzees Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowell), Taylor ultimately learns that the planet of the apes is planet earth, and apes were allowed to take control after a nuclear war destroyed the human race. What initially strikes you about the first film are the incredible special effects, for the time and still to this day, employed to bring the ape city to life as well as the ambitious premise and legendary shock twist ending. Underpinning all of this spectacle is also a great deal of political satire carried over from the book ie. Chimpanzees are the middle class intellectuals, Orang-utans are the bureaucratic church and state and Gorillas are the military class. All things considered, you have to class The Planet of the Apes as a film that was well ahead of it’s time (no pun intended) and especially ambitious in terms of it’s plot, subtext and production.

Hot on the heels of the first entry came the sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, in 1970. As Heston would only agree to a small role in the film where his character would ultimately die a replacement was brought in, in the form of James Franciscus, who would portray a very similar character named Brent. The film is very much a retread of the first film with astronauts crash landing on the planet, being apprehended in ape city and Brent heading off into the forbidden zone to find Taylor. However, The difference with Beneath, and the redeeming feature of the film, is Brent’s adventure leading him underground into the remnants of New York City where he discovers that the human race have evolved into a telepathic, atom bomb worshipping clan of mutants. Ultimately it all ends in tears after Taylor is rescued, apes attack and the bomb is detonated (cheers for that Heston). Whilst not given nearly enough time in the film, the segments focusing on the “cult of the bomb” are really fascinating and rescue the film from being an otherwise dull and repetitive sequel.

My personal favourite of the original series followed 1 year later in 1971 with the quirky Escape from the Planet of the Apes. Whilst on the surface appearing as an incredibly dated and goofy “fish out of water” comedy, the film is actually the most witty and satirical of the original series. Finally pulling focus back to the stars of the franchise, Cornelius and Zira, the film follows their implausible journey back to to present day earth from the future as a result of the climactic blast of Beneath. Although the apes are initially treated as celebrities in 70s American society it’s not long before humans start to discover their eventual fate as slaves to the ape race, and try to prevent that future from occurring. What you get along the way is plenty of time travel based “would you go back and kill Hitler as a baby” type ponderings as well as layers of political satire ranging from civil rights, animal testing and feminism and stands as one of the least action based, but most intelligent entries. 

After this the series flashed forward 20 years to 1991 with 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (are you still with me?). The film plays close to George Orwell’s dystopian nightmare as apes have been enslaved in camps and are systematically demoralised and re-educated. Cornelius and Zira’s son Milo (now renamed Caesar and yes, still played by Roddy McDowell) has found himself in one of these camps but the authorities are well aware of the ape prophecy that the offspring of the talking apes will bring about the fall of man and so, understandably, give him a bit of a hard time about it. The film served to be the blueprint for the 2011 reboot and certainly has it’s fair share of apes rising, whilst exaggerating the political satire once again and drawing strong links to black slavery. It’s a fairly downbeat affair compared to the other entries but no less gripping and really pushes the envelope of how political and existential the franchise can be.

The final instalment of the original series would be 1973's Battle for the Planet of the Apes. The film is set (presumably) several decades after the events of Conquest and the nuclear war that wrecked the earth. Apes and humans are tentatively co-existing under Caesar's rule but warmongers amongst the Gorillas and the mutant humans threaten to plunge the planet into an all out war. As the end of the original series and the culmination of 4 other films you'd think this would be a pretty explosive climax but, sadly, it isn't. Having exhausted the concept and lacking much of the previous satire the film plods along and ends up being a pretty dull conclusion to the whole saga.

So there you have it! I'm not going to waste my time talking about the 2001 remake or bang on and on about how great Rise was, you can read my original review for that, but safe to say the Planet of the Apes franchise is here to stay. Reinvented by staggering digital technology, incredible mo-cap performances and two of the finest screenwriters in Hollywood, there has never been a more exciting time to be a fan of intelligent, compelling and emotional science go ape and see Dawn this weekend!

Which original film is your favourite? How does the original series compare with the rebooted one?

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

New Horns poster and official teaser

Upcoming Alexandre Aja project Horns has released a double whammy this week in the form of a revealing teaser trailer and a genius poster. Ever the auteur, Aja appears to have stamped his style and wit on this one with Radcliffe following up his excellent turn in The Woman in Black (2012). Check out the trailer...

What do you think of the trailer? Do you like Radcliffe' s post potter choices?

Monday, 14 July 2014

New Suburban Gothic trailer

A new red band trailer has been released for the upcoming Suburban Gothic. Directed by Richard Bates Jr, it looks like the film has retained the unique aesthetic of Bates' previous film Excision (2012), as well as a John Waters cameo, whilst adding a little more comedy. Suburban Gothic will be released later in the year, check out the trailer...

What do you think of the trailer? Have you seen excision?

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Sacrament (2014): Review

The Sacrament is a 2014 mockumentary cult film. Directed by Ti West (House of the Devil, The Innkeepers) and starring Aj Bowen (You’re Next), Joe Swanberg (You’re Next, V/H/S) and Gene Jones. The film is loosely based on the real life events of the Jonestown Massacre.

The movie is framed as an edgy documentary for popular website Vice. After filmmaker Sam (Bowen) is approached by a brother concerned that his sister may have joined a cult, he grabs cameraman Jake (Swanberg) and the three of them set off for the ambiguous location of Eden Parish. When they arrive they find the sister in question more than happy in the jungle utopia along with many other American emigrants, including many children and elderly people. However, after interviewing Father (Jones), the enigmatic leader of the cult, they realise that not everyone is as happy as they seem and that outsiders are not particularly welcome. This culminates with the majority of the cult committing suicide, either voluntarily or by force, and the documentary crew fighting for their lives to escape the isolated community.

I’ve made no secret in the past of my dislike of Ti West and his hugely overrated films but I have to say, this is his finest work to date. I really liked the format of the Vice documentary and the setting of the cult seemed somewhat fresher than your average American based horror. AJ Bowen gives a solid performance as the emotional core of the film and Gene Jones gives a mesmerising turn as the charming but sinister leader of the cult. One of the strongest elements of the film is the overwhelmingly dark and oppressive atmosphere in the final act. Although anyone familiar with the events of the Jonestown massacre will expect a pretty unhappy ending, West skilfully tips the tone from cannibal style exploitation into full on sickening horror, made all the more disturbing by the factual events that inspired the scenes.

However, there are still flaws from West’s previous works that creep into this piece, namely script and pacing. Whereas previous efforts like House of the Devil (2009) and The Innkeepers (2011) can be characterised as a lot of slow build suspense with no real payoff, The Sacrament seems to rush itss first act to get to the sinister stuff, feature a shocking climax and then end fairly abruptly. I , for one, wouldn’t have minded at all if the film had run 20-30 minutes longer to maybe accommodate a little more characterisation and backstory of the Eden Parish community. In addition to this, aside from its strong central performances I feel the film really suffers from the “actors trying really hard not to look like they’re in a found footage movie” syndrome which was seen to great effect in the infamous Devil Inside (2012). Although in fairness, the actors obviously haven’t been given a great script to work with and much of the dialogue is laughable, including Swanberg being allocated all of the “Basil exposition”.

I’m not sure if Ti West will ever make a great film but this is certainly a good film and, whilst not touching on the greatness of the suspiciously similar Sound of my voice (2011), it stands as a fairly fresh entry into the cult film canon. I’m a great defender of the found footage genre and I feel that modelling the format on a real life style of journalism also keeps things interesting enough to cover for any lack of plausibility. The Sacrament is West’s strongest overall work and fans, and non fans alike, will revel in his leap forward in directorial ability whilst retaining his signature retro-exploitation style.

*** 3 Stars

What did you think of The Sacrament? Are you a Ti West fan?

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Under the Skin (2014): Review

Under the Skin is a 2014 science fiction film. Directed by Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Birth) the film stars Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation, The Avengers). The film is a loose adaptation of Michael Faber's 2000 novel.

The film revolves entirely around Johansson's nameless, alien seductress. Appearing as if from nowhere, the character drives aimlessly around Scotland in a transit van looking for young, impressionable men to abduct and send back to her home planet. However, after an encounter with a facially disfigured character the alien begins to feel pity and chooses to spare the man, developing a conscience within the character. This alerts her unnamed, motorcyclist overseer as she is pursued for her digression whilst also trying to comprehend the complexity of the human race.

It's fair to say this is Glazer's most experimental and arthouse film yet and plays somewhat like Species (1995) crossed with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). However the fascinating thing is how Glazer manages to strike an odd balance between those films, being less concerned with sexiness than Species but also more coherent than Kubrick's rambling odyssey. Like most arthouse cinema the film is visually fascinating, incorporating all the weather and elements one would associate with Scotland as well as some extremely unsettling abduction sequences. Whilst there is very little plot to be getting to grips with, it doesn't seem to matter as the atmosphere and disturbing tone seem to have a hypnotic effect.

There's been a great deal of publicity surrounding the casting of Scarlett Johannson and the amount of nudity that features in the film and before seeing the film, Johannson and Glazer did seem like an odd collaboration. However, Johannsen's performance is tremendous as she perfectly conveys an emotionless and disconnected "stranger in a strange land". There was also the danger of the nudity undermining the film and perhaps being seen as exploitative of such an incredibly famous, and beautiful, actress. However, the nudity is perfectly used and often only features during the more disturbing and disorienting abduction sequences, managing to disarm Johannsen's obvious sex appeal.

The only criticism I would make is that the film does appear repetitive and extremely thin on plot at certain times, however, the startling imagery, existential concepts and Johannsen's fascinating performance did more than enough to keep me gripped. If you lean a little more towards the conceptual, metaphysical sci-fi and can see through the arthouse cliches, Under the Skin will haunt you for days.

**** 4 Stars

What did you think of Under the Skin? Do you agree with Johannson's casting?

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Snowpiercer (2014): Review

Snowpiercer is a 2014 post apocalyptic film. directed by Joon Ho-Bong (The Host) and featuring an ensemble cast including Chris Evans (Sunshine), Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin), Kang Ho-Song (Sympathy for Mr Vengeance), John Hurt (Alien) and Jamie Bell (King Kong). The film is adapted from the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige.

Snowpiercer is set in a post-apocalyptic future in which an attempt to counter global warming has backfired and the earth has been plunged into an ice age. The only refuge from the elements is an enormous train which perpetually circles the globe and is divided into the rich and opulant classes in the front of the train and the poor and oppressed classes in the tail end. The tail end occupants are led in an uprising by Curtis (Evans), mentored by Gilliam (Hurt), in an attempt to overthrow their oppressive masters in the front carriages, under the leadership of Mr Wilfred (Ed Harris). Along the way they enlist the lockbusting skills of Minsu (Song) but are in for more than a few surprises along the way as hench-woman Mason (Swinton) is determined to stop them reaching the sacred engine room.

Although the post apocalyptic struggle between the classes and the masses isn't a new idea, Snowpiercer feels like a breath of fresh air for both the post-apocalyptic genre and the sci-fi genre. Ho-Bong makes a huge impression with his English language debut and the film is directed with all the visual style you'd expect from one of South Korea's many auteurs. There's definitely a world cinema, slow burn pace being utilised and it can take a while for things to get moving but the film is at its most fascinating when we move into the luxury front carriages. This includes an aquarium, greenhouse, swimming pool, night club and even a sushi bar hammering home the the injustice of the rich and greedy enjoying luxury at the expense of the exploited tail end occupants.

Although there are many fine performances in the film, I have to say the one that blows them all away is Tilda Swinton. Almost unrecognisable as Wilfred's spin doctor Mason, she manages to evoke cruelty, pathos, comedy and a weird sort of pathos often in the space of one line or glance. More a bureaucratic buffoon than a super villain she serves as the perfect foil to Curtis' revolution. The action sequences are spectacularly artistic and one sequence in particular seems to pay homage to the Oldboy corridor scene, with the camera always focusing on the physical elements rather than lingering on gore.

Whilst a little slow to get going and slightly too much lingering around the climax (with Harris proving a bit of a wet blanket), Snowpiercer is a triumph and is yet more proof that the great South Korean directors can make the transition to English language (if proof were needed after Chan-Wook's Stoker). An anti-Hollywood action film with all the satirical and philosophical notes of post-apocalyptic films gone by, Go out of your way to see Snowpiercer!

**** 4 Stars

What did you think of the film? How does it compare to other South Korean works?

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Oculus (2014): Review

Oculus is a 2014 supernatural horror film. Directed by Mike Flanagan (Absentia) and starring Karen Gillan (Doctor Who). The film is based upon Flanagan’s earlier short film Oculus: Chapter 3.

Oculus is the story of a haunted antique mirror handed down through the ages and eventually passing into the ownership of the Russell family. The story is told from the perspective of siblings Kayleigh (Gillan) and Tim and is split between the modern day and the early 2000s. In the modern day Tim has recently been released from prison and is reunited with his older sister who has been able to track down the sinister mirror from their childhood. She reveals that her plan is to conduct an all-night paranormal experiment to prove that the mirror is responsible for countless deaths, including their parents. At the same time, events from the pair’s childhood are told in flashback, revealing the true power of the mirror and, perhaps, a way for Kayleigh and Tim to break the curse.

The first problem with Oculus is that it’s a hugely out of date premise. The premise of a haunted mirror is something right out of a 50s b-movie or Snow White and is really hard to take seriously in the modern age when compared to modern genre classics like Ring (98) or Pulse (01). This is made worse by some seriously poor acting and a poor script to work with which does Gillan no favours in her post Who career. Her attempts to portray a psychologically fractured character in the style of a Jack Nicholson or James Brolin fall completely flat and only serve to remind you of those superior performances/films.

The other problem with the film is the split narrative. Playing somewhat like a horror Blue Valentine (2009), the film struggles to build momentum in both timelines as Flanagan can’t seem to decide when, and how to focus on each respective period. One wonders whether the film might have worked better being set primarily in the earlier timeline as the child actors are significantly more competent and the actor portraying the father actually does do quite a good Jack Nicholson impression. These earlier scenes, along with the hallucinations in the modern timeline, were the only parts of the film that managed to summon any kind of dread or suspense in building towards the film’s “shock” ending which, incidentally, felt like a pretty lousy payoff.

While I certainly appreciate any attempt at an original horror property as opposed to a sequel/reboot, taking an extremely tired premise and giving it a fresh lick of “faux-paranormal activity” paint is simply not good enough. It’s a tedious plot that genre fans have seen countless times and is dragged down further by mediocre actors and a frustrating structure. Oculus is a poor effort for Flanagan and a shaky start to Gillan’s Hollywood career, definitely one to avoid.

* 1 Star

What did you think of Oculus? Did the split narrative work for you?

Thursday, 29 May 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014): Review

X-Men: Days of Future past is a 2014 comic book movie. Directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men, X2) and starring James Macavoy (X-Men: First class, Filth), Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class, Shame) and Hugh Jackman (The Wolverine, Prisoners). The film unites the cast of the original X-Men movies and X-Men: First Class and is both a sequel and a prequel.

The film begins in the not too distant post apocalyptic future where the Sentinels have taken over the world butchering Humans and Mutants alike. A small band of Mutants still survives led by the older versions of Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian Mckellan). They decide that the only way to save the world is to send Wolverine (Jackman) back in time to the 70s to prevent this grim future from occurring. This involves stopping Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating Sentinel inventor Trask (Peter Dinklage) and avoiding the chain reaction of hardline anti-mutant measures that result from this. However, this is much easier said than done (although not really) as Wolverine struggles to unite the idealogically opposed Xavier, Magneto and Mystique.

A couple of years ago I had never seen an X-Men movie and, not really being a comic book movie fan, I wasn’t really tempted. Then I was convinced to give First Class a try, mostly on the strength of Macavoy and Fassbender (undoubtedly the finest actors of their generation) and the overwhelmingly positive reviews and boy, was I bowled over. After having gone back and checked out the originals I can confirm that First Class smashed a fairly low bar set by the original trilogy with Macavoy and Fassbender playing the central characters with far more passion and gusto. This divide clearly continues into the sequel with Stewart and Mckellan (legendary actors in their own right) given very little to do in the future segments and being accompanied by an always redundant Ellen Paige and a Halle Berry performance that may as well have been CGI.

However, that is my only real criticism of the film as once we get back to the 1970s the cast are on top form. Something that was really fresh about First Class was the period setting and the way that the characters are integrated into real life history, in the last film this was the Cuban missile crisis and in this one it’s the end of the Vietnam war. This of course carries over into the fashion and the costume design again gives you a fresh canvass to work with and a way to stand out against other blockbusters. Something I also really appreciated was the young Charles Xavier sub plot where a miracle drug has allowed him to walk but has resulted in the loss of his psychic powers, serving as an allegory for drug addiction. This gave Macavoy plenty to work with as far as the character development and although, by comparison, Fassbender plays out a pretty repetetive part-time-villain trajectory (as seen in First Class) he still manages to dominate any time he's on screen.

Whilst not quite delivering the refreshing surprise that was First Class, Days of Future Past is a satisfying and thought provoking entry that continues to elevate the franchise far above any other Marvel property. I've said it before, but this decade is truly being defined by the intelligent blockbuster reboot and the revived X-Men franchise is wisely sticking to that formula. Continuing with the characters and period feel established in First Class but with enough of the original trilogy to lure in any nostalgic fans, Days of Future Past is as intriguing and exciting as it's title suggests.

***** 5 stars

What did you think of the film? Did you like the inclusion of the original cast?

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Godzilla (2014): Review

Godzilla is a 2014 Kaiju action movie. The film is directed by Gareth Edwards (Monsters) and stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass), Elizabeth Olsen (Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene) and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad). The film is a reboot of the long running Japanese franchise and the 2nd Western adaptation to date.

The film is initially set in Japan in 1999 and focuses on scientist Joe Brody (Cranston) and his family as they bear witness to a nuclear power plant disaster. Fast forward to the present day and Joe has become a reclusive conspiracy theorist whereas his son Ford (Taylor-Johnson) has grown up and started his own family with wife Elle (Olsen). Joe has become obsessed with uncovering the cause behind the disaster and, dragging Ford along, inadvertently unleash the M.U.T.Os (massive unidentified terrestrial organisms) upon the world. Fellow scientist Dr Serizawa (Ken Watanbe) reveals that the only way to stop the monsters may be to awaken another monster and Ford becomes caught up in a kaiju showdown as he tries to get home to San Francisco and reunite with his family.

It's important to note that Godzilla is not your typical action packed monster movie and whereas some unimaginative critics may try and reduce the movie to a "Nolanised" reboot of the franchise, I would say it is an "Edwardised" film. That may seem like an odd thing to say of a directors 2nd feature film but those familiar with Monsters will recognise the understated yet fantastically visual style on display as well as the tremendous pacing. Edwards had stated that he wished to return to a more classic style of monster movie where suspense and slow burn tension are favoured over excessive action sequences and over-exposure of the creatures themselves, and in this he succeeds 100%. But the great thing about Godzilla is that it also features some of the most jaw dropping special effects and spectacular action set pieces ever seen, meaning you can very much have your cake and eat it.

That being said, the film certainly isn't perfect and I feel some of claims made during the massive marketing campaign didn't necessarily ring true. Firstly, the claim of the film being more character driven so you would care more when their world fell apart around them; apart from Cranston's excellent (if somewhat limited) performance the rest of the cast turn in adequate performances at best, being limited by a very routine script, this meant I could never fully invest. Secondly, the claims that Godzilla would be returned to a morally ambiguous, anti hero character as seen in the 1954 version; I really never felt that Godzilla was anything but the hero, here to save mankind from the clearly villainous M.U.T.Os, bearing little resemblance to the terrifying Gojira character as seen in the original.

Overall, my criticisms did very little to take away from what was an enormously enjoyable experience that reduced me to a giddy child again. I feel many critics have been unfairly harsh on the film and ultimately a film with a 60 year, 28 film legacy is going to be far more scrutinised than your average summer blockbuster. Those who criticise the film for not having enough of the titular character have sadly missed the point and are possibly not that familiar with some of the Japanese films that understood sometimes less IS more. Gareth Edwards has done something remarkable and brave in this day and age in his crafting of an intelligent yet breathtaking reboot much in the vein of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) or the Dark Knight trilogy (05-12) and with a sequel already underway, it looks like the king is back!

***** 5 stars

What did you think of Godzilla? Is it being treated unfairly?

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

TMMDI's top ten Godzilla movies

The Godzilla franchise has spanned 60 years, 28 films and 3 distinctive eras. It has featured countless kaiju, various incarnations of Godzilla himself and some of the most elaborate/ludicrous storylines in b movie history. I hope to add one more film to this list after the weekend, but for now, here are my top ten Godzilla films...

1. Godzilla (1954)

2. Godzilla VS King Ghidorah (1991)

3. Destroy All Monsters (1968)

4. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)

5. Godzilla VS Biollante (1989)

6. Godzilla VS Destroyah (1995)

7. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

8. Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

9. Godzilla VS Hedorah (1971)

10. Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

What's your favourite Godzilla film? What's your favourite Godzilla era?

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Movie B Bad #5: Godzilla (1998)

With all the buzz surrounding the upcoming big budget reboot, many long-term fans are casting their minds back to 1998 when the world got the very first American Godzilla remake. The overwhelming consensus is that the film was an abomination, an insult to the legacy of the Japanese films with very little in common. But was the film really that bad....

Godzilla is a 1998 American giant monster movie. Directed by Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, Universal Soldier) and starring Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), Jean Reno (Leon) and Hank Azaria (The Simpsons). The film is an American adaptation of the popular Japanese Kaiju franchise.

The film opens with an origin montage explaining that Godzilla was created by French nuclear testing in the pacific that affected a nest of marine Iguanas. Flash forward to the modern day and we’re introduced to Dr Nick Tatopoulos (Broderick), a scientist studying the effects of radiation on Chernobyl earthworms. After an attack on a Japanese fishing boat the US military soon recruit Nick, being shadowed by the mysterious Roche (Reno), to pursue the creature as it heads straight for New York City. Godzilla proceeds to rampage all over the big apple, eventually laying eggs in Madison Square Garden and threatening the city with a horde of baby Godzillas as both science and military join forces to defeat the beast.

The first thing to say about this film is that it is not a Godzilla film…it is very much a Roland Emmerich film. Whether you think that’s a good thing or not there’s no denying that with cheesy dialogue, strong military themes and an abundance of explosions, it’s much more goofy action film than monster movie. Now in fairness to the movie it’s by no means the silliest entry in the franchise’s history. If you look back to the late 60s Showa era there were some truly ludicrous escapades, however, when you drastically change the setting, the creature design and the creature lore you end up losing the spirit of a Godzilla film and coming out of it all with a much more generic monster movie.

If Emmerich had gone back and watched those films from the late 60s he would have realised that one of the worst things you can bring out of the woodwork is baby Godzilla. It was stupid then and its stupid now, the whole Madison square garden sequence is an obvious riff on Jurassic park (1993) that reminds you how much better that film was. The same can be said for the atrocious King Kong (1933) knock off ending that makes the fatal error of trying to make Godzilla a sympathetic character when the greatest films in the franchise know to present the monster as an amoral force of nature.

All in all, the film can be enjoyed as a big dumb Roland Emmerich popcorn movie and the special effects were very impressive for the time. But, the very fact that Toho quickly disowned the creature (choosing to dub him simply “Zilla”) and brought out their own reboot within a year is enough to tell you this is not an authentic Godzilla film, therefore failing to achieve what it presumably set out to. Here’s hoping that Godzilla 2014 learns from these mistakes and stays true to the spirit of the Godzilla character that has captivated audiences for 60 years.

** 2 Stars

What did you think of Godzilla 98? Has the film been treated unfairly over the years?

Monday, 12 May 2014

Godzilla: Awakening (2014): Graphic Novel Review

In honour of Godzilla week, TMMDI is proud to present a first for this movie blog...a book review! Ok, a graphic novel review. Godzilla: Awakening is the brand new graphic novel released by Legendary Comics and is specifically designed to serve as a prequel to the upcoming reboot.

Godzilla: Awakening is an all new origin story designed to tie in with the new movie and establish the M.U.T.Os as a new foe for the king of the monsters. Seemingly disregarding the canon of the Japanese films, the story is being told as a flashback by Dr Serizawa (protagonist scientist of many early Godzilla films) in the year 1980 but recalling events from the late 40s/early 50s. The story tells of a mysterious flying creature surfacing in the aftermath of Hiroshima and going on somewhat of a rampage around the pacific. However, every time the creature terrorises an island nation, a certain giant lizard always appears to repel the attacks. Although sightings of the M.U.T.O, named Shinomura, are common, the army somehow manages to miss Godzilla everytime, leaving Serizawa as the only man who believes that Godzilla not only exists, but can be harnessed against Shinomura.

This leads on to an extraordinary flash back stretching back 250 million years which explains the ancient, symbiotic relationship between Godzilla and Shinomura. It also explains that Shinomura has regenerative qualities and must be stopped before it grows too large. This leads to the formation of the "Monarch unit", a top secret military operation tasked with tracking the Shinomura and destroying it. But with Serizawa hot on the tail of Godzilla, he makes it his mission to unearth the beast and pit the rival kaiju against each other before the Monarch unit resort to nuclear weapons.

This comic is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through time and across the pacific which serves as a wonderful introduction to the nature of the relationship between Godzilla, the M.U.T.Os and, of course, the humans stuck in the middle. Something that I really appreciated, and I hope is reflected in the movie, was the very slow introduction to Shinomura. Although ultimately revealed to be a fascinating design incorporating elements of a Cobra, bat and scorpion, for many pages the monster is merely glimpsed as a silhouette or as a mysterious tentacle. This is a really tried and tested technique of introducing a monster and kept me staring at the illustrations.

You have to also praise the ambition of the story, covering no less than 3 distinct time frames and hopping back and forth between 1945 and 1954 many times, you get a real sense of scale and history from the pages. The pages themselves are beautifully drawn by a trio of 3 pencilers and the multiple settings from around the pacific are really brought to life. The characters are drawn with a wise sense of realism given the tone of the upcoming film but still retain that b-movie quality and exaggerated style and the dialogue is written in a very traditional Godzilla style which will be very familiar to fans who used to fairly convoluted sci-fi exposition.

I would highly recommend this book to any Godzilla fan who's looking forward to the upcoming film and just can't get enough of the rebooted concept. It remains to be seen how much time will be dedicated to explaining the origin of the M.U.T.Os in the movie or whether Shinomura will feature (i personally really hope it will) and if those elements aren't included then all the more reason to check out this gem.

**** 4 Stars

Have you had a chance to check out this graphic novel? Have you read any other Godzilla comics?

Sunday, 11 May 2014

60 years of Godzilla: A retrospective

When I was a small child I have a vivid memory of having two favourite toys that I would make fight each other. One was a grey/green dinosaur with large spines down it's back and the other was a golden dragon with three heads. Although I didn't know what they were, these strange creatures fascinated me and captured my imagination. Fast forward over 20 years and I had come to know these creatures as Godzilla and King Ghidorah, two of the most famous kaijus in all the world. But I still didn't fully understand the underground world of kaiju and had never seen a Japanese Godzilla film so 3 years ago I set out to watch all 28 Toho films and rekindle my fascination with the giant monster movie. This is the story of that journey as well as the 60 year legacy that Godzilla celebrates and the dawning of a new era as a new western reboot takes on one the biggest challenges in contemporary cinema...bringing the king of the monsters back from the dead.

Although it has become an overused statement in recent years it is absolutely true that the western perception of Godzilla as a rubber suited, figure of fun could not be further from the original movie released in 1954. Released during the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the film was a haunting allegory warning society of the dangers of nuclear warfare and at the same time spawning an iconic movie monster in its titular character. The film was so successful that a sequel, the excellently titled Godzilla Raids Again, was rushed out the following year and introduced the concept of Godzilla grappling with other Kaiju (Anguirus in this case).

After a 7 year hiatus (mostly used to establish other popular Kaiju) the big G returned to continue what is known as the “Showa era” and faced off against the West’s most popular movie monster King Kong in a fun, if not anticlimactic, outing. This was followed in 1964 by pitting Godzilla against the 2nd most popular Kaiju at the time, Mothra, with accompanying pygmy ladies. Then followed the introduction of my favourite Kaiju King Ghidorah, with the combination of Ghidorah, the Three headed Monster (1964) and Invasion of Astro Monster (1965). Both of these films incorporated more Western alien-invasion elements whilst pushing the fight sequences to the limit of what could be achieved at that time.

After this semi-serious initial period of the Showa era, things began to morph into the more silly (but no less entertaining) antics that would come to define the character in the surf-themed lobster-starring Godzilla VS The Sea Monster (1966) and the ludicrous parenting tale of Son of Godzilla (1967). After these experiments in family friendly comedy the series would deliver one of its finest and most well-known entries in the form of Destroy All Monsters (1968). Massively upping the ante, the film featured no less than 10 Kaiju brawling their way across Tokyo and never fails to entertain, striking a perfect balance between fight sequences and a wacky sci-fi storyline.

No sooner had the series reached an impressive high point than it plummeted to a series low with the stock-rehashing, child-friendly, afterschool special that was All Monsters Attack (1969), a misleading title if there ever was one. The franchise fatigue continued as the series tried to create new foes for Godzilla but largely failed with unimaginative creatures such as Hedorah, Gigan and Megalon (a blob of pollution, robot chicken and giant cockroach respectively). However, this slump was ended with the introduction of Mechagodzilla, the high tech mirror image of Godzilla who featured in two fine entries (Godzilla VS Mechagodzilla and The Terror of Mechagodzilla) before the Showa era came to an end in 1975.

After a brief foray into the world of cartoons and comic books, the king of the Kaiju made his big screen comeback in 1984 with The Return of Godzilla (released in the US as Godzilla 1985) and so the Hesei era began. The film represented a return to the more serious side of Godzilla which was followed up with the fan favourite Godzilla VS Biollante (1989), which introduced one of the more interesting Godzilla opponents that somehow never really got a 2nd outing. Throwing King Ghidorah into the mix never fails to please, and in 1991 the series delivered one of my absolute favourites in Godzilla VS King Ghidorah. An ambitious outing that includes a new Godzilla origin story, time travel, cyborgs and an epic battle between Godzilla and Mechaghidorah (that’s right, Mechaghidorah!).

After 3 fantastic films, the Hesei era started to flag a little with lacklustre entries like Godzilla VS Mothra (1992), Godzilla VS Mechagodzilla (1993) and Godzilla VS Spacegodzilla (1994). The formers being poor attempts to recapture the Showa glory years and the latter being an absolute mess that even revives baby Godzilla. However, the Hesei era was determined to go out with a bang (literally) with the ever popular Godzilla VS Destroyah in 1995. Not only did the film feature one of the most unique Kaiju in Destroyah (essentially a super-evil-flying-devil made from the oxygen destroyer) but it also featured the iconic “Godzilla meltdown suit” and ended with Godzilla literally going supernova and bringing a close to what is certainly my favourite era in the franchise.

However, after an ill-advised American remake, Godzilla would make a swift return to kick-start the millennium series with Godzilla 2000 (1999). The film featured a pretty awesome alien kaiju called Orga who, much like Biollante would never make a 2nd appearance, and dragged the franchise into the 21st Century, albeit with some terrible CGI. The series once again took a slump, which tends to happen when Mothra turns up, with Godzilla VS Megaguirus (2000), a terrible insectoid kaiju, but would once again triumph with the very fine Godzilla, Ghidorah, Mothra: Giant monsters all-out attack (2001). The film returns Godzilla to his villainous roots with the oddly spiritual plot of the beast being possessed by the souls of dead Japanese soldiers and the other kaiju teaming up to defeat “Ghost Godzilla.

The next 2 films would be directly linked (a rarity in the franchise) and centred not just around Mechagodzilla but also the team pilots responsible for the robot much in the vein of Top Gun (2002). This resulted in 2 solid entries, Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2003) and Tokyo S.O.S, which featured much improved special effects and engaging human characters. This only leaves one more film, Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). If Destroy All Monsters upped the Ante then Final Wars went all in with upwards of ? Kaiju, a classic alien invasion storyline, martial arts action sequences and an international backdrop. Playing much like a greatest hits album, the film is a riot and reminds you of all the things that make the franchise great.

No matter what the tone, plot or technological limitations, the Godzilla franchise has always delivered the goods, and if it hadn’t it certainly wouldn’t have lasted 60 years. No matter how silly or outlandish the instalments became, Toho and the talent involved have always recognised that giant monsters smashing buildings for 90 minutes straight would just not work. At the heart of every Godzilla film are the human characters, their struggles and their relationships with science and nature. The cautionary spirit of the first film never went away, it just became lost amongst the various cinematic trends that have passed through the franchise over the years.

Gareth Edwards is on record as wanting to stick to the spirit of the original making Godzilla scary again and putting huge emphasis on the human condition. If he succeeds in this then we will have one of the finest Godzilla movies in years and the franchise will be well and truly revived. Long live the King!

Thursday, 8 May 2014

DOTPOTA full trailer

A full length trailer has finally been released for the upcoming dawn of the planet of the apes, and it is a doozy! Showing the full extent of society's deterioration after the killer simian flu, the trailer even features quite a lot of ape dialogue. What is clear is that Matt Reeves is staying very true to the almost cult rise of the planet of the apes and will feature just as much style as substance. The film is released on 11th July.

What do you think of the trailer? Do you think the film will be as good as rise?

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Raid 2: Berandal (2014): Review

The Raid 2: Berandal is a 2014 Indonesian action film. Directed by Gareth Evans (The Raid) starring Iko Uwais (The Raid), Arifin Putra (Macabre), Julie Estelle (Kuntilanak) and Yayan Ruhian (The Raid). The film is a sequel to the original cult classic from 2012.

The film picks up straight after the events of the first movie with Rama (Uwais) and his fellow survivors approaching a police contact with hard evidence of corruption given to him by his gangster brother Andi. Head of the top secret anti-corruption squad Bunawar explains to Rama that unfortunately his evidence is not good enough and in order to prosecute the corrupt police chief Reza, he must infiltrate Jakarta’s criminal underworld. Upon threat to his family’s safety Rama agrees and after being sent to prison to befriend Uco (Putra), heir to one of the largest gangs in the city, manages to climb to the position of trusted hired muscle. All that remains is for Rama to jump through Bunawar’s hoops to collect necessary evidence before fragile truce’s collapse and Jakarta is plunged into widespread gang warfare.

As you can tell the one thing that has been drastically improved from the original is the plot. Part of the beauty of the first Raid was its refreshing simplicity and focus on visceral action set-pieces rather than overcomplicating things. But, as with so many sequels to extremely popular films, the idea here is very much “bigger is better” and with a runtime of two and a half hours, timespan of over two years and multiple locations all over Jakarta a truly epic film has been lovingly crafted. Also, the undercover cop/gang politics plot is brilliantly woven and serves to pick up any slack between the jaw dropping action sequences, which occur at perfectly timed intervals.

Another feature that has been retained and built upon is the video game style enemies and levels that Rama has to navigate in order to reach his goal. It’s no surprise that there has been an accompanying Streets of Rage style game released as a marketing tool as there are bosses and mini-bosses aplenty here. Crafting henchman characters is a lost art rarely seen since the James Bond films got so serious and Evans presents an array of exaggerated villains in the form of “Hammer Girl”(Estelle), “Baseball Bat Man” and “The Assassin”. And if you thought that the violence would be toned down for a wider cinematic release then think again, somehow The Raid 2 is even more violent than its predecessor whilst still managing to present the mayhem in a stylish South Korean arthouse style.

If you take the simple concept of the first film, mix it with one part Infernal Affairs, one part Oldboy and pump all of the elements up to a sensory overload level then what you get is The Raid 2. Effortlessly grand, beautifully shot, intricately plotted and heroically violent Evans has raised the already high bar set by the first film and created a new benchmark in martial arts, action cinema that both East and West will now struggle to surpass. This is what a sequel should be, this is what an action film should be and this is what a martial arts film should be!

***** 5 Stars

What did you think of The Raid 2? Did you prefer it to the first film?

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Rare Imports #5: Infernal Affairs (2002) Review

Infernal Affairs is a 2002 Hong Kong cop thriller. Directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak the film stars an ensemble cast of Andy Lau (House of the Flying Daggers), Tony Leung, Anthony Wong (Hard Boiled) and Eric Tsang. The film would go on to spawn 2 sequels and an English language remake, The Departed, which would win the best picture Oscar.

Centering around its two main characters the plot follows inspector Lau (Lau), a triad mole in the HKPD, and Yan (Leung), a police mole within Hon Sam’s (Tsang) Triad division. We initially see the characters in their younger form being selected for infiltration but then fast forward to the modern day where both organisations begin to suspect the traitor in their midst. This leads to a cat and mouse chase with each mole attempting to identify the other before their respective organisations find out, resulting in a shocking climax.

Infernal Affairs plays on its complex and cerebral plot with great flair and style. Creating maximum tension from its premise, the film challenges you to think about the situation at all times and subverts the notion of heroes and villains. At various points of the plot you’re required to think about whether the mole is acting in the interests of their undercover organisation, their original organisation or, indeed, their own interests and this makes for a crime thriller far more gripping than most.

To compliment this, the film is beautifully shot against the neon Hong Kong backdrop and perfectly scored with a dramatic stringed score reminiscent of the finest mafia films. The actors on display, well known to the Hong Kong market but lesser known in the west, turn in outstanding performances. From the morally conflicted Yan to the manipulative Lau, from the battle worn superintendent Wong (Wong) to the explosive Sam, all the characters are incredibly well crafted and portrayed.

It’s very predictable to say that a foreign language original is superior to its western remake, but when you consider that The Departed is a critically acclaimed film beloved by most, you start to get a sense of how special Infernal Affairs is. Rarely do cop thrillers (eastern or western) require quite so much concentration and even more rarely are they so rewarding in return. Ingenious in its concept and flawless in its execution, Infernal Affairs demands to be watched.

What did you think of the film? Do you prefer the departed?