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?