Friday, May 16, 2014

Godzilla, Chef Reviews

Dir. Gareth Edwards
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Godzilla is probably one of, if not the most, iconic monsters in pop culture.  From his dark and gritty beginning in the masterpiece Gojira to his many rubber-suited, "dubbed" monster brawls, to the American remake that may as well not have been labelled "Godzilla" at all, the giant lizard has certainly not had a consistent level of quality throughout his 60-year stint destroying buildings and kicking the shit out of other giant creatures.  But as soon as I heard Gareth Edwards was brought on board, I was sold.  His low-budget giant monster flick Monsters was an astonishing first feature that balanced human relationships with the grand monster scale in a beautiful way.  He was a perfect choice to direct this, and with a cast including Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Olsen (who impressed me in Martha Marcy May Marlene), and a couple of fantastic, haunting trailers, my nerd boner went through the roof.  And then the hype machine starting turning.  Facebook, film blogs, people on the damn street - the buzz was that Godzilla was great.  So I bolted to the first screening I could attend, and as I walked out of the theater it sunk in - this was just another mediocre summer movie.

Although the marketing campaign will have you believe Heisenberg is the main character, Aaron Taylor Johnson, playing a military dude named Ford, is the actual protagonist of the film.  His dad, played by Bryan Cranston, is the guy who knows there's some kind of cover-up going on, in connection with an explosion that happened at the Janjiro Nuclear Plant, where he lost his wife (Juliette Binoche).  Of course his son thinks he's crazy, but then shit starts to go down 15 years later, and it's Cranston, who's been studying this stuff all along, to the rescue.  The plot sounds half-decent when you think it might end up as a father-son redemption story, but the movie does nothing with this, devolving into a pure "military" movie once the public sees and knows about the monsters.  All of the acting talent is wasted here, especially Elizabeth Olsen, playing Ford's wife, and literally just exists for him to have someone to come home to.  Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins, playing scientists, are also completely wasted with nothing to do but react to monsters causing destruction.  I was really hoping the story would be smarter and more emotionally satisfying, coming from Edwards.  He does do a respectable job of building up to the big moments in the last third of the film, but unfortunately, all that steam is lost because of the completely uninspired characters.

But what's even more disappointing are the monster fights.  Godzilla doesn't fight any of his "famous" foes like Rodan, King Godorah, etc, but this completely generic Cloverfield ripoff, MUTOS.  The CGI looks great, as I'm sure a million people worked on it, but the actual look of the film is the same "drab" nighttime/in-the-rain fights we've seen a million times.  Sure there are some "money shot" moments of Godzilla roaring, and using his "signature" move, but they are saved for the very end of the film, after we've been exhausted with a seemingly endless amount of mindless babbling between scientists and pointless side-plots involving Aaron Taylor Johnson going from one place to the next, always happening to be in the exact right place to see the action from a movie-friendly angle (the amount of coincidences in this movie is astonishing).

While there are some memorable moments in the film (Cranston elevates the material with some emotional speeches, and the visuals/sound design is well handled), I just don't see what people are raving about.  Even though it has way more flaws, I even thought the best parts of Pacific Rim were better than Godzilla.  I was hoping for a huge balls-out finale, but it felt pretty anti-climactic to me, and I walked out of the theater feeling like I missed something.  Overall, what was supposed to be the "Batman Begins" of Godzilla movies turned out, in my mind, to be only marginally better than the '98 American version.

Rating: C+

Dir. Jon Favreau
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Jon Favreau, after directing Iron Man and Iron Man 2, basically getting the ball rolling with the whole Marvel franchise, is decidedly taking it smaller with Chef, a movie about...well, a chef.  John Favreau writes, directs, and stars in this movie about a gourmet chef, Carl Casper (Favreau) who is pressured by his boss (Dustin Hoffman) to cook strictly to his menu, even when a famous food critic comes to town and knocks the restaurant's uninspired dishes.   All the while his relationship with his son is waning due to a divorce and a tweet of his blasting the aforementioned critic goes viral, sending him in an even deeper job crisis.  With his reputation on the line, Casper quits and starts up a business of his own - inside a taco truck.

While the plot of the film may sound slight, and some of the father-son issues in the film are pretty been-there-done-that, Chef was still highly enjoyable; unlike Godzilla, this was a father-son story that actually went somewhere.  The script is smartly written and just the right amount of funny and sweet, while showcasing some truly mouthwatering dishes (be warned if you go into this movie hungry).  The cast is all great, and despite the lower budget Favreau was able to gather some top-notch talent (including two "Avengers"). I don't have much bad to say about this movie, I was totally charmed by it, and I think if you're into "indies," this is the movie equivalent of the comfort food that "El Jefe" serves out of his truck.

Rating: B+

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