Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Kyle Chandler’

I have a friend who I generally get on quite well with, probably because he tends to say very nice things about me – he was the one, by the way, who suggested I should forget about the blog you are currently reading and become a YouTube sensation instead. The only thing which is a source of good-natured animosity between us is his passionate and apparently sincere belief that Batman Vs Superman is not only a good film, but a genuinely great one, comparable to Schindler’s List in terms of its artistic merit and thematic power. Well, as you can imagine, he gets a good deal of ribbing from me about this view – I mean, all opinions are of equal merit, yadda yadda yadda, there’s not accounting for taste, blah blah, and so on, but even so, we’re talking about Batman Vs Superman – my old role-playing group regularly improvised better superhero plotlines than the one that film possesses. My friend is, however, one of the biggest Batman fans I have ever met, which may explain why his objectivity has slipped a bit.

The boot may be about to find itself on the other foot, as I find myself poised to say very complimentary things about Michael Dougherty’s new movie Godzilla: King of the Monsters, a film which has received, shall we say, mixed reviews. Some of them have been downright hostile and even rather scathing, calling it ‘stupid’ and the year’s first indisputably bad blockbuster (I find myself quite ready to dispute that, by the way). I am aware that there are many elements of this film which do not fall within the realm of storytelling excellence as it is conventionally reckoned. I am aware this is an attempt to bring a traditionally mocked and derided movie sub-genre to a mass audience on a $200 million budget, and thus quite probably qualifies as folly on a breathtaking scale. Sorry, don’t care: I really enjoyed it.

I should mention that I am the world’s worst person to give an objective opinion of a new Godzilla film, as I have seen all of the previous thirty-four films in this franchise and – well, I was about to say there’s never been a Godzilla movie I didn’t enjoy watching, but nowadays you have take the three animated Godzilla movies on Netflix into account, and they comprise the most horribly boring interlude in the entire sixty-five year history of the series.

Still, Dougherty’s movie puts the franchise (or the American end of it, at least) back on track. The movie follows Gareth Edwards’ 2014 film, which saw the existence of Godzilla and other massive ancient creatures revealed to the world at large, since when monster-wrangling agency Monarch have turned up more than a dozen others, which they are containing and keeping tabs on. This is rather vexatious to the world’s governments, who would naturally rather see these ‘titans’, as the monsters are referred to, exterminated – even the ones which might be friendly.

A promising premise for a Japanese-style monster movie, then, and the film further demonstrates its familiarity with the tropes of the form by introducing a melodramatic subplot about some thinly-drawn human characters: we meet the Russell family, who were struck by tragedy off-screen during the 2014 film¬†– Mark (Kyle Chandler) and Emma (Vera Farmiger) lost their son in the monster attack on San Francisco, leading him to develop a brooding hatred of Godzilla, and her to decide to build a gadget which will allow her to communicate with monsters using their ‘bio-sonar’. Needless to say, they are not on close terms any more, which is a source of angst to their daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown).

The monster-translator seems to be working out, allowing Emma to calm down a baby monster which hatches out in the facility where she is posted: this turns out to be the larval form of Mothra, who despite spraying silk everywhere turns out to be as mild-tempered as ever. The good news does not last, however, as eco-terrorists commanded by Evil British Person Colonel Jonah Alan (Charles Dance, enjoying himself) blast their way into the site, kidnap the Russells, and commandeer the monster-translator.

Monarch boss Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) is naturally alarmed to learn of this development, and he and his team naturally recruit Mark Russell in the hope he will know how to track the signals from the monster-translation gadget. He is not exactly a willing team-member, belonging to the ‘kill ’em all’ party where monsters are concerned. He is only strengthened in his views when it emerges that Godzilla is behaving unusually, showing signs of agitation before heading towards Antarctica. But why? Well, it turns out the eco-terrorists are planning to excavate and defrost a monster discovered frozen in the ice there: a triple-headed dragon code-named Monster Zero – an ancient rival of Godzilla, known in legend as King Ghidorah…

Well, it certainly brings a new meaning to the term ‘extinction rebellion’ – the eco-terrorists have decided that the best way to restore the natural balance is to get giant super-powered monsters to flatten civilisation as we know it. Not sure if Greta Thunberg would be on board with that. Here I suppose we come to the crux of the matter: either you will be thinking ‘that’s a fairly cool and authentically dingbat basis for a Japanese kaiju movie’, or you’ll be going ‘this sounds like the most moronic thing I have ever heard’. And I can empathise with the latter view, I really can.

What you have to bear in mind, though, is that all Japanese monster movie plots seem kind of moronic when you write them down in those terms. It kind of goes with the territory: they are predicted on the existence not just of ridiculously huge creatures performing physically impossible feats, but such creatures who also have distinct personalities and weirdly detailed inner lives. You can either get on board and enjoy the madness, the absurdity, and the extravagantly fantastic imagination of these films, or you can just dismiss the entire sub-genre as a stupid embarrassment to cinema as an art form and not go anywhere near them.

There is a lot about Godzilla: King of the Monsters which even I will agree is no good. The film has an oddly old-fashioned vibe to it, recalling Hollywood blockbusters from the mid to late 1990s, while Kyle Chandler (normally a perfectly able screen actor) is kind of useless as the film’s supposed hero; the character’s arc (it’s hardly a spoiler to reveal he goes from hating Godzilla to being a supporter and ally of the big G) is lumpenly detailed. The same can be said for most of the human characters; they are thin and seldom well-played (Watanabe shows he is a class act, however).

On the other hand, there are a lot of elements in the film which will probably look just as ridiculous to the casual viewer – but which are actually hugely satisfying and enjoyable if you know your monster movie lore. There’s a plot reversal where it is revealed that King Ghidorah, rather than an earthly monster, is actually a malevolent alien invader, contrary to what everyone previously thought. This sounds like a stupid plot contrivance, but it’s actually staying completely faithful to how this character has been traditionally portrayed. The same is true of the revelation of the traditional alliance between Godzilla and Mothra – ‘so these two have some kind of a thing going on?’ asks a sceptical minor character when they learn of it – by normal standards it is a deeply silly idea, but once again this is simply the nature of how these characters have always been presented. Likewise an attempt by the military to kill the monsters using a weapon called the Oxygen Destroyer – it’s only a dopey-sounding plot device until you recognise this is a call-back to the original 1954 film. (Ghidorah’s code-name as Monster Zero itself is taken from 1965’s Invasion of Astro-Monster.)

I feel like this is the first American movie to really embrace the history and traditions of the Japanese monster movie and try to have some fun with the form. It does feel like a genuine fusion of a traditional Hollywood blockbuster with the kind of film Ishiro Honda was making back in the early 1960s. Godzilla, Mothra, Ghidorah and Rodan all look and act pretty much as you would hope – they may be realised through state of the art CGI, but Godzilla is still temperamental and imposing, Mothra is essentially benign, Ghidorah is the villain, and Rodan the bad-tempered sidekick. The soundtrack incorporates terrific new arrangements of the classic Godzilla and Mothra themes by Akira Ifukube and Yuji Koseki, and, most surprisingly of all, there’s even a strong suggestion that a couple of supporting characters are actually Shobijin (something which will mean nothing or everything to you, depending on how steeped you are in the lore of Toho’s universe). Rather touchingly, the film is dedicated to Yoshimitsu Banno, long-time director and executive producer of the franchise, and Haruo Nakajima, the original Godzilla suit actor, both of whom passed away while it was in production.

In short, the film works tremendously hard to appeal to the existing fanbase of these movies and characters. I suppose this is kind of a go-for-broke move, as it could potentially alienate the mass audience who couldn’t give a stuff about which island Mothra usually lives on, or what Rodan’s special powers are. As I say, it quite possibly qualifies as a monumental folly by most rational standards. I honestly don’t know whether the film’s spectacle and action will be enough to lure in the sceptical in large numbers – what I found to be hugely enjoyable, and a film I feel like I’ve been waiting to see for many, many years, may seem to others to be an absurd, poorly-plotted mess.

This is the first American Godzilla movie to bear comparison with the better Japanese films in the series: it’s not afraid to be crazy and fantastical in a way that the films by Gareth Edwards and Roland Emmerich simply weren’t. Whether this ultimately proves to be a good idea or not remains to be seen – it’s less than a year until the next film in the series, Godzilla Vs Kong, comes out, and it will be interesting to see if they choose to sustain the same kind of tone. I really hope they do, because – from my entirely partial and biased perspective –¬†this film was honestly a treat.

Read Full Post »

In the great firmament of Hollywood stars, Casey Affleck has always been the equivalent of Sirius B: which is not to say that he is actually a dwarf, just that it has been very easy to overlook him given that his big brother is an acclaimed actor, screenwriter, director, and Batman. This may be about to change, for Affleck Minor is attracting a lot of attention for his formidably accomplished performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea.

manchester

What’s that you cry? Manchester isn’t by the sea. Manchester is only really noted for its ship canal (and its cotton industry and football teams and history as both a musical powerhouse and a trainer of first-rate EFL teachers). Well, thing is, it ain’t that Manchester; the film is concerned with Manchester-by-the-Sea, which apparently really is the name of a small town in Massachusetts.

Or perhaps I should say it’s concerned with a small group of former and current inhabitants of the town, primarily Lee (Affleck Minor), who as the story starts is working as a janitor in the greater Boston area. We are shown some of the day-to-day of Lee’s routine, and it gradually becomes apparent that while he appears quiet and unremarkable, Lee is actually a fairly heavy-duty piece of work, responding quickly and with violence (verbal and physical) to anyone who pushes him.

Not the most sympathetic of characters, then, even when he is summoned home to Manchester after his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) suffers a heart attack and passes away. This does not come as much of a surprise to anyone who knows the family, but what is a little startling – to Lee, anyway – is that Joe’s will makes him the legal guardian of his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Quite apart from everything else, taking on this role will either mean moving Patrick to Boston, an idea he fiercely resists, or Lee’s moving back to Manchester – something he is equally against. He has history and a rather black reputation in this town, and there is also the presence of his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), with whom he has a strained relationship, to say the least…

I’m curious to see how well Manchester by the Sea does when the awards season really gets going in earnest, for while it certainly deserves to be in contention for major prizes, I suspect many people will be in the mood for a slightly more hopeful narrative, and perhaps one less ballasted with reality, than we get here. Make no mistake, this is a very fine film, but it’s a pint of bitter rather than a cocktail. It fits seamlessly into a tradition of gritty narratives about life in small-town, blue-collar America, and much about the structure and subject matter of the piece is rather theatrical – I can imagine a lengthy process of everyone developing their characters together, improvising, working out the story, even though for all I know every single word was scripted by Lonergan well in advance of production.

As a result this is a film driven by character and atmosphere rather than incident, and there are the kind of discursive scenes you don’t tend to find in much genre cinema: a group of teenagers argue about whether Star Trek is any good or not, people go fishing together, and there’s quite a long scene where two characters forget where they parked and wander about trying to find their car. It’s all quite naturalistic – a distinct lack of non-diegetic music, except at key moments in the story – but the characters are vividly drawn and very engaging. I baulked a bit at seeing the nearly two-and-a-half-hour running time for this film, but while I was watching found that it didn’t drag at all, despite the illusion of not very much seeming to happen.

As you might expect, this is really an actor’s movie, and primarily Affleck Minor’s. This is not to say that Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, and particularly Lucas Hedges are not very good indeed, it’s just that they have limited screen time in secondary roles (also turning up for an unexpected but well-executed cameo is Matthew Broderick, who I didn’t think I’d seen on the big screen – or indeed any other kind of screen – since Godzilla – clearly I’ve bleached the remake of The Stepford Wives from my memory core. Consider your penance served, Matt, it’s nice to see you again away). The film is Affleck’s, for it essentially concerns a particular kind of inarticulate masculinity of which his character is the chief exponent. Many of the scenes just concern men failing to quite connect with each other, with the story developing in the interstices between their personalities, and Affleck does an exemplary job of suggesting character without once being caught acting.

Much of the film’s drama and emotion comes from Lee’s past and his inability to process it, while much of its warmth and humour arise out of his attempts to take on an avuncular role for which he is really very ill-equipped. It says something for Affleck Minor’s achievement that he takes a character who initially comes across as an alarming loner with a hair-trigger temper and makes you care for him as a sympathetic, almost heroic figure, and does this without recourse to histrionics or cheap sentiment. If in the end he remains all too human, well, that’s part of what the film is about, which is the realities of life and emotion.

But, as I say, do audiences and awards juries really want reality right at this moment in time? I doubt it, somehow. (And exactly do you compare, for instance, Affleck Minor’s superbly actorly performance here with Goosey-Goosey Gosling’s brilliant song-and-dance turn in La La Land?) Nevertheless, this is a superbly well-made film and a very rewarding one to watch.

 

Read Full Post »