Directors: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Starring: Robert Downey Jr. Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Benedict Wong, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Peter Dinklage, Idris Elba
With the incredible success of Black Panther, which is the year’s top grossing film by some margin and Marvel’s third highest grossing film ever, 2018 was already a winner for Marvel Studios before they had even played their trump card. Avengers: Infinity Wars is, by most any measure, one of the biggest movies in history. The film that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building to for a decade now, it is a crossover epic 18 films in the making, and promises to be the blockbuster movie event of the year.
When Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who has been missing from Earth since Avengers: Age of Ultron, comes crashing down into Doctor Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) Sanctum Sanctorum he brings with him an ominous warning. The titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) is gathering the infinity stones. These six gems forged in the big bang each control an elemental power and if he gets his hand on all six, and he already has three, he will become all powerful. His ultimate goal? Genocide on an unimaginable scale. Continue reading
Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, David Strathairn, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche
For sixty years now Godzilla has been the undisputed king of movie monsters. Debuting in Ishiro Honda’s 1954 film, Godzilla, the legendary creature has appeared in 28 films for Japan’s Toho Company. Despite that legacy, only once, in Roland Emmerich’s much maligned 1998 effort, also called Godzilla, has he received the Hollywood blockbuster treatment. But sixteen years later, Hollywood is ready to give it another go: different studio, different director, same title – Godzilla.
Scientist Joe Brody is certain that the Japanese government is covering up the true nature of a nuclear power plant disaster which took his wife’s life fifteen years earlier. With his son, Ford, a Navy explosives expert, he discovers that rather than being the result of a natural disaster, it was an attack from a MUTO, a Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object. That MUTO, and its mating pair, are now heading across the Pacific Ocean towards the west coast of the USA and their only hope appears to be an equally large and mysterious creature which is tracking them.
Godzilla is only Gareth Edwards’ second feature film, after the 2010 independent film Monsters. He does, however, have a background in visual effects and that really comes through in this movie. Clearly taking his lead from Spielberg in Jaws, Edwards is careful not to overexpose us to the monster – in fact with Godzilla not featuring prominently until the third act there is a fair argument to be made that we don’t see enough him. But when he does show us the star of the film, he makes it count. Godzilla looks fantastic. The combination of immense scale and intricate detail makes for a very impressive visual presence. Edwards avoids the quick-cutting, shaky-camera style that makes some of the action sequences in the Transformers films such a headache inducing mess, allowing us a really good look at creatures as they battle it out. The film retains the traditional shape and lumbering movement of Godzilla, so even with these brilliant effects there are still moments when you get that nostalgic feel of a man in a costume, which is fun.
One of the other things this movie does really well is give a classic film figure contemporary relevance. This is achieved through the clever way that the film’s narrative ties in with contemporary fears. The catalyst that gets everything rolling is a nuclear power plant disaster in Japan. There is a tsunami. We see crowded city streets enveloped by a cloud of dust as skyscrapers crumble, which feel very familiar to 9/11 footage. All of these moments engage our memories of real world events. Effectively pressing the emotional buttons of relatable, real world experiences serves to ground what is otherwise a fantastical story.
Unfortunately though, as much as there are some great things about Godzilla, the film also has some pretty glaring problems. Primary among them are the film’s human characters. They simply aren’t engaging. Bryan Cranston’s nuclear scientist, the film’s most compelling character, does not feature as prominently as the trailers would have you believe. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays a pretty bland, cookie-cutter protagonist, serving his role adequately but failing to take us on any sort of emotional journey. Elizabeth Olsen, who is a really good young actress, is the most underutilised, getting little more to do than wait by the phone and worry about her husband. The blockbusters of the last few years have made audiences largely immune to watching cities being leveled. We need individual characters to care about, and this film doesn’t adequately give them to us.
These characters are also not helped by the fact that there is an unavoidable disconnect between the characters and the central narrative of the film. Classical film narrative uses characters as the primary causal agents which propel a cause-and-effect narrative towards its resolution. The actions of the protagonist are supposed to make things happen, to ultimately determine the outcome of the film. In Godzilla, the human characters have very little dramatic importance. The message of the film is that nature will find a way to correct imbalance. Thus, the events that the human characters are involved in are only side stories, having little bearing on the outcome of the film which is to be determined by the battle between Godzilla and the MOTUs.
Godzilla is a film that gets some things very right and some things quite wrong. It possibly takes itself more seriously than a film about a 350ft sea-lizard should, but as a piece of pure spectacle cinema it does the trick.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Godzilla? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Director: Bruce Beresford
Starring: Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Elizabeth Olsen, Nat Wolff, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
When New York lawyer Diane’s husband surprises her with a request for a divorce, her response is to take her two children to visit her mother with whom she has not spoken for twenty years. It sounds like the set up for a tense family drama until you add a couple of details. The mother, Grace, is an ageing hippie living in Woodstock and their estrangement was as a result of her being arrested for selling marijuana at Diane’s wedding.
Thematically, Peace, Love and Misunderstanding is a film about parents and children, specifically the need for children to accept the humanity of their parents. However, Australian director Bruce Beresford chooses not to delve too deeply into these themes, seemingly happy to let the film simply be a charming light comedy.
The film relies on heavily on stereotypical characters and formulaic situations. The fact that Diane, her daughter Zoe and son Jake all manage to meet their respective love interests within 24 hours of arriving in Woodstock is nothing if not convenient. It’s these sorts of things which leave you always feeling like you know exactly where the film is going.
Jane Fonda, who returned to acting in the mid-2000s after a 15 year retirement, here plays the hippie activist Grace, obviously a caricature of her own activist public persona. It’s a character we’ve seen many times before in films, as is Keener’s uptight lawyer, but the fact that it is Jane Fonda playing the role adds a great deal to the character by association.
Peace, Love and Misunderstanding is very formulaic and not particularly deep, but it isn’t trying to be anything more than it is. It is a charming picture with some likeable characters. Good harmless fun.
Rating – ★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Josh Radnor
Starring: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, John Magaro, Allison Janney, Zac Efron, Elizabeth Reaser
Plenty of films have been made about nostalgia for the glory days of college, but invariably they are most concerned with partying and responsibility-free living. Rarely do you find a film which considers the university years with the same level of earnest idealism as does Liberal Arts.
Jesse Fisher is a 35 year old liberal arts graduate who is working as an admissions officer in a New York college. He accepts and invitation to return to his alma mater in Ohio for the retirement dinner of one of his favourite professors from his time there. While back on campus he strikes up a friendship and romance with a 19 year old drama student named Zibby (short for Elizabeth), a relationship that at the same time manages to make Jesse feel young and remind him of how old he is.
At its heart, Liberal Arts is a film about growing up, and the college becomes a metaphor for youth, and all the opportunity and boundless potential that entails. Jesse is overwhelmed with excitement to get back to his alma mater and really wants to once again feel like he did back then. However, for all his excitement at getting back to college, we also get, as a contrast, the perspectives of two lifelong academics; one whose passion has been replaced by bitterness and resentment, the other who, facing retirement, is concerned that like a prisoner he has become an ‘institution man’ and won’t be able to function in the outside world.
It takes you a while to get on board with Jesse and Zibby’s relationship. Initially, it doesn’t quite seem plausible. You don’t understand her interest in him. It just seems to happen. But once it is established it starts to make more sense. With the sixteen year age gap being so prominent – there is a great little scene where Jesse tries to get his head around their age difference by working out how old she was or will be at different stages of his life – Jesse and Zibby’s relationship also ties into this theme of growing up. He sees her as a way back to the hopeful young man that he was, someone with whom he can have the lofty, intellectual conversations which were once so important to him but have since become absent in his life. For her, frustrated by the calibre of male in her peer-group, he is a chance to fast-forward into adulthood.
The film also contains a few subplots, the most interesting and authentic of which is Jesse’s relationship with a manic depressive boy he meets on campus – another relationship Jesse just seems to fall into. The two bond over reading, and Jesse becomes a surrogate father figure for this brilliant but troubled young man.
Liberal Arts is written and directed by its star, Josh Radnor. It is Radnor’s second film as a writer/director after 2010’s Happythankyoumoreplease, another film about growing up. Radnor would be most familiar to viewers as Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother, and viewers of that show will struggle not to see him playing a version of the same character here. Elizabeth Olsen – the younger sister of twins Mary-Kate and Ashley – is quite good as Zibby, and is definitely one of the young actresses to watch over the next couple of years.
At times Liberal Arts can briefly cross the line into pretentiousness, but no more than you would expect from a screenplay trying to capture the vibe of young, faux-intellectual liberal arts students. But despite this, the film is quite charming, will appeal to people who have had that particular experience of college, and does enough to suggest that Radnor could develop into quite an interesting filmmaker.
Rating – ★★★
Review by Duncan McLean