Thursday, May 22, 2014

Godzilla (2014) remake review

Overall verdict: 8.5/10

The Good: Returns to darker roots, immaculate special effects, intense build up to finale, nostalgic Akira Ifukube inspired score, powerful new Godzilla design, combines the best elements of all the past movies, Bryan Cranston.

The Bad: Aaron Tylor Johnson, lack of chemistry between 2 main leads.

3D Readiness: Post filming 3D conversion.
IMax-ability: Wide angle shots lends itself well to imax viewing

A king had once reigned supreme. But in 2004, Godzilla the king of monsters hung up his crown after a disappointing Final War. But soon, giant monsters started returning to screen; 2005's KING KONG, 2006 korean movie THE HOST, 2008's CLOVERFIELD, all vying for the title of king. Now 2013 comes up with PACIFIC RIM But No king is going to let a kaiju army reign supreme! So up from the depths steps GODZILLA to show these usurpers how a monster movie is really done.

In shaping Godzillas future, the creative team look back on the big G's past, digging deep into the earlier, darker themed Showa era godzilla movies and combining the best elements of 60 years worth of sequels. Like the first 1954 original, the monsters' appearance is teased and glimpsed through the human focused tale. This is slow build up and reveal calls back to classic monster movies like JAWS, ALIEN, and the original GODZILLA. Yet director Gareth Edwards successfully builds the tension right up to the big payoff clash of titanic proportions.

With No oxygen destroyer, masers, mutant soldiers or  other wonky scifi stuff from the Japanese movies, this new godzilla movie is grounded firmly in contemporary reality. GODZILLA 2014 opens with a discovery of an ancient monster fossil in a cavern in the Philippines. But something awoke from centuries of stasis, making a beeline for Japan's janjira nuclear plant, destroying it and killing a number of employees including Ford Brody's mother. Fast forward years later, Ford is a explosive disposal expert who has a family of his own. He is reunited with his estranged father Joe who believes a conspiracy is in the works over the janjira incident. Eventually, they uncover not just a conspiracy, but two ancient creatures of destruction hell bent on replacing humanity as the earth's dominant species. Their only hope lies in an equally ancient apex predator, GODZILLA.

Godzilla's design raised mixed reactions from viewers, but when seen in full motion, this bigger, meaner but definitely not leaner Godzilla is amazing! The design just screams "power" and makes sense for a creature of that size; thick skeletal structure, low centre of gravity, tough meaty exterior and smooth streamlined shape makes it believable that this creature can survive the ocean pressure near the earth's core, swim from Hawaii to San Francisco in a matter of hours yet support it's weight out of water. In motion, this is not the awkward lumbering japanese rubber beast, but a menacing massive yet graceful Titan with an intelligent spark in his eyes. This wearied, bulkier looking Godzilla feels like an old champion wrestler forced back into the ring to reclaim his title.

Perhaps this was what the creators were going for. The feel of an apex predator who, aside from some pesky atomic bombs giving him a mild sun burn once in a while, has not had a decent giant monster challenge in eons. Godzilla is aching for fight and when a couple of mating obsessed MUTOs wander through his turf........let's just say nobody lays eggs in the King's back yard. Director Gareth Edwards eschews frantic close ups for wide angle, full view cinematography, allowing every monster appearance on screen to be seen in its full glory. Special effects by "moving pictures company" and "amalgamated dynamics" bring the king of monsters to life, rivaling that of the more renown ILM or Weta.

As mentioned, this new movie just oozes with the best elements of 60 years of GODZILLA movies without any of the goofiness. The two enemy monster MUTOs resemble Orga and Megaguirus, two kaiju created in the millennium era godzilla movies, in their fighting style and design. This bigger, bulkier godzilla takes design cues from the Heisei era and Godzilla: Giant monsters All Out Attack, while his almost human-like intelligence recalls the "heroic" Showa Godzilla movies. Even Godzilas nuclear breath is a burning blue stream of irradiated particles like the Showa ear, rather than the dragonball Z styled giant laser beam of more recent godzilla shows.

But enough about Godzilla. How do the mandatory human characters fare? Well Bryan Cranston as Joe Brody is magnificent. He brings gravitas to his character and a heart wrenching emotional touch. Sadly, he is under utilized as the script focuses on Ford Brody. Aaron Taylor Johnson's performance is a little disappointing considering his character is a soldier. He mumbles his way through the movie in a wimpy little voice, sharing only a passing chemistry with his wife, played by Elizabeth Olsen.

Fans of all action monster mash ups like GODZILLA FINAL WAR or DESTROY ALL MONSTERS would no doubt find the slow burn build up boring. But fans of the 1954 classic and the more serious Showa era movies would have much to cheer about. With a nostalgic score by Alexander Desplat clearly inspired by the late great Akira Ifukube, GODZILLA serves as a harrowing metaphor of nature's supremacy over mankind. Where the 1954 classic was an analogy for the atomic bomb, 2014's movie brings to mind the tsunamis and nuclear plant meltdowns that shocked the world. A clever, emotionally engaging and powerful tribute to 60 years of Godzilla.

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Entertainment: A
Story: A
Acting: B+
Characters: A-
Music: A-
Replay value: A
"Brains": B-

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Son Of Batman (2014) direct-to-video animated movie review

Overall verdict: 7/10

The Good: Stunning detailed artwork and character designs, dynamic fight sequences, smooth character motion, timely comedy without going overboard, 

The Bad: lack of cast chemistry, cheesy over-acted dialogue from villains, disappointing music, some lazy animation shortcuts,

3D Readiness: none
IMax-ability: none

DC's shared direct-to-video animated universe enters its second chapter with SON OF BATMAN. Taking inspiration from Grant Morrison's Batman and Son comic story arc, SON OF BATMAN reveals the illegitimate love child of Bruce Wayne and former nemesis Talia, daughter of Ra's Al Ghul, leader of the league of assassins. When the league , is betrayed by its deadliest member,  Deathstroke, Talia sends her son Damien to his father in Gotham city. But Batman has much on his hands, fighting crime and handling his company's falling profits, to take care of a 10 year old. A 10 year old who hacked into NORAD when he was 6, was trained in every art of combat, and who has no qualms about bloodshed.

These clashing values and personalities should have made an intriguing study of this father father/son relationship.  Here is a man who is suddenly saddled with the responsibilities of fatherhood, of balancing is double life of swinging billionaire/crime fighter with a new life of a parent which he never had.  The comics delved into Bruce's lingering insecurities of a man who had his childhood taken from him on tragic night. How is he, who's own younger days were filled with grief and hatred, able to deprogram me this vengeful, angry kid that is his son?

SON OF BATMAN (the film) fails to offer any glimpse into the head of Bruce Wayne. Character study is overshadowed by wanting to move the whole ninja/assassin hostile takeover story forward. As such, we get the character development taking a backseat to the action. We do get some nice chemistry in the few scenes between Damien and Alfred, as well as  budding rivalry with Nightwing. But between Batman and his son? Disappointingly flat.

Thankfully,  their voice actors do their best to bring out their characters' personalities. Jason O'Mara's Batman is a nice blend between Christian Bale, without being too raspy, and a young Michael Keaton. Those who prefer Kevin Conroy's deep Batman voice would no take some time to get used to this new portrayal. Stuart Allen as Damien is the star of this show, bringing a level of professionalism to the role despite his young age. On the other hand, our villains, Ra's Al Ghul and Deathstroke,  are horrible. Deathstroke especially sounds like acting in a bad school play. 

Visually, SON OF BATMAN boasts artwork very reminiscent of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Not surprising since the director Ethan Spulding directed a good number of Avatar episodes. Here, he truly revels in the new PG13 rating of this film, bringing the violence to whole new levels bordering on absurdity. Characters are literally roasted
 get their eyes gouged out
 and blasted to bloody bits

The character designs maintain that japanese anime look consistent with the previous JUSTICE LEAGUE: WAR feature. Level of detail is strong with deep shadows, metallic sheen and creases. Just look at Batman's suit.

 TheAnswerStudio gives us generally smooth animation and character movements but the level of detail does tend to drop in such scenes. Another shortcoming is in crowd scenes such as the massive ninja battle that opens this movie. Animation short cuts are very obvious here.

All in all, SON OF BATMAN works better as a set up for bigger stories. Assuming BATMAN UNDER THE RED HOOD is still canon, and with Warner Premiere turning to DC's New 52 for animated adaptations, we could be seeing a whole slew of Bat-family titles on the horizon. An animated "Batman: The Court of Owls" would be epic and "Batman: Death of the Family" would serve as a powerful conclusion.  An adaptation of Grant Morrison's final Batman inc chapters would be an emotionally powerful epilogue bringing the entire Damien Wayne saga to a close.

One can only hope.
*****************************Review End***************************
Entertainment: A-
Story: B+
Characters: B+
Animation: B+
Art: A
Music: C-
Voice work: B+
Replay Value: A-
"Brains": C-