Godzilla – Film Review

Godzilla 4

The history of Godzilla goes back to 1954 when a Japanese film was released featuring a fire breathing dinosaur-like colossus rampaging its way through Tokyo. The film was a huge hit and acted as a scathing morality tale about the horrors that the country suffered during Atomic bombings in World War II.

Sadly my personal history of Godzilla only goes back to 1998 when an American film was released featuring a giant T-Rex that somehow manages to hide in downtown Manhattan. The film was negatively received and a potential trilogy was abandoned. This iteration was perfect for the ten-year-old me who saw the film in the cinema but subsequent viewing revealed it for the astonishing Matthew Broderick starring mess it was. This particular Godzilla was just a bit of fun, some light entertainment for a Sunday afternoon in front of the TV but nothing more than that.

The history of 2014’s Godzilla goes back to 2010 when British visual effects whiz Gareth Edwards released his debut feature as writer and director; Monsters. The film was a small story about two people trying to get back to America from Mexico in a time when the American border has been turned into a quarantine zone filled with extraterrestrial creatures. Working on a micro-budget, and creating his own visual effects, Edwards demonstrated a great visual eye and an ability to put characters first ahead of relying on the, admittedly excellent, CGI beasts. The question going into Godzilla is whether Edwards can learn from Roland Emmerich’s mistakes and make a film worthy of the 1954 original utlising the talents he showcased in Monsters.

Godzilla Still 7

On most fronts Edwards’ Godzilla is hugely successful. The sheer scale, bulk, and scope of both the monster and its setting is frankly jaw-dropping. Godzilla is big. I mean BIG. Seriously though, Godzilla is BIG. The press notes alone were over 40 pages long; everything about this film is done on a bigger scale than I have seen in a cinema before. In what is a film with a relatively serious tone the only laughter I allowed myself (aside from a few amusingly convenient plot contrivances) was when I just had to giggle at the spectacle of what I was seeing on screen. It was just plain ridiculous. Ridiculous and sublime. And BIG. As the chaos got more and more chaotic I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself and shake my head in disbelief – a wonderful thing to be able to do at the cinema I’m sure you will agree.

With Godzilla as his second film Edwards is displaying some serious chops when it comes to a striking visual. While initially being coy about showing us the titular creature he is sure to give us our eyeful of monolithic prehistoric riotous beast before the film is done. When we aren’t feasting on creature visuals the film is littered with gorgeous photography filled with gloomy smoke, looming shadows, and this film’s signature red hue. While the 1998 Godzilla was a lumbering mess this is a gorgeous piece of cinema with endless treats for the eyes that need to be seen on the big screen. While I’m not going to be plugging the IMAX or 3D experience I really do think that this is a film that deserves a large cinema screen with loud speakers surrounding you.

Godzilla Still 4

All that Godzilla lacks, something Monsters had in spades, is intimacy. While we follow the action through the experiences of a soldier (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his family (Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, and Juliette Binoche) the characters are rarely seen together so their disparate experiences don’t tie together in a satisfying way. The superb cast list is rounded out by Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe as Godzilla experts but they too feel a little underserved. The fact that I didn’t care who lived and who died is definitely a flaw but at the end of the day this is a story on a global scale with a large monster as its star. If you want a more intimate story about a big beasty might I suggest both Cloverfield and The Host? Both are films that take their stories down a notch to give a real human experience amongst the madness of a monster movie.

Godzilla is a big and beautiful film that knows what it needs to deliver to impress its audience. Special effects can so often leave me numb and disconnected but Edwards has a way of dealing with fantastical scenes to make them seem real and grounded. Both Godzilla and Godzilla have a real heft to them and the idea of a gargantuan creature and its effect on mankind is taken as seriously as is possible.

When the film was over my heart was pounding and I let out a quiet “bloody hell”. For well crafted spectacle you can’t do much better than Godzilla. There is room alongside the smaller, independant fare to enjoy big meaty blockbusters and I only wish they were all as good as this was.

Godzilla is in UK cinemas from today.

Martha Marcy May Marlene – LFF Review

Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) has just escaped an abusive cult, one where she was known as Marcy May, and has moved in with her estranged sister and brother-in-law. Back in civilised society Martha struggles to escape the memories of her time with the cult and live with people who do not share the cult’s values or lack of boundaries.

With his debut as both writer and director Sean Durkin has made an impressive film, confidently shot without any flashy gimmicks. Durkin is happy to set up a few simple shots for a scene, allowing the camera to move and re-frame where necessary, letting his script and actors showcase his talent.

Elizabeth Olsen is superb as the once confident young woman, brutalised by her time being subtly manipulated by cult leader Patrick (John Hawkes). Too often we have to wait years for a fresh new talent to finally find the right film to showcase their skill; Olsen has found it right away. John Hawkes is wonderfully creepy as Patrick, showing that certain combination of charisma and manipulation needed to make people follow you to the dark side. Sarah Paulson too has a layered character to play as Martha’s sister Lucy, forced to choose between caring for her sister and protecting her own family from this disruptive force.

Flashbacks and present day are blended so well that there is still one scene we cannot place in one definitive time frame, Martha is struggling to make sense of her world so we must too. As Martha’s mind is sucked back to her time in the cult we can see the subtle changes in her character and physicality and just why she is finding it so hard to live with normal people once more.

With Martha Marcy May Marlene centred on a woman haunted by memories of a horrific period in her past I can’t help but draw comparisons to We Need to Talk About Kevin. When put side by side it is Martha which comes out on top, a much simpler film without any visual gimmicks. Martha is also the more traumatic, the tension is just as present as in Kevin but without ever getting a proper release.

The film left us reeling and tense, not wanting to head out into the dark night outside so it was a relief to have a Q&A with the cast and crew afterwards. They were a charming, humble bunch whose friendly energy helped to relax the audience again. Sadly most audiences will just be thrown trembling into the real world after the credits roll.

Martha Marcy May Marlene is near perfect, just a few moments where the tension almost became tedium before something would happen to jolt us back onto the edges of our seats.

Martha screens again at the London Film Festival today and on Monday, worth a look as tickets are still available, then is released in UK cinemas on 3rd February 2012.

Martha Marcy May Marlene – Trailer

Told you it was trailer week.

This time the trailer is for just one film and it’s a film we really want to see. Martha Marcy May Marlene was a big hit at Sundance and stars the other Olsen sister. Poor Elizabeth has to compensate for her sisters’ weak contributions to the acting world.

Now we just need the trailer for Like Crazy.

Sundance Sales

Martha Marcy May Marlene

We didn’t spend the whole ten days of Sundance jealously scrounging for news while stuck in an airless office in grey London. Not at all. But now that the only thing Park City has to look forward to is sub-zero temperatures and a whole lot of snow (ha! Take that, Utah!), Mild Concern sorts through the film sales and picks out the ones to watch out for when some studio exec decides they can see the light of day. (We’re still waiting for Hesher from last year’s Sundance.)

Sundance was a strong festival for Mild Concern favourites. First up (and previously teased): Like Crazy – the long distance relationship drama starring Anton Yelchin and, more importantly, Felicity Jones. We do like to see all this buzz around our fellow East London resident. Don’t forget us when you’re a Hollywood starlet, Felicity.

Having already peeked at the next tip due to this blog’s stalking casual interest in the roles of Ms. Deschanel, My Idiot Brother stars Paul Rudd as a pot-dealing idealist who disrupts the lives of his three sisters in what is hopefully a non-bromance film. At last!

Tired of seeing Paul Bettany wasted in bad films? Or period dramas? Or as English villains? Or as a disembodied voice at the beck and call of Robert Downey Jr? Well how about seeing how he does as a banker? Or at least, Margin Call is set in an investment bank during 24 hours in the financial crisis so we might be extrapolating a bit. It’s a thriller, really! Also looking to enthrall you with numbers and graphs is writer-director newcomer, J.C. Chandor and the combined acting force of Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci and President of the Earth, Mary McDonnell.

From an established cast of big names to Homework. Billed as a ‘coming-of-age romantic comedy’, it can only be filled with actors that make me show my age when I ask, “Wait – aren’t they 10 years old?” Case in point: little Charlie of Chocolate Factory fame (Freddie Highmore) and blonde starlet, Emma Roberts, who I haven’t seen in anything since she was 10. It’s got a lot of buzz and has an indie poster. It even has music from The Shins.

Does having celebrity older siblings who have demonstrated how to have a car crash of a youth acting career make you more likely to go about having a similar career in a more sensible manner? That’s probably a question that requires more research (and better editing) but if we take a sample size of one and make that one person Elizabeth Olsen, then the answer is yes. I am weirdly excited about Martha Marcy May Marlene, which stars Olsen as an escapee from a cult and tracks between her time there and her failing attempts to re-assimilate back into her life. Sounds like the girl has made some good choices; just make sure you finish that Psychology degree, Elizabeth – hey, it worked for Portman.

Every time we hear about good stuff that the UK Film Council has done, we get a little sinking feeling because we worry for its future. The Guard, starring Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson, inspires that sinking feeling. Drug smuggling, FBI agents and reluctant Irish village police. It’s either a crime thriller or a farcical comedy! (It’s a thriller.)

I’m rounding this section off with The Details – Elizabeth Banks, Tobey Maguire and Laura Linney. Apparently it’s about the ridiculousness of the every day, involves a raccoon-ruined lawn and is a comedy that isn’t going to provide obvious jokes for a trailer. Got to be worth a look, just for that.

Films about real stuff!

We like a good documentary, we do.

Being Elmo

  • Project Nim opened Sundance and looked at the chimp who was brought up as a human in the 70s. A BBC production, hopefully it’ll go on wider distribution somehow over here. Insert some sort of rambling about the license fee.
  • The advertising world pays the collective rent of Mild Concern, so we’ve got a bit of a vested interest in how marketing works. Morgan Spurlock, creator of Super Size Me, made a film entirely financed by product placement and advertising: Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
  • Seeing as penguins have already been covered, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey will probably be the second cutest thing you can get in a feature-length documentary. As far as I can tell (my sketchy research could easily be wrong), it’s not been sold yet but it’s all about the fuzzy red one and pretty much guarantees a cinema full of “awwww”s. How could it not be picked up soon?
  • The New York Times has a movie – Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times, which presumably does what it says on the tin. I am geekily intrigued.
  • Life in a Day was put together after YouTube users were encouraged to record their day on 24th July 2010, which the film-makers mixed together. Sounds like a marvel of editing.