Godzilla (2014) A Review

Allow me to make myself clear....

Allow me to make myself clear….

Ok, now, this is how you do it. Since the disastrous remake of Godzilla back in 1998, the big scaly lizard has been gun shy about returning to these shores, and who can blame him? Because, after all, even Godzilla has a reputation to maintain. And so when many heard about this new Godzilla film first being announced, just in time for his sixtieth anniversary, there was a lot of consternation from many fans. Yet I had faith about this new movie once I heard who was directing: Gareth Edwards, whose previous film Monsters was basically a low budget audition tape to get him to direct the Big G in action. And, having finally seen it. I can say that Edwards has delivered the Godzilla movie that fans like me wanted back in ’98.

Look, Godzilla, I know it's you, I can hear you breathing. Dude, it's over, just let it go and move on.

Look, Godzilla, I know it’s you, I can hear you breathing. Dude, it’s over, just let it go and move on.

Instead of ignoring the original mythology, like the ‘98 version did, Edwards embraces Godzilla’s sixty year cinematic heritage by establishing that the Big G first terrified humanity back in 1954 when he swam around the Pacific Ocean, attacking islands with impunity. The United States Navy took him on back then, luring him into a trap with a nuclear bomb on the Bikini Atoll. When Godzilla was presumed destroyed, the battle–along with the presence of the creature–was hidden from the public by disguising it as a nuclear bomb test. It’s heady stuff, and it shows off the vivid imagination of the filmmakers during just the opening credits.

Um, is that our flight? Does our plane have big scaly legs?

Um, is that our flight? Does our plane have big scaly legs?

Of course, Godzilla wasn’t really destroyed back in 1954 (the same year that the original Godzilla film was released); he returns again to do battle with a horde of creatures known as Mutos who arise to repopulate the Earth. Edwards wisely keeps him under wraps, never really showing a lot of him, using the same trick that Spielberg used in Jaws, which is to build dread and suspense by keeping the monster under wraps while people talk it up while dealing with the destruction it leaves in its wake. The influence of Jaws is further felt here in that the protagonist’s family name is also Brody (the name of the main character played by Roy Scheider in that classic).

I don't care how big and scary he is, that frigging lizard ain't getting any of my meth!

I don’t care how big and scary he is, that frigging lizard ain’t getting any of my meth!

In this day and age of CGI, it’s inevitable that the effects in this new Godzilla would be all computer generated (I always loved the miniature work in the original films). And while the CGI is very well done, one problem is that, with most of the action taking place at night, the monster sequences are oftentimes too dark. I watched this in Blu-Ray on a high-def TV and still had trouble making out what was going on in some scenes. Once the monsters makes their grand appearance in the climatic battle, it would be nice to actually see them in all their glory. Still, Edwards has done a marvelous job in creating a new Godzilla film that’s respectful to its source material while still being its own monster movie. This long-time Godzilla fan is pleased. –SF

A review of the first episode of Gotham

You hear what that guy called us? Check if there's room in the grave for one more body....

You hear what that guy called us? Check if there’s room in the grave for one more body….

Having seen the first episode of Gotham, all I can say is…interesting. I was suspicious of this series when I first heard about it: a Batman show without the Dark Knight, taking place when James Gordon (played here by Ben McKenzie) is starting out as a rookie detective on the Gotham City police force. Partnered with veteran cop Harvey Bullock (the very good Donal Logue), their very first case is the murder of a wealthy couple in a back alley of Gotham City. It seems the couple were on their way home from the movies with their young son, Bruce.

Hey, dude, hold on...how about this time you just let us walk on through, huh?

Hey, dude, hold on…how about this time you just let us walk on through, huh?

Yep, we’re witnessing the classic scene of Thomas and Martha Wayne taking one for the team once more so that their kid can become the Batman. But instead of this scene being just a prelude to the main action, like it would be in a Batman film, it’s the main storyline of the entire season of Gotham as Gordon tries to figure out who is behind the murders and why were they killed. So is a Batman show without the Batman going to work? That’s hard to say with watching just the first episode, but from what I’ve seen, the series has potential.

Is the fish market open, yet? I could use a snack.

Is the fish market open, yet? I could use a snack.

The first episode is a joy for Bat-fans to watch in that we can play “spot the future rogue’s gallery member” whenever a younger version of Batman’s classic villains are presented here. In this episode alone we have the Riddler, the Penguin, a very young Poison Ivy and even a stand up comedian who might be a real joker. The episode also features Camren Bicondova as a fledgling Catwoman (since she’s just starting out, should she be called Kittengirl?) who silently stalks the proceedings in a stylish manner. Her scenes are the closest we get here to feeling the Dark Knight vibe.

That scratching post looks like it might be a trap....

That scratching post looks like it might be a trap….

The down side is Fish Mooney, the main villain who’s played by Jada Pinkett Smith. She comes off as being too silly and over the top to feel like she’s a real threat. Another problem for me is that Sean Pertwee is too gruff and hard to be Alfred Pennyworth. But, like I’ve said, it’s just the first episode. Despite its flaws, which are nitpicks, I still enjoyed this. Will Gotham take flight as another unique take on the Dark Knight myth, or will it become a safe and vapid Smallville clone? Time, and the rest of the season, will tell. –SF

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Is it me, or is this elevator getting really overcrowded?

Is it me, or is this elevator getting really overcrowded?

“On your left!” Much like how Captain America comes up from behind and surpasses the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) while jogging around Washington D.C. at the very beginning, Captain America: The Winter Soldier does the same thing to an unsuspecting viewer. As much as I enjoyed the first CA movie (which I felt was unduly marred by kicking him up into the present day way too soon), I was still never a huge fan of the Captain America character; I always thought he was an anachronism who was better left in the 1940s, where his “rah-rah” nature was better suited to fighting Nazis. The first movie deftly switched Cap’s villain from Nazis to Hydra; a super secret scientific organization led by the Red Skull that broke away from the Third Reich.

I was in Butch and Sundance...I was Sundance. What, is everybody in here under the age of forty?

I was in Butch and Sundance…I was Sundance. What, is everybody in here under the age of forty?

But the CA sequel, coming right after The Avengers (where Cap acquitted himself nicely, but he shared screen time with a large cast, and Robert Downey Jr.’s high flying Iron Man remains the main draw of that flick for me) places the Greatest Generation’s hero into the present day, and I figured the regular exploits of Captain America would be pretty mundane. But the Russo Brothers, Anthony and Joe, along with the Marvel brain trust, had other ideas. If the first Captain America film was an ode to World War Two movies by way of Indiana Jones, then the sequel coolly evokes the paranoia of a 1970’s spy thriller (complete with having Robert Redford in its cast).

This is Shield. We employ hot babes just for your protection. Nuff said.

This is Shield. We employ hot babes just for your protection. Nuff said.

Shield, the somewhat fascist organization that is sworn to protect each and every one of us–whether we want that protection or not–is now gearing up the big guns. Three new heli-carriers, more advanced than the one seen in the Avengers film, are just about ready to make their debut in the skies above us (a reflection of the surveillance drones that police departments across the country are slowly trying to press into service, perhaps?). Under the command of a satellite system known as Insight, these carriers will stop crime before it can even be committed. When Captain America voices some concern about all this being too much, Nick Fury, Shield’s commander, is shot and Cap finds himself on the run, framed for Fury’s death.

Man, this new chef they hired is REALLY strict...

Man, this new chef they hired is REALLY strict…

The Russo Brothers always keep their eye on the ball, which is to smartly advance the story with the small character moments, as well as with action. And the action sequences are to die for. They are expertly directed with a breathless energy that’s quite rare to see these days. Chris Evans shines as a guy who’s still trying to catch up with the modern world, only to be fighting for his life.

Trust me, Cap, I've worked with Iron Man--nothing fazes me.

Trust me, Cap, I’ve worked with Iron Man–nothing fazes me.

Scarlett Johansson is also superb as Black Widow, who offers Cap some much needed help, even in the dating department. Cobie Smulders makes a welcome return as Maria Hill, and Mackie is very good as the Falcon (his intro scene as the classic comic book hero is simply enthralling here). Think about it: a film that has nonstop, vibrant action scenes that are well thought out and serve the overall story–yet the movie still contains a thoughtful message on just how far should we take our quest for security? Way to go! Kudos to the Russo boys for making a Cap adventure that’s still relevant, but also fun and just plain cool, to boot. –SF

Batman Begins: a sneak preview of Bane?

I was re-watching Batman Begins (I’m in the process of re-watching the entire Nolan Batman trilogy, which are my all-time fave Batman films) and I noticed something during the big climatic confrontation near the end.

Of course, I should mention that there are SPOILERS ahead. The movie’s now nine years old, but better safe than sorry, I guess.

Anyway, Ra’s al Ghul, the evil mastermind who’s revealed to be Liam Neeson (I told you there would be spoilers!) carries out his plan to destroy Gotham City from within by dispersing a special hallucinogenic gas throughout the city. To prevent himself from falling prey to his own gas, Ra’s puts on a gas mask that looks a little familiar:

"Hey, why are my eyes still burning? Should I also be wearing safety goggles?"

“Hey, should my eyes still be burning? Should I also be wearing safety goggles?”

If you don’t get the reference, he reminds me a little bit of Bane, a future Bat Villain who would vex Batman in the Dark Knight Rises.

"I've lost my car keys, and would appreciate it if the finder would bring them the to the main office. Thanks, and enjoy the game."

“I’ve lost my car keys, and would appreciate it if anybody who finds it would bring them the to the main office. Thanks, and enjoy the game.”

Considering that the back story in Rises ties these two together (they share a past history), the mask that Ra’s wears could almost be seen as foreshadowing the eventual arrival of Bane in the third and final Nolan Batman film.

I don’t know if director Christopher Nolan was plotting ahead that far back when making Batman Begins, but–now knowing what is to come–this is still a pretty cool thing to see.

Deep Breath: a review of Peter Capaldi as Doctor Who

The name's Who...Doctor Who.

The name’s Who…Doctor Who.

I watched episode one of the eight season of Doctor Who, which is the first full episode featuring Peter Capaldi as the good Doctor, and I have to say that I liked it very much. Specifically, I really like Capaldi as the doctor. After having the Doctor played by two younger actors (with the most recent, Matt Smith, being the youngest ever), show runner Stephen Moffat goes in the opposite direction this time with an older lead actor, which turns out to be a wise move.

Who's that howling back there? Knock it off in the name of the Queen!

Who’s that howling back there? Knock it off in the name of the Queen!

Every new “post-regeneration” show is always a little awkward, with the new actor playing the Doctor still finding his way in the role while the viewers try and decide whether they’ll accept him or not. But Moffat smartly surrounds Capaldi with a cast of familiar faces, such as the previous Doctor’s companion Clara (the sturdy Jenna Coleman), as well as the Paternoster Gang, a heroic trio that consists of a female dinosaur humanoid, her human lesbian lover (and wife) and their butler–who happens to be a Sontaran, an alien warrior from another planet.

The future's so bright we're gonna need shades!

The future’s so bright we’re gonna need shades!

The story is a fun romp through Victorian London, which is the usual stomping grounds of the Paternoster Gang (this episode almost feels like a back door pilot for them. And I really wouldn’t mind seeing a spin-off series with this trio). But the real thrust of the story is seeing Capaldi settling into his role. His Doctor appears to harken back to the old school Doctors of the 1960s and 70s, like John Pertwee and Tom Baker, which suits Capaldi very well.

Can I keep this dress when this is over?

Can I keep this dress when this is over?

I was really eager to see what Capaldi was like, and so far, I think he’s a great fit in the role. Looking forward to seeing more adventures with him. As the Tenth Doctor might say: Allons-y!