Godzilla

The newest Godzilla has everything you want in a summer tent pole movie: a sufficient amount of monster footage, generous servings of destruction, an okay storyline and generally decent acting by the human cast. (And the 3-D is good, too.)

Godzilla’s clever title sequence includes “redacted” credits over nuke-related archival footage, hinting at official cover-ups of atomic testing and the effects of radiation. An old-school opening theme signals a serious attitude.

Joe and Sandra Brody (Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche) both work at a Japanese nuclear plant. Joe wants to shut the plant down due to seismic rumbles; Sandra goes to check on the reactor and dies when tremors lead to disaster and force the closing of escape doors.

Throughout the film are reminders of 9-11 footage that are branded into our gray matter, starting with shots of Sandra running to escape an approaching dusty cloud of danger.

15 years after the nuke plant event, Joe’s grown up son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) leaves his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and son Sam (Carson Bolde) in San Francisco to bail out his widower dad in Japan. Joe has trespassed in the forbidden area around the nuke plant. When he convinces Ford to return with him to the area, they discover why the plant is off limits.

Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Wantanabe) and his sidekick Vivienne (Sally Hawkins) are seen in the film’s opening scene, checking out a weird crater in a uranium mine in the Philippines. They are involved in the cover-up of events at the shuttered plant. Here’s where we meet the first monster.

As the two flying monsters make their way from Japan to Hawaii to the US west coast, they are pursued by Godzilla, with whom they faceoff in San Francisco. (The battles evoked cheers from the preview audience.)

In addition to visuals that trigger 9-11 memories, the 2011 Japanese earthquake (which caused damage to the real life Fukushima nuclear plant) is referenced when monsters cause a tsunami in Honolulu.

A sensitive touch that director Gareth Edwards brings to Godzilla is a focus on small children and the way peril affects them throughout the film. I was surprised that the 2014 Godzilla’s movements were less fluid than I’d expected. On the other hand, the sounds made by all the monsters are masterpieces of audio production.

The new Godzilla film is good enough to satisfy but not so good as to come close to classic status. It is likely to be warmly embraced by many who recall the old version, as well as by Godzilla newbies.

 

 

“The Descendants”=This Year’s Best Movie (So Far)

The storytelling and the acting make “The Descendants” a title you may hear mentioned many times on February 26 (Oscar night).

“The Descendants” has it all.  Good characters.  Good story.  Most important: the story is told in an entertaining way.

The acting is superb.  George Clooney is at this best.  Lesser-known Shailene Woodley brings a performance that will lead to bigger roles.

“The Descendants” has parallel story lines which, ungeometrically, do intersect. The plotlines could occur anywhere in the US, but the story is set in Hawaii. (The screenplay is adapted from a novel by Hawaii native Kaui Hart Hemmings, who has a small role in the film.) The beauty of the islands and the attitudes of its residents give the movie a different flavor than it would have were it set in one of the states on the continent.

The main story focuses on Clooney as a workaholic lawyer whose wife has a boating accident. Doctors prepare to disconnect her from life support. Clooney has to inform his family, including two daughters, and friends about her fate. He learns from his older daughter, played by Woodley, that his wife had been cheating on him. His actions and reactions are the core of the movie.

The other plotline involves Clooney’s character’s extended family of cousins, all of whom are direct descendants of King Kamehameha. They are prepared to cash in on the sale of a huge tract of land on one of the islands. Among the cousins is Beau Bridges as an aging hippie bar owner. The collision of the two plotlines results in the some of the movie’s best scenes.

Alexander Payne is the director and co-writer of “The Descendants.” His storytelling skills have been shown in “Sideways,” “About Schmidt” and “Election.” He has, again, delivered a good story and has obtained excellent work from his actors. (In “The Descendants,” which is rated R, Payne has dialed back the raunch a bit from his previous films.)

Will “The Descendants” bring Clooney a nomination for best actor?  Book it.  Might Woodley win an award nomination?  Wouldn’t be surprised. Should you go see this movie now? Yes, definitely!