Sunday, September 28, 2014

EGGSHELLS AND LANDMINES: a review of "The Skeleton Twins"

Screenplay Written by Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman
Directed by Craig Johnson
***1/2 (three and a half stars)

It will never cease to amaze me when people so adept at making us laugh have an even greater ability for drama, showcasing the fact that these people are not simply "comedians" but actors of substance and power.

"The Skeleton Twins," from Co-Writer/Director Craig Johnson was a film festival favorite at  the beginning of this year and now that the film has made its way to our theaters, I can now understand why. This is a piercingly dark, bitter and sad family drama starring two of the most unlikely performers in the leading roles: former "Saturday Night Live" players Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig and they are absolutely sensational as estranged fraternal twins reunited after not communicating for 10 years due to a near family tragedy.

I do tend to have some trouble with films depicting the inner worlds of families as they so often tend to seem as if none of the participants had ever known anything about families in the first place. "The Skeleton Twins" does not fall into such traps in the least as it is perceptive and precise about the bonds and binds family members have with each other despite long stretches of silence and acrimony. Johnson even suggests with his story that perhaps, and even despite how one may wish for life to be in regards to our interpersonal relationships, these just may indeed be the sole people who do know us best after all, making them essential figures to help us navigate the world.

As "The Skeleton Twins" opens, we are introduced to Milo (Bill Hader), a struggling and failing actor in Los Angeles in the midst of preparing his final goodbye. He blasts the music of Blondie, writes a succinct suicide note, slashes h is wrists and retires to the bathtub to die. Meanwhile in upstate New York, Milo's twin sister Maggie (Kristen Wiig), cradling and ready to ingest a handful of pills, receives a phone call of Milo's suicide attempt and hospitalization. Racing to Milo's aid, Maggie and her brother begin the slow, arduous process of re-connection as she invites Milo to stay with her and her agreeably earnest husband Lance (Luke Wilson) back in New York where they grew up and back when their lives truly began to fall apart after the suicide of their Father when they were teenagers.

"The Skeleton Twins" is a family drama and character study that refuses to fall into the many cliches that derail films about dysfunctional families. First of all, Johnson, his actors and his team never treat Milo and Maggie as a "dysfunctional family," so to speak; a family filled with all manner of indie film quirks and self-conscious and self-congratulatory stabs as what might be deemed as "behavior" completely at the expense of creating tangible situations, characters and emotions. What Johnson has achieved is to tell the story of a family, nothing more, nothing less, and the effect, while not necessarily offering anything new to the genre, is one that is honestly presented and enormously felt.

What Craig Johnson achieves through his screenplay with Mark Heyman is to mine and keep discovering the minutiae and intense connections that exists between these sardonic, oddball siblings whom their eccentric Father once nicknamed "The Gruesome Twosome." Whatever their worldview might happen to be, for Milo and Maggie, it is decidedly skewed and seemingly understandable only to themselves; a trait which makes their own adult relationships (even with each other) so tenuous and fraught with eggshell tensions.

For Milo, he is consumed with feeling of professional failure certainly, which he ties to his own shaky sense of self worth. Additionally, his difficulties in maintaining adult sexual relationships and navigating the world as an open gay man presents its own pitfalls, especially as he tracks down and re-ignites the one major love affair of his life with Rich (played by Ty Burrell from television's "Modern Family" in a very strong performance), Milo's former teacher and very closeted homosexual.

As for Maggie, her outwardly lovely life contains much silent suffering as well as its own collection of secrets. While she openly proclaims her excitement that she and Lance are attempting to have a child, she privately continues to take birth control pills and also succumbs to frequent extra-marital affairs, this time with her scuba diving instructor Billy (played by Boyd Holbrook), and even more painfully continues to house her own suicidal tendencies.

Through all of these emotional landmines presented within "The Skeleton Twins," I deeply appreciated how Craig Johnson never descended into melodrama and just allowed his film to breathe naturally, affording us the opportunity to see how Milo and Maggie function (or don't function) together and separately, how they attract and repel each other with their own self-destructive behaviors, how they one-up each other, tear each other apart and somehow find it within themselves over and again to heal and try to face the world on their own terms and with their admittedly weak emotional skill sets.

While I realize that this is a long shot, I seriously hope that both Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are remembered during the upcoming awards season as their work is exemplary. Bill Hader, especially is stunning, as his entire performance feels as if it is entirely being performed from the inside out. Just listen to how he has altered his voice, his mannerisms and his entire body language in order to instill truth and history within the character of Milo. This is not a showy performance in the least. Just one that feels so complete in its realization. I know nothing of Hader in his real life, but I am telling you, his work within "The Skeleton Twins" felt to me as if he were existing within a state of being rather than acting. Stefon and Hader's many other SNL characters never entered my mind for an instant. In fact, it even felt as if he had never performed on SNL at all! His is a performance that feels not only brilliantly observed but filled with fearless honesty, rage and vulnerability.

Kristen Wiig is Hader's equal on every single count and if I had to bring up SNL for any conceivable reason it is to realize that her effortless chemistry with Hader most likely stemmed from all of their years together on the program, and the comfort she shows with Hader, and often in some very tough emotional territories, is palpable and perfect. She too conveys a sense of rage against and drowning within the disappointments of her own life as she perceived that it should have been regardless of how it looks on the outside. I just think of one sequence set within an ice cream shop where Maggie is accosted by a former high school classmate and she is asked about her life and how Wiig silently plays a lifetime of inner torment, anguish and self-hatred publicly is masterful.

And somehow, for a film this quietly wrenching, it is not without humor and mostly within the sequences with Milo and Maggie are re-discovering their unbreakable connection with each other. A stroll through a cemetery on Halloween night. Cracking each other up with the non-sequesters and inside jokes exclusive to them in Maggie office where she works as a dental hygienist. And most certainly, the film's most talked about scene where they each lip-synch a performance of Starship's god-awful "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" so perfectly that they could go on Jimmy Fallon's show and beat him hands down in a contest. Even so, and as funny as that sequence is, it is also filled with such trauma as the song and their lip-synch game is essentially used as body armor against the world as well as their own demons that threaten to engulf them both.

Craig Johnson's "The Skeleton Twins" is a film that not only deals with internal family stresses and fragile relationships but what happens when depression itself possibly a hereditary disease afflicting the future of two people who just may be too sensitive to face the world on their own. It is a film that also wisely showcases what occurs when the dreams of youth fail, this afflicting one's own perceptions of themselves an d possibly what they feel that can or cannot accomplish in life. It is also a film that shows the perils within two suicidal characters struggling with how to remain in the world as they each dance towards the edges of taking themselves out of the world forever.

And that is where the beauty of "The Skeleton Twins" resides. Johnson plus Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig all deftly illustrate how we are all spiraling through existence, desperately trying to figure it all out along the way and how much of a blessing it is when there is at least one person who understands you more than anyone else, therefore making the existential journey one to spiral through together instead of alone.

Friday, September 26, 2014

I AM THE WALRUS: a review of "Tusk"

Written and  Directed by Kevin Smith
**** (four stars)

Dear readers, in our age of homogenized movies that consist of bottomless recycled material from those sequels, prequels, re-boots and re-imaginings, I can honestly inform you that, without question, you have never seen anything like this!

Writer/Director Kevin Smth's "Tusk" is a deeply disturbing, repulsive, repugnant, bizarre to the point of stomach churning, grisly and gruesome experience. It is also brilliantly executed, exceedingly well written, hauntingly directed, superbly acted and carries a level of psychological suspense and torment akin to being trapped inside of a nightmare from which you cannot awake. Equal parts inside joke, mind blowing horror show as well as a cultural commentary and cautionary tale to the point of being a pointedly driven warning, "Tusk" just might be the finest film of Kevin Smith's career--or at least, the equal to Smith's fearless, emotionally exhausting love story "Chasing Amy" (1997).

"Tusk" brazenly features precisely what has made Kevin Smith one of the cinema's most uniquely idiosyncratic creative voices. His foul mouthed yet wonderfully literary style of writing, a fearless approach to storytelling and the overall completeness of  his vision.  Granted, "Tusk," which follows in the footsteps of the ferocious "Red State" (2011), Smith's surprisingly strong stylistic change from comedy to horror, is not designed for mass appeal, and almost defiantly so as it is more in the almost underground style of a cult film or midnight movie creature feature. And truth be told, I am not even quite certain if this film is necessarily even for me, despite the fact that I have been a fan of Smith's from the very beginning of his career with "Clerks" (1994). But it was solely due to Kevin Smith's filmography that pushed me into the darkened theater...albeit with extreme trepidation as to what terrors I might be subjected to. Now that I have emerged from the other side, and as worked over as I was, I am thrilled that I had the chance to be a witness to something so audacious.

"Tusk" follows the terrifyingly Kafka-esque transformation of Wallace Bryant (a terrific Justin Long), host of the popular podcast entitled "The Not See Party" (say the title quickly), where he, alongside friend and co-host Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment), mock and humiliate the subjects of viral videos. Travelling from Los Angeles to Manitoba, Canada to hopefully interview (i.e. ridicule) his latest subject known as "The Kill Bill Kid," a young man nicknamed due to his viral video in which he unwittingly severed his own leg with a sword, Wallace comes upon an advertisement tacked to a bar bathroom bulletin board that profoundly intrigues him; a elderly and wheelchair bound homeowner offering free lodging in exchange for companionship and for an ear to listen to his lifetime of stories.

Wallace, feeling that he has found an even more perfect "weirdo" as a podcast subject, takes off for the Canadian wilderness mansion of the loquacious Howard Howe (a stunning Michael Parks) and is unabashedly delighted with his discovery. The two men sit in the parlor by the fireplace, sharing tea and Wallace enraptured by Howe's literary wit and quotations and eerily drawn to Howe's long ago tales of being lost at sea and being befriended for a spell by a walrus, whom he named Mr. Tusk. Yet, unbeknownst to Wallace, Howard Howe has unspeakably sinister plans in store.

Wallace falls unconscious after being drugged by the spiked tea and awakens the following morning to discover that one of his legs has been amputated. Wallace further discovers that Howe, not only has the ability to walk but plans to physically transform Wallace into a walrus!

As Wallace endures days and nights of torture and mutilation at the psychotic hands of Howard Howe, Teddy and Wallace's girlfriend Ally (a strong Genesis Rodriguez) enlist the aid of the bizarre yet intrepid French Canadian detective Guy Lapointe (I'm not tellin' who plays him) to locate Wallace, but will they be too late before our podcaster before he goes "full walrus"?

Originated from Kevin Smith's podcast #250 entitled "The Walrus and the Carpenter," where Smith and his longtime friend and producer Scott Mosier riffed over an advertisement (eventually revealed to be a hoax) about a homeowner who was offering a free living situation to potential lodgers on the condition that they wear a walrus costume, "Tusk" certainly had the potential to be absolutely, positively nothing more than a sick, stupid joke put to film and solely for the enjoyment of Smith and his closest associates. Thankfully, Kevin Smith has realized exactly how the elements that can make a movie can be realistically weaved into a true film experience.

With "Tusk," Kevin Smith has created an experience that could easily walk a simultaneously macabre nail biting, and stomach churning path as those created by Tobe Hooper's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974), John Landis' "An American Werewolf In London" (1981), David Cronenberg's "The Fly (1986) and Rob Reiner's "Misery" (1990). If you filter all of those films through the prism of Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, then you will have an idea of what the final results of "Tusk" are like. Yes, this is a sick film that takes its conceit to the wall, but I do not believe for a minute that what Smith has devised to be remotely stupid due to the full commitment he placed to this idea and the strong set of collaborators he enlisted to to make a film like this stick to the ribs...albeit uncomfortably.

Tremendous credit much be given to the elegantly dark visual presentation from Cinematographer James Laxton, the excellent production design from John D. Kretschmer, the dread inducing musical score from Composer Christopher Drake and unquestionably the downright insane special makeup effects supervised by Robert Kurtzman. Yet as with "Red State," Kevin Smith has again completely surprised me with his complete directorial assurance with this material as he instantly creates the proper tone, mood and relentless drug induced nightmare #9 vibe necessary for something like "Tusk" to even work at all. This presentation is so effective that even Fleetwood Mac's classic brass and tribal drums driven track "Tusk" has never sounded more menacing.

Even with all of the talent behind the scenes, "Tusk" would also succeed or fail based upon the acting performances, and Smith could not have found better leading actors than Michael Parks and Justin Long if he tried. With Parks, a veteran character actor whom I really only know from his mesmerizing and disturbing role in "Red State," plus his work in a few of Quentin Tarantino's projects, Kevin Smith found the perfect conduit to bring the psychologically destroyed and malicious serial killer of Howard Howe to vibrant, compelling life. As he performs with Wallace, we in the audience are easily drawn in to Howe's tales and the kindly yet eccentric whisper of his voice only forces us to lean in closer so as we do not miss even one of his sophisticated words.

What is ultimately impressive about Parks' performance is that he could have easily portrayed this figure solely as a monster and left it at that. Yet, Parks discovers the deep, tormented psychological layers of this man making him a tragic figure who could be viewed as a figure seeking some bizarre sense of redemption as well as one to be supremely feared. Via Kevin Smith's expressively written monologues, Michael Parks is given copious amounts of material to sink his acting teeth into making for a performance that is as hypnotic as it is panic inducing.

Justin Long, an actor who is always so affable and approachable, is given the even more difficult task of not only portraying a figure that is essentially an anti-hero due to his callousness towards others, including his closest friends, but also being reduced to only using his most expressive eyes and a guttural bellow to convey Wallace's psychological state during the film's final third or so. It is a performance that is comedic and breezy and becomes so powerfully tragic and hauntingly mesmerizing. "Tusk" gives Justin Long the opportunity to show audiences sides of his talent that he has never been able to present before and the effect will blindside you with crushing force.

Even with all of this praise, and for those of who who do wish to brave "Tusk," I must give you a warning. Yes, you will need a strong stomach for this one as it is indeed so unfathomable. That said, I did not feel that the film's violence, as severe as it is, ever descended into the disgusting maelstrom of "torture porn." On a filmmaking level and for all that Kevin Smith does indeed display to the audience visually, there is a sizable amount that he wisely chooses NOT to show, leaving the horror to the power of suggestion, verbal description and the darkest corners of our minds to fill in. For instance, during one sequence where an unconscious Wallace is undergoing a bout of..reconstructive surgery, we never see the act itself, as Smith solely places his camera upon Howard Howe and the arsenal of surgical tools at his disposal. And frankly, that is all you really needed to convey the desperation of Wallace's peril.

For a film as  harrowing as "Tusk" happens to be, it is also not without humor, and much needed as far as I am concerned. Some criticism against "Tusk" has stemmed from the abrupt tonal changes that occur within the film, especially during the film's second half when the detective Guy Lapointe is introduced and much time is spent with Ally and Teddy on the search for Wallace. For me however, I loved the film's occasional diversions. First of all, because they gave me a bit of a break from being trapped inside of Howard Howe's haunted house with the tortured Wallace. But also, because Kevin Smith is so excitedly creative and definitely smart enough to build an entire cinematic universe and to also give his actors material with which they can show their abilities to their finest.

Genesis Rodriguez, for example, could have easily been the gorgeous and long suffering girlfriend, wringing her hands, holding the phone and calling Wallace's name over and again--something most movies would have done. But wisely, Smith gives Rodriguez a series of strongly written monologues, which help powerfully to flesh out the character and widen the canvas on which the story of "Tusk" is being told. To Rodriguez's credit, she is equal to the material, which she delivers with conviction, especially during one long unbroken shot during which she details the dark side of her relationship with Wallace to an unseen listener.

As for the mysterious actor who portrays Guy Lapointe, well...if for any reason my review of "Tusk" is the only one that you will read and you do plan upon seeing the film, I will not spoil the revelation for you. That said, this particular actor goes a long way in creating a fully develped figure who is part Inspector Clouseau, part Columbo, silly, odd, weird, yet somehow steadfast and a hunter to be reckoned with, despite his penchant for hamburger sliders.

Now even with all of the colorful characters, horror show and ultraviolence, "Tusk" surprised me in the greatest fashion by not simply existing as a sick piece of exploitation as it transcended its own genre of the cult film, grindhouse saga or midnight movie for me. But to that end, sometimes those very same cult movies, grindhouse sagas and midnight moves just may be able to reach certain peaks of truth that even more mainstream and prestige pictures are not able to attain. While Kevin Smith himself might laugh heartedly into my face with my assessment, "Tusk" is audacious not just for its freak show qualities but for how pointed its sense of cultural commentary actually is.

"Tusk"possesses the strongest of a conscience and soul, and I was struck by its heft and pathos into the human condition as the film speaks directly to our own sense of  humanity in the 21st century, or else our seemingly depleting sense of humanity in regards to our behavior through social media. If "Tusk" does anything at all to suggest that even a film this bizarre does possess some redeeming social value it is that Kevin Smith has concocted a warning about our relationship and continued dependence upon technology that does settle itself in the same cinematic neighborhood as (believe it or not) David Fincher's "The Social Network" (2010) and Spike Jonze's "Her" (2013) as our internet culture only continues to grow uglier. "Be careful," Smith just may be advising or even imploring to us with this film. "Think twice before you hit 'ENTER' or 'PUBLISH.' For what you put out into the world may return to you with a vengeance."

With regards to the two men that fuel "Tusk," Podcaster Wallace Bryant, in his own way, is actually not too far removed from the murderous and tormented Howard Howe. Wallace is a young man who utilizes his presence on the internet for something that Ally refers to as self-serving "cringe humor," a tactic designed to verbally vivisect his prey for his own entertainment, financial gain and comedic notoriety. Richly placed flashback sequences showcase Ally's continuous please for Wallace to remember his sense of  humanity when dealing with people and how much he has changed since he has reached a certain level of fame. Wallace is arrogant, unsympathetic, duplicitous and even adulterous regarding his relationship with Ally as he only seeks to essentially find his latest victim to rip apart on his show. In short, his lack of empathy towards absolutely anyone has already damaged his sense of humanity.

In "Tusk," Wallace's transformation rests within a figure who is already halfway gone at the film's opening. The aural similarities of the name "Wallace" and the word "walrus" feel as purposeful as Wallace's unfortunate mustache. Furthermore, Smith even darkly foreshadows Wallace's doomed trip to Canada in some of the dialogue during the film's very first scene when Wallace exclaims, in reference to the now one legged "Kill Bill Kid" he is set to publicly ridicule, "What do I need with two legs for anyway? It's not like I'm gonna run a marathon!" Oh Wallace, if you only knew. It is only when Wallace becomes the victim and is then literally vivisected and mutated into something wholly unrecognizable to a human being that he rediscovers his humanity...only to essentially lose it forever. This makes "Tusk" almost work as the darkest of adult fables where one man's hubris and his own predatory instincts for human frailties are turned against him.

I realize that I have written quite a large amount of material for a film that I am certain barely any of you will ever see. Bu that being said, isn't it great when any movie, regardless of genre can give you this much to actually think about? "Tusk" represents a masterful rejuvenation for Kevin Smith, a filmmaker who has actually announced his retirement from film just a few short years ago, and has now become so re-inspired that this film will serve as the first part of what he has dubbed the "True North Trilogy," a series of bizarre tales all set within Canada. And in fact, the second film, "Yoga Hosers," is currently filming.

This is precisely what makes Kevin Smith so special for the movies. Regardless of what one may think about Kevin Smith as an artist, and that even includes Smith himself, I strongly believe that he belongs somewhere in the same cinematic neighborhoods as the ones populated by the likes of Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino. While those filmmakers have received a much larger amount of critical acclaim and industry respect, Kevin Smith has consistently accomplished the same seismic feats as those of his fellow filmmakers as he has consistently offered a clear vision and has created full, rich and complete cinematic universes that are distinctly of his making and exist on their own terms with a complete set of rules and rituals.

There is no mistaking who is at the helm when you see a Kevin Smith film and "Tusk" is no exception. While stylistically different, "Tusk," on further examination, is actually not terribly far removed from Smith's comedic features as nearly all of his films involve his characters travelling tough some sort of unprecedented and life altering experience. In "Chasing Amy," Smith gave us the painful yet character building love story of a young man who falls in love with a lesbian. In the well intentioned but flawed "Jersey Girl" (2004), a young man is forever transformed by Fatherhood. "In "Clerks," we are given two young men dealing with the ennui of their 20's and in "Clerks II" (2006), they are dealing with the aches of aging and maturity as they fly through their 30's. Certainly in the brilliant religious satire fantasy "Dogma" (1999), a young woman and abortion clinic worker with wavering spiritual faith is transformed by the knowledge that she is indeed the last scion and must save existence itself. And in the gritty reality of "Red State," three horny teenagers are undone by their inadvertent stumbling onto the compound of a sect of violent fundamentalists.

Like the bulk of his past work, "Tusk" is richly developed and completely representative of what is sorely lacking in our movie theaters these days. A filmmaker with a unique voice who is willing to take serious creative risks just to make the films that he would pay to see himself. With this film, Kevin Smith is at full command of his powers and an artist of uncompromising vision and originality.

I have no idea if "Tusk" will somehow end up in the Top Ten of my favorite films of 2014 or not. But one thing is for certain, "Tusk" is unquestionably the most unforgettable.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

THE BOMB: a review of "Godzilla"

Based upon Godzilla created by Toho
Story by David Callaham
Screenplay Written by Max Borenstein
Directed by Garth Edwards
1/2* (one half of one star)

Perhaps I am not the right person to be reviewing a film like this one, but I am sorry, "Godzilla," Director Garth Edwards' 2014 remake/reboot/re-imagining or whatever the hell you wish to call it, is without question the very worst film I have seen so far this year. It is a lumbering, cumbersome, graceless, bombastic mess of a film that exists completely without any sense of fun, excitement or even energy as it almost feels to be a study of inertia. Dear readers, this "Godzilla" is torpid. It is sluggish. It is lifeless. And our larger than life, nuclear enhanced monster movie King deserves so much more. Frankly, and while I know this may be blasphemous to some of you out there, I just have to say it: as terrible as Director Roland Emmerich's cataclysmic 1998 film version was (and it was terrible), it was also a helluva lot more fun than this new version. Ouch!

"Godzilla" begins with an opening credit sequence set during 1954 as a secretive nuclear bomb test is enacted as a giant creature emerges from the ocean. Flash forward to 1999 as we meet two scientists, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins), who discover two mysterious chrysalises in the Philippines, one of which is dormant and the other has been broken open.

Meanwhile, and in a performance that borders dangerously to hysterical parody, Bryan Cranston (forgoing essentially every shred of the skill and power he displayed upon television's "Breaking Bad" and adorned with an equally hysterical wig to boot) stars as Joe Brody, the lead engineer at the Janjira nuclear power plant in Japan who is convinced that the odd seismic activity in the region is in fact housing something unknown and deadly. But what?

On a fateful day, Brody sends his scientist wife Sandra (a criminally wasted Juliette Binoche) and her team into the power plant's reactor but once inside, the reactor is breached and releases an onslaught of radioactive steam. Sandra and her team perish inside of the reactor to Brody's horror, a tragedy compounded by the nuclear meltdown of the plant itself, as witnessed by their young son Ford, who attends school nearby.

Flash forward another 15 years to find the now adult Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) as a US Navy explosions ordnance disposal officer who lives in San Francisco with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and son. Ford returns to Japan to reunite with his Father, still convinced of a government cover up, and who has been detained for trespassing in the supposedly contaminated Janjira quarantine zone. Initially unconvinced of his Father's rants, Ford soon realizes the truth as he discovers that not only is the quarantine zone not contaminated at all but a giant sized winged creature has now emerged and has begun to wreak havoc.

As Ford teams up with Dr. Serizawa and Dr. Graham, with his Father's data in tow, all of them realize that to save humanity from the unleashed winged monsters, Godzilla must rise again to defeat them.

Now, I have to first say that I have not ever really been a fan of monster movies of this sort as they have never truly contained much to hold my interest. That said, it felt as if there would be more than enough material to ensure that this new version of "Godzilla" would have more than enough going for it to be a monster movie worth watching. That instead of just essentially being two hours of buildings crashing, explosions blaring and creatures roaring, there just may be some good characterizations to offer as well as some sly ecological and anti-nuclear commentary to add into the mix. Unfortunately, and despite the best efforts of Edwards, whatever they may have been, essentially every moment of "Godzilla" is negligible.

At first, I was wondering if Edwards was attempting to capture the aura of a classic B movie as the dialogue is horrifically wooden and the performances are even worse. How is it possible that actors as skilled as Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche and David Strathairn as a US Navy Admiral could be this laughably foul? This honestly had to be purposeful, right? An elaborate in-joke, perhaps? Yet after about 30 minutes or so, it seemed to me that this was not unintentionally or self-consciously awful like Director Frank Marshall's downright outrageous howler "Congo" (1995). This film was honestly and unforgivably awful.

First of all, there is the unforgivable cinematic crime of having actors of this caliber populate your movie and given them nothing to do, thus wasting their talents as well as our valuable time and money. But in the case of Aaron Taylor-Johnson, I think we have fund and even more invisible leading man/action movie hero since Sam Worthington blanded his way through James Cameron's "Avatar" (2009). Taylor-Johnson spends the entirety of the film with a struck dumb, open mouthed stare that signifies him awakening from a 20 year coma rather than being awed by the sights and sounds that surround him as Godzilla battles two winged monsters. Good night nurse! Even the inanimate objects elicit better performances!

Secondly, there is the titular creature himself, who does not make his official appearance in the film under essentially on hour into the thing. Certainly, the elongated period before he takes center stage is undoubtedly supposed to create a sense of anticipatory suspense but for me, the tactic backfired because Edwards and his screenwriters, by not giving any of the human characters anything worthwhile or substantive, all we are left with is just waiting for the monsters to attack and battle. And for me, that just made the film's first hour painfully interminable. To make matters worse and certainly not befitting of Godzilla's entrance into his own movie, I could not for the life of me understand how and why did Edwards decide to feature him almost exclusively during night scenes, which indeed made it more than difficult to get really good looks at him. Godzilla does not need to lurk in the shadows. He should be displayed loud and proud, not as if the special effects team didn't get their collective acts together in time for the film's release date.

And speaking purely on an audio/visual aesthetic level, "Godzilla" is yet another example of everything that is tremendously wrong with our current crop of mega budgeted, special effects driven spectacles. It is a film that for all of the pyrotechnics and sonic fury, there is nothing that lifts us out of our seats in awe or terror. And somehow, for everything Edwards throws at the screen, no matter how ponderously, every single moment is more yawn inducing from one to the next.  It is all so dry, so empty, so hollow and flat and as this movie just went on and on and on, my patience with it evaporated all the ore rapidly as I could just feel the time that I was wasting even watching it. Time that could have be spent watching something better. Or truth be told, even watching nothing at all.

Since "Godzilla" has made a box office fortune and plans are underway to create a trilogy, I know that I am in the minority concerning my opinions of this film. Even so, I just feel compelled to ask if by any chance if you are at all tired of essentially seeing the same movie over and over and with an increasing lack of imagination at the helm?  Of course, not everything can be like "Star Wars" (1977) but even so, I did happen to grow up in an age when the mega budgeted, special effects driven spectacles were truly spectacles as they all made me, and audiences around the world, see the movies in an entirely new light, inspiring our dreams almost every single time. Those types of films and even more specifically, those types of filmmakers are in drastically short supply in 2014 as the demands of the box office through anything instantly recognizable have grown exponentially in power and importance and completely at the expense of creativity, originality and artistry.

"Godzilla," as far as I am concerned, is the latest casualty, a terrible, terrible film that had the potential to be a true monster.

Monday, September 1, 2014


Quality not quantity...

At least that is what I am hoping for when I head to the moves this month and especially as September is an extremely busy time with the start of the new school year. I am still finding myself waiting, and not so patiently for Director Steve James' "Life Itself," his celebrated documentary about the life and writing of the late, great Roger Ebert, to finally arrive at the Sundance theater.

Yes, I know that I could potentially view the film on my television screen through an On Demand feature but I feel that a movie abut Ebert needs to be first screened in the darkness of the movie theater. It's strange and even saddening to me that we seem to be living in even more precarious times as far as moves are concerned as long established filmmakers are struggling to get their new films made or even seen in movie theaters only to find them being forced to go to Kickstarter services or having their wide canvased visual feasts being premiered on television screens. And regardless if you even do have one of those mega-sized HD television screens complete with blasting, booming sound systems to boot, as far as I am concerned, it is just not the same experience as sitting in the dark and having a shared experience with a room full of strangers. That is what the movies are for!

Anyhow, for this month, I am wondering just exactly which films that I will even be able to see as they are all on the smaller scale.

1. I am very anxious to see "The Skeleton Twins," a new drama starring former "Saturday Night Live" cast members Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as estranged siblings. The film received very high marks on the festival circuit earlier this year and it has remained on my radar ever since.

2. I am so very happy that Writer/Director Kevin Smith has decided to reverse his words and not fully retire from filmmaking as he is beginning to embark upon a new Canadian themed trilogy, the second of which is currently filming. The first installment is the new horror film "Tusk," which from the trailer looks to be especially grotesque and yet another fearlessly stylistic u-turn from one of our most idiosyncratic filmmakers.

3. And then, there's the latest film from one of the most idiosyncratic filmmakers to ever stand behind the camera, Mr. Terry Gilliam with his new science fiction/philosophical/phantasmagorical epic "The Zero Theorem," which is scheduled to arrive on...Video On Demand but what abut the theaters?!

From this point, we shall see what else arrives upon this site but until then, I'll see you when the house lights go down....