Maybe I’m getting cantankerous in my old age, but a barrage of cool special FX does not make a movie, at least not in my book, and the ongoing glut of seamless, more-real digital renderings only exacerbates the problem. Take the “Iron Man” franchise: great character building and back story in chapter one, but by the third one Iron Man suits are flying everywhere and pre-“conscious uncoupling” Gwyneth Paltrow gets a vanity moment to flash her sculpted, post-40 abs – a lot of generic silliness to something that started so rooted and firm. That trend was realized again last week with the “Godzilla” reboot as the spectacle of the spiked Tokyo tosser all but stomped out a solid performance by Bryan Cranston. Here, in a psychedelic flashback to the ’70s, the “X-Men” franchise sacrifices soul for the computer-generated spectacular.
There are some clever, brilliant nuances to “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” such as the scene where Quicksilver (Evan Peters of “American Horror Story”) in a slo-mo microsecond aptly done to Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” rearranges the trajectory of bullets and plays puckish pranks on the guards holding the guns about to take out Professor X (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) or when Wolverine travels back to 1973 and wakes up next to a lava lamp and the shrill pitch of Minnie Riperton singing “Lovin’ You” (though I believe that was a ’74 or ’75 song). And so why 1973? Well there’s an impending apocalypse in the now that stems from the actions of a pint-sized McCarthy-minded White House adviser named Trask (Peter Dinklage) who wants to wipe out all the mutants, and to do so he has weaponized a solution by leveraging the DNA of Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Zany history-rewriting threads involving Nixon and Kennedy ensue and there’s a neat Vietnam spin reminiscent of Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen,” and a follow-on in Paris that intrigues, but the developing action becomes a tedious waiting game pulling the whole construct down and the flashing to and fro begins to take its toll. Continue reading
Serious actors in movies that feature monsters, cute kids or animals tend to fare poorly, ever upstaged by the title incarnation and addled by a blockbuster-minded script driven more by target marketing campaign goals than heart of character. Steven Spielberg might be the one great exception, but when you throw in mankind-crushing mayhem and imminent world destruction, as he did with the “War of the Worlds” remake, and even in his good hands some of the edge of his heartwarming fastball comes off.
Why a “name” thespian checks into such a project has to be twofold: a leading-role paycheck for cameo work and exposure – “You’ll become a household name,” you can almost hear an agent say. Think of Marlon Brando in “Superman,” a record payday for a few minutes of labor, though by that time he couldn’t much care about exposure because it invariably became fodder about his increasing corpulence. One too might think of Raymond Burr (“Perry Mason” and old “Ironside”) appearing in the 1956 American recut of the 1954 Japanese “Godzilla” (née “Gojira”). To garner a U.S. market, Burr was edited in as an American in Tokyo as the infamous dino-beast rose up from the ocean depths and merrily stomped the port of Japan.
Which brings us to today. Here, in the 2014 update, which thumbs its nose at Roland Emmerich’s poorly received big-budget go back in 1998, we get Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn and Ken Watanabe. That’s one Academy Award, a few Emmys and a fistful of nominations – pretty serious stuff to be playing around in Gojira land. Last summer “Pacific Rim” tried to spin the mega beast stomping out humanity into a mano y mano cage fight. It nearly succeeded, but the equilibrium between the human drama and the super spectacular smackdown in the denouement is a high-wire balancing act not meant for amateurs. Even proven helmsmen have fallen.
Enter Gareth Edwards, whose end-of-the-world, alien-invasion debut, “Monsters” (2010) was a lot sharper than its uninspired title. He adds flesh and soul to “Godzilla” with Cranston playing Joe, an American engineer in Japan overseeing a nuclear power plant. Joe’s on edge over some recent seismic activity that makes no logical sense, and as you can probably guess, boom happens and the plant (a nod to the recent earthquake-reactor disaster at Fukushima?) implodes. Continue reading
A man driving around in his car might not make for much of a movie, not unless he’s got a phalanx of baddies armed with uzis blasting away on his ass. That’s not the case in “Locke,” and thankfully so. What “Locke” has going for it is high stakes and Tom Hardy, the actor who has done everything from the violently outlandish “Bronson” to “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and even played a malevolent cage fighter in “Warrior,” not to mention those two small films he did with Christopher Nolan “Inception” and who could forget his turn as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises.” Hardy’s range and versatility has him on his way to becoming the bona fide A-list name from the U.K. that Jude Law never quite became. If there was any question, “Locke” cements it.
The premise is quite simple: A man gets in his car and drives for nearly 90 minutes in crisis management mode. Hardy’s Ivan Locke is a high-performing construction foreman building the biggest modern-day skyscraper in the London area, but panicked calls from a woman in a hospital needing his reassurance keep pouring in over his BMW’s Bluetooth system. He also uses the system, a platform for his calm control over things out of his reach and the driving plot device for the film, to let his most loyal know he won’t be there at 5 a.m. when hundreds of cement trucks roll in to pour the building’s foundation. This sets off a management shit storm, but Locke, ever calm and confident, defuses each mini-tempest with reason, explanation and solution. What’s not so easy are the calls from his wife, who is confused as to why he is driving through the night and not home watching the big soccer game with the boys. Continue reading