Godzilla? Gadzooks!

Godzill posterYOU MAY BE ASKING WHY on earth did I go see this?  Well, the previews made it look like the all-out destruction of the planet (but in a fun way).  It has a 73% Tomatometer score.  And I figured I wouldn’t get bored the way I do with superhero movies, because there is no superhero here to remain ever-invincible.  Lastly, I hoped that it would rekindle the spirit of the classic Japanese films of yore.

Well, no such luck.  I’m more with the 27% of critics who said no thanks; A.O. Scott of the Times:

It is at once bloated and efficient, executed with tremendous discipline and intelligence and conceived with not too much of either.

and:

…one of the pleasures the movie offers is the thought that actors who have done splendid work elsewhere — Mr. Cranston and Ms. Binoche, and also Sally Hawkins as another scientist — are being paid well for shouting, grimacing and spouting expository claptrap.

He left out Elizabeth Olsen, who I like very much from last year’s underrated Oldboy and the fabulous indie Martha Marcy May Marlene.  Olsen and Bryan Cranston are 2 of the few positives Godzilla has in its favor.  Richard Corliss, Time:

Godzilla dawdles toward its Doomsday climax; the movie could win a prize for Least Stuff Happening in the First Two-Thirds of an Action Film.

It really makes you scratch your head as to how so many critics recommended it.  Another case in point of why I write this blog.  For me, I felt it was a disjointed Godzilla text blockjumble of a movie with lots of unnecessary lapses in logic, and that it never capitalized on a gold-mine of vintage mojo waiting for it in the original Godzilla movies.  Besides the presence of Cranston and Olsen, I did like one scene late in the film: skydiving set to 2001’s mystical head-trip music.  Note: I saw the standard (non-IMAX) 3D version, which didn’t help this movie at all.  4/10

New from Jarmusch: Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive - poster large

S E H R  L A  N   G    S     A     M.  PACING has always been an important aspect of the films of Jim Jarmusch.  And pacing is what Only Lovers Left Alive needs a cold hard injection of.  I have no problem with a movie taking its time, but there’s a difference between taking your time and being downright lethargic.  I take it that lethargy is a theme of this vampire tale, but for large swathes of the movie I wished that everything could just speed up.  Having said that, I liked this movie.  I think the pace could be picked up, but at the same time it’s not particularly draggy.

Only Lovers Left Alive - text blockAnother problem: it’s never very dramatic, or romantic, or comic — but I suppose that too would be missing the point.  These vampires are decidedly disconnected, and Jarmusch I think wants to emphasize that fact — even if it risks disengaging the audience as well.  For positives, I liked the original music, and the atmosphere and vibe of the film, and the little chips of humor.  The settings and location shooting in Detroit and Tangier fit very nicely, and are properly exploited.  The movie is greatly enlivened exactly when needed when the sister (Mia Wasikowska) visits.  And finally, though Tilda Swinton is not always my favorite actress, she is perfectly cast here.  She really gets the whole vampire gig.

So a mild recommendation — though as I reflect on it now, my memories grow fonder.  That vague quality of vibe is difficult to define, and even more difficult to achieve — though I reckon the music has a lot to do with it.  Only Lovers Left Alive achieves that great vibe.  Another way to put it: it’s got some mojo.  Mojo, or vibe, should not be under-accounted for.  It’s a shame that pacing and plot don’t live up to the vibe.

Somehow I felt like this was a good version of last year’s Much Ado About Nothing, but I’m not sure why I draw a connection.  Only Lovers Left Alive exhibits a trend of Jarmusch films becoming less and less recognizable as Jarmusch films.  I hope he can return to form, because if not he’s simply past his prime.  The trailer’s a good tell on this one: if you like it, you’ll like the movie.  6/10

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Comparison Notes: Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Immortal Beloved (title only), Dead Man, every vampire movie ever made

Passing through a Ghost World

Ghost World - poster large

Ghost World (2001) is a well-known, potentially essential indie that I had been wanting to watch for a long while, but could not as it had not been available via streaming rental; recently it became available on Apple TV.  It was worth the wait: I really liked it.  And it’s hard for me to put my finger on why I liked it so much.  There is nothing remarkable or avant-garde here, just a straightforward story told in a straightforward way.  It speaks to the subtle power of that story, and the not so subtle strength of its characters.

Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi

Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi

Those characters are two disillusioned, outsider teens who have freshly graduated high school and are not interested in going to college or doing anything else to fit into mainstream society.  I found watching these girls — played expertly by Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson — to be utterly compelling.  Purely out of their mischievous nature, they become involved with an older man played by Steve Buscemi, in a role that fits him to a T.

Ghost World was universally praised upon its release.  Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal:

Here’s a dark, deadpan comedy about alienated kids that manages to be smart, surpassingly odd, extremely funny and mysteriously endearing at the same time.

And Roger Ebert:

I wanted to hug this movie. It takes such a risky journey and never steps wrong. It creates specific, original, believable, lovable characters, and meanders with them through their inconsolable days, never losing its sense of humor.

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Beyond just being a good movie, Ghost World may be considered a mile-marker, a final say-so on the 90’s indie film movement, and a cap on 90’s Ghost World - text blockculture in a broader sense including music and fashion.  An idea that we’re now done with punk and grunge and maybe it’s time to move on, to reset our clocks by possibly revisiting the classics.  I might be reading too much between the lines, but I had a feeling of watching the end of an era.

I very much liked Ghost World, but I wasn’t as completely enamored of it as was Ebert.  It was completely entertaining and engrossing, and crossed the threshold that distinguishes “great” films, but there were a couple moments where it slipped on mainstream movie clichés — and at those moments it lost some of its authenticity.  But I highly recommend it.  By my count, it’s just short of essential, but may be considered an “essential indie”, i.e. if you’re into indies don’t miss it.  And as I continue to reflect on Ghost World, it’s entirely possible that my opinion of it will increase.  But for now, 8/10.

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Comparison Notes (recommended): Fast Times at Ridgemont High

No Bueno Fargo Problemo

Fargo - still Molly & Bill Oswalt

I’ve been very happy with the new Fargo series, as I posted on previously.  But there have been some minor annoyances story-wise that have cropped up, and I’m wondering if anyone else has noticed these things.  SPOILER ALERT!  I’m going to speak to a few details of the series, none of which will give too much away, but if you aren’t caught up and wish to be, you may want to skip reading on.  So these are the story problems I’ve noticed:

  1. In the first episode, how does Malvo lift the dead, full-grown deer into his trunk?  What is he, Hercules?  And why would he go to the effort?  Not consequential to the story, so easily forgiven / overlooked.
  2. Not so easily overlooked… The “naked guy” in the trunk, who ends up frozen to death: He was dragged out by Malvo right in front of witnesses, in addition to the security camera(s).  What gives?  I think if you had a co-worker in your office dragged out in front of you, you’d call the police — the local St. Paul police, in this case.  Said local police would issue an APB right away I’d say.  I don’t think Malvo would get to run around until the Bemidji police show up.
  3. Fargo series - still - washerFrom last night’s episode (ep. 5) — I understand why Molly returns to Lester’s house, but what on earth possesses her to open up the washing machine?  Now I take it that she did not find the murder weapon, but still: there is absolutely no reason presented — unless I’m missing something — to make her believe anything would be found there.

Obviously I’m really into this series, or I wouldn’t bother with all these issues.  But points 2 & 3 above are not minor quibbles.  I can ‘go with the flow’ on things like the blood-shower, or the cricket-ridden supermarket — neither one of which would be so easy to execute —  because these are the type of fantastic but just-believable elements which make the show so enjoyable.

The Fargo series has not disappointed — it is masterfully produced and 100% entertaining.  But in a sense, its high quality make the story-gaffes all the more unforgivable.  I’m hooked in for the short remainder of the series, but it seems these little plot problems could have been easily fixed, leaving a blemish-free program.  Your thoughts?

No Escape from Tomorrow

Escape from Tomorrow hardly lived up to all its hoopla.  I had been looking forward to it since first hearing about it, and was exceptionally curious to see this film that was shot in clandestine fashion within Disneyworld.  I was shocked to find that long-time Disney ally Apple had made it Escape from Tomorrow - poster new smallavailable for rental, and then I steeled myself for an experience that might inflict a permanent scar on my warm fuzzy feelings about Disneyland, those happy memories from childhood.  I need not have worried: Escape does not in any way blemish the Disney image.

In fact, even though there is extensive footage within the Magic Kingdom, it largely rings hollow.  The film does nothing to add a new perspective to the Disney park experience.  Worse, Escape from Tomorrow failed to tap into the mystique at its fingertips: the history, the lore, and the current embodiment of all things Disney and Disneyland.  A holy trinity of narrative goldmines that was all but discarded.

Obviously, entry into hidden spaces cannot be expected; it’s enough of a feat to film within the park, but the former basketball court inside the Matterhorn, the tunnel labyrinth underneath the parks, secret apartments — these are spaces whose very existence should have been used to inspire the twisted fantasy that the movie aspires to.  As for the areas available for filming, maybe spend less time on Big Thunder and shoot instead within Pirates, or do more with the Haunted Mansion.  It’s as if the filmmakers were completely oblivious to most of what the park could so easily grant them.

Escape from Tomorrow - text block red

As for positives, I will say the film had a more professional production polish than I expected.  And there were a couple laughs — but just a couple.  A.O. Scott of the Times:

None of it is as scary or as funny as it should be, and what starts out as a sly thumb in the eye of corporate power ends up as a muddled and amateurish homage to David Lynch.

Muddled and amateurish, yes.  But I don’t see the David Lynch connection.  There was nothing particularly David Lynch-ish about it.  More perhaps like a modern-day, botched attempt at a Twilight Zone episode.  But either way, this movie is a flop.  A critic or two have claimed that Escape from Tomorrow is headed for cult-film status.  I’m not sure about that — there’s just too little here.  The only reason to watch this movie is to satisfy your curiosity regarding its production.  I do love all the marketing graphics that were generated for the movie, including the latest poster (above).

It’s sad that for all the effort these guys put forth, they couldn’t come up with the easiest part: a good story.  3/10

The Other Woman: Comedy’s Tough

The Other Woman - posterI like Leslie Mann.  She was great in Knocked Up.  I think she’s funny, but that doesn’t mean she’s funny enough to carry a feature comedy by herself.  So there’s also Cameron Diaz, one of my favorite actresses.  And I’m not sure how funny she is.  And I can tell you Kate Upton, not funny.

And I got to thinking about how difficult comedy is, and how maybe it’s harder for women to be funny.  I think of all those great seasons of Saturday Night Live, and it’s mostly humor driven by men.  So for a movie like The Other Woman, a good, funny script would help, sure, but so would natural comedic talent.  Think of how funny Mike Myers is just looking at him on screen.  Obviously, women can be funny too.  Anna Faris is the most natural female comic talent I can think of now working — I find her sitcom Mom to be hilarious.  But the gals in this film, not so much.

Mann and Diaz do pull off a lot of good physical shtick, but often you can sense that they are trying too hard to push the humor, to force it — and that just doesn’t work.  I had seen the trailer for The Other Woman a number of times, and it looked like fun.  I ignored the 25% Tomatometer score, and went in with a positive outlook.  This movie’s heart is in the right place, and it succeeds in a number of places, but neither the comedy nor the story ever pay off.  So ultimately it’s a disappointing and forgettable film.  4/10

The Other Woman - text block