‘Godzilla’ is God Awful; ‘Million Dollar Arm’ Strictly Minor League

 

godzilla
MOVIE REVIEW – ‘GODZILLA’

Movie Info

In Summer 2014, the world’s most revered monster is reborn as Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures unleash the epic action adventure “Godzilla.” From visionary new director Gareth Edwards (“Monsters”) comes a powerful story of human courage and reconciliation in the face of titanic forces of nature, when the awe-inspiring Godzilla rises to restore balance as humanity stands defenseless.

PG-13, 2 hr. 3 min.

Mystery & Suspense, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Film Review: ‘Godzilla’
Banal characters leave scarcely enough screen time for Godzilla himself in Gareth Edwards’ effects-driven reboot.

Chief International Film Critic
Peter Debruge
@AskDebruge
www.variety.com
Someone should tell Warner Bros. that when they’ve got a presence as big as Godzilla, they don’t need movie stars, because frankly, who remembers the characters in a rampaging-kaiju movie anyway? Still, just to be safe, the studio has stuffed Gareth Edwards’ deafening, effects-driven reboot with an Oscar winner (Juliette Binoche), three Oscar nominees (Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins and David Strathairn), an Emmy winner (Bryan Cranston) and an Olsen sister, leaving scarcely enough screen time for the monster itself. Worldwide B.O. will be massive when “Godzilla” stomps into theaters beginning May 14, bound to crush the $379 million earned by Sony’s underwhelming 1998 version.

As risky decisions go, entrusting microbudget “Monsters” director Edwards to helm a $160 million tentpole — Warners’ first Godzilla pic since acquiring the character rights from Toho in 2010 — looks downright sensible in retrospect, as the filmmaker makes good on his ability to conjure enormous scope and scale via clever staging and visual effects. If anything, it was “Monsters’” stilted live-action bits that left something to be desired, which might explain why Edwards has overcompensated so drastically when it comes to the human performances this time around.

It takes nearly an hour for Godzilla to make his entrance in a film that begins with lots of hyper-secretive government types debating seismic activity that can only point to one thing: enormous prehistoric creatures awakened from their millennia-long slumber. Where traditional Godzilla lore presented the monster as a warning against nuclear proliferation after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this revisionist version suggests “all those nuclear tests” the U.S. conducted in the Pacific between 1946 and 1962 weren’t tests, but an effort to contain a giant amphibious dinosaur. This time, it’s Filipino mining that stirs a giant MUTO — or “Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism.”

In a “Jurassic Park”-like prologue, two scientists (Watanabe and Hawkins) helicopter into a huge computer-generated quarry, where they discover two perfectly preserved, chrysalis-shaped pods attached to an enormous skeleton. One of the sacs has ruptured, with whatever escaped digging a messy trail to the sea. The other is taken back to the States for further study, conveniently close to Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Joe Brody (Cranston, hyperventilating in a crazy-person wig) and his wife, Sandra (Binoche), live a short drive from the computer-generated nuclear facility where they both work. Whatever busted loose in the Philippines craves radioactive energy, a compulsion at least as strong as the one driving screenwriter Max Borenstein to work character development into a franchise where humans have traditionally been glorified ants. Tragedy strikes, nuclear reactors implode and the couple’s son Ford is left partly parentless and, oddly, ultra-disciplined.

The story picks up again 15 years later with Ford (“Kick-Ass” star Aaron Taylor-Johnson, no longer a skinny John Lennon lookalike) serving as an explosive ordnance disposal jockey for the U.S. Navy — a job that makes him uniquely qualified to defuse the ticking atomic device that threatens to blow San Francisco off the map in the third act. Speaking of bombs, Edwards and his team seem desperate to distance their “Godzilla” from 1998’s Roland Emmerich-directed disappointment, which treated attack by giant Gila monster as yet another disaster-movie premise. Instead, Edwards cribs from the Spielberg playbook, where it’s not the big-picture threat of nuclear power but the more intimate threats to the nuclear family at stake, while anticipation for a long-delayed group hug fuels the narrative.

This latest “Godzilla” shifts the theater of operations from Manhattan to the Pacific Ocean, where monsters are free to pillage the coasts of Japan and California alike, but repeats Emmerich’s most common mistake by focusing on a relatively banal group of characters. Yes, it would help to get a “Godzilla” with interesting humans for a change, but failing that, there’s no shame in putting the reptile front and center.

Edwards seems to have miscalculated our investment in his cast (including Elizabeth Olsen, uncharacteristically bland as Ford’s wife), simultaneously underestimating how satisfying some good old-fashioned monster-on-MUTO action can be. The hero of any Godzilla movie is — or should always be — Godzilla, and this one presents the mighty dino as a sort of scaly Shane: When big radioactive bullies start throwing their weight around, he lumbers out of the deep to defend the helpless, then rides off into the distance every bit as mysterious after the deed is done.

At first, the humans are terrified by the lizard’s appearance, but soon enough they come around, embracing the philosophy that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” or, as Watanabe puts it, “The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control and not the other way around. Let them fight!” That would be splendid advice for the filmmakers to heed as well, since we often get the sense that while the movie is distracted by what the people are doing, a terrific battle is raging somewhere else in the city — the mere sound of which (in its bass-blasting, “Dark Knight”-indebted way) threatens to bring the theater crumbling down around us.

No previous Godzilla movie has worried much about the issue of plausibility (the most obvious exception being the unofficial kaiju epic “Cloverfield,” which went the found-footage route in trying to pass things off as “real”), but it seems to be an almost crippling concern here. The creative team spends entirely too much time attempting to treat the threat as authentic, resorting to myriad tricks even when audiences would be more than willing to suspend their disbelief: Nearly all the significant monster scenes happen at night; much of the creature footage is shown either directly from a human p.o.v. (like the shot seen through Ford’s facemask as he skydives past Godzilla) or over their shoulders from ground level (as when closing bomb-shelter doors obscure a particularly juicy bout); and TV monitors in most locations broadcast eyewitness footage of cities under siege.

Godzilla movies, like wrestling matches, are ultimately judged by the quality of the mayhem, and Edwards excels at blowing things up. Though some of the first visual effects we see onscreen (the Filipino mine, the Japanese nuclear plant) look phony, especially projected in post-converted 3D, the creature effects are terrific, using phosphorescent accents — glowing gold for the MUTOs, blue fire for Godzilla — to make the monsters look even more menacing after dark. And though the film banishes most of their fighting to the background, basing their movement on motion-captured performers represents an inspired way of updating the lo-fi, B-movie tradition in which audiences charitably forgot that they were cheering for a guy in a rubber suit stomping through a cardboard city.
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$dollar arm
MOVIE REVIEW – ‘MILLION DOLLAR ARM’

Movie Info

Based on a true story, Disney’s “Million Dollar Arm” follows JB Bernstein, a once-successful sports agent who now finds himself edged out by bigger, slicker competitors. He and his partner Aash (Aasif Mandvi) will have to close their business down for good if JB doesn’t come up with something fast. Late one night, while watching cricket being played in India on TV, JB comes up with an idea so radical it just might work. Why not go to there and find the next baseball pitching sensation? Setting off for Mumbai with nothing but a gifted but cantankerous scout (Alan Arkin) in tow, JB stages a televised, nationwide competition called “Million Dollar Arm” where 40,000 hopefuls compete before two 18-year-old finalists, Rinku and Dinesh (Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal), emerge as winners. JB brings them back to the United States to train with legendary pitching coach Tom House (Bill Paxton). The goal: get the boys signed to a major league team. Not only is the game itself difficult to master, but life in the U.S. with a committed bachelor makes things even more complicated-for all of them. While Rinku and Dinesh learn the finer points of baseball and American culture, they in turn teach JB the true meaning of teamwork and commitment. Ultimately, what began as a purely commercial venture becomes something more and leads JB to find the one thing he was never looking for at all-a family. (c) Walt Disney Pictures

PG, 2 hr. 4 min.

Drama, Comedy
Disney’s ‘Million Dollar Arm’ wishes it was ‘Jerry Maguire’

By Kyle Smith
www.nypost.com
Striving to to be an Air India “Jerry Maguire” by sending a morally compromised sports agent to India in search of clients and redemption, “Million Dollar Arm” gets buried under a thick layer of bland, sweet Disney custard. Despite the pulsing South Asian score that gives the film some energy, it’s not even a slumdog hundredaire.

At the outset, Jon Hamm does everything but sing “Free Fallin’?” as his sports agency flails. He hits on the desperate move of venturing into uncharted territory for pro baseball: India. The sport is unknown there, but cricket bowlers, he reasons, are kind of like baseball pitchers, and anyway, out of a billion people someone must be able to throw a baseball. Plus, finding an Indian player would mean opening up the majors to a huge untapped market.

“Million Dollar Arm” is a true story about two Indian pitchers who did indeed get discovered by J.B. Bernstein (Hamm) and signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. You can tell some producer heard about the story and said, “It’s just like a movie!” Yes, a really dull and predictable one. It works only as the most undemanding kind of wholesome family entertainment.

You can see every turn from the opening: J.B. is kind of a jerk, the girl next door (Lake Bell) is pretty and smart. India strikes him as smelly. This being a Disney effort, though, J.B. not only doesn’t hit bottom, he doesn’t even hit the middle. It’s hard to feel sorry for a guy who drives a Porsche and looks like Jon Hamm. The hint of decadence consists of this: We hear him say he dates only models. Scandal.

The film misses its opportunity to be meaningful in favor of a slow and factory-made Disney attempt.

Writer Tom McCarthy has made some fine films, such as “Win-Win” and “The Visitor,” but this script is as deep as home plate, and director Craig Gillespie (“Lars and the Real Girl”) matches him in betraying his indie background, just as Hamm comes across as a gelded version of his sinister “Mad Men” character.

In a laborious series of tryout scenes in India, J.B. gradually becomes friends with the girl next door via Skype. (Why are they chatting so much if they didn’t like each other when he left LA?)

Alan Arkin brings a little wryness as a crotchety old scout, but J.B.’s, and the film’s, observations about India are shallow and trite. (Things stink, Indians honk too much.) It’s like he’s a Victorian colonialist bemused by all these strange little foreigners. This makes him mildly unpleasant company, but he should have been a full-on wiseguy who cracks wise about everything he sees. A hilariously derisive cynic who finally realizes what matters makes for a better arc than mild rudeness turning into mild niceness.

When the two Indian winners of J.B.’s “American Idol”-style contest, called “the million dollar arm,” return to California, the movie stumbles along with a series of woeful fish-out-of-water jokes. The boys (Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal) and J.B.’s Indian assistant (Pitobash) are likable enough, but they don’t even get distinct personalities. Instead they’re interchangeably childlike fellows who push all the wrong buttons on elevators and puke in J.B.’s Porsche (which, in the tortured logic of the script, somehow costs him a major business deal, the same one he already lost at the start of the movie).

“Million Dollar Arm” is certainly infused with the spirit of today’s baseball: It makes you check your watch a lot.

Though Bell gives a charmingly laid-back performance, the inevitable romantic scenes don’t have much spark. The moral — that pro baseball is about learning to have fun — is nonsense, and even the big finish is a letdown: You expect to see the two boys pitching against each other in the World Series. In fact, six years after they signed minor-league deals, neither has even made it to the pros. (They signed for eight thousand bucks.)

Fatally mild, slow and factory-made, “Million Dollar Arm’’ belongs somewhere less competitive than the multiplex. Like the ABC Family Channel — the entertainment industry minor leagues.

 

 

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