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Movie Review: Godzilla


It's strange for a title character to only appear halfway through a film, but in Godzilla's case, this is actually a good thing. The movie trailer offered glimpses of what is by far the largest depiction of the monster, adding scale and harnessing the power of imagination in the process.

Godzilla director, Gareth Edwards, demonstrated his ability to create atmosphere and leverage the unknown with the low budget thriller, Monsters. He managed to create a real world under alien threat with believable characters on a shoestring budget. So just imagine the possibilities of a broader film on a blockbuster budget.

From his early Japanese origins, the giant lizard has come to represent nuclear holocaust, mirroring the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II. In the new Godzilla, the film-makers have decided to revise the old theme and crank Roland Emmerich's version up to a global scale with monster devastation taking place at several international locations.

The new Godzilla is pitted against other creatures whose size and diet threaten our existence. The film has been treated like a disaster movie with monsters substituting natural disasters. The human element frames the mayhem and gives us characters to add emotional depth and a sense of reality to the sci-fi happenings. This adds gravity and weight to the monster film, which tries to balance the human drama and monster CGI.

Unfortunately, the drama doesn't hold up. While Bryan Cranston sets the scene with great intensity and tenacity, he's succeeded by a rather vacuous performance from Aaron Taylor-Johnson. You get the impression that they wrote the character with The Day After Tomorrow and Jake Gyllenhaal in mind. While Taylor-Johnson was impressive in Kick-Ass, he's just not there in Godzilla. While you could argue he's numbed by war or constrained by a stock character script, his performance is inert and distances us.

Godzilla 2014

"IT'S GODZILLA... RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!! Hang on, he's just yawning!?"

The cast is bolstered by a strong line-up of actors including: Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn and Elizabeth Olsen. However, most of these performances don't have the character depth or screen time to amount to much. Watanabe just seems lost for words, Binoche does much with little, Strathairn is short-lived, Olsen continues to show great promise and it's just interesting to see Hawkins in a serious role.

After slowly immersing us in the history and showing the impact of the devastation on humanity, the character development disintegrates along with the city centre.Godzilla is the main attraction, but without the character perspective it just becomes tiresome and dull. We've seen a slew of terrific city destruction sequences since Michael Bay unleashed Transformers and this is yet another.

Godzilla is in the same league as Jurassic Park when it comes to CGI and special effects. Gareth Edwards and his team have done the monster justice in terms of scale, representation, movement and design. The 3D and amazing sound effects power home all the details, creating a monstrous Godzilla that looks and feels alive. Unfortunately, the lack of dramatic tension diminishes the thrills and makes a spectacular yet all too safe doomsday encounter.

There's an attempt to relay the same intensity of emotion and aftermath disconnection as The Impossible. Edwards manages to wring several powerful human moments out of the script, yet there's little attachment to the characters, subduing the overall impact. Godzilla desperately needed a sense of humour to ground the film. After Bryan Cranston sets the pace, the charm and emotion slowly bleed out along with our connection.

Godzilla comes across like an uninspired prequel to Pacific Rim or a vanilla version of Neon Genesis Evangelion, without the mecha. Edwards has taken notes on the treatment of the creatures from Pacific Rim, zooming in on the monsters to establish size. While it entertains an end of times theme, there are no religious undertones and everything has a generic and anonymous feel.

Godzilla's CGI and sound effects are impressive, the production values are tremendous, the design has weight and the film has a sense of reality, atmosphere and scale. Unfortunately, while immense and spectacular, it lacks tension, emotional depth and a healthy level of charm. While it makes a promising start, our interest starts to wain after the monsters take centre stage and its flaws become just as devastating as its title star. To make matters worse, it ends on an offbeat and rather funny note.

The bottom line: Vacant

 
Movie Review: Filth


Director, Jon S. Baird is a brave and determined director. When the pig-headed policeman on the front cover of Irvine Welsh's Filth caught his imagination, he read the novel and was inspired to direct what was then deemed impossible to adapt. The film rights had just expired and Baird took it upon himself to visit Irvine Welsh in person to convince him that the adaptation for his book was in good hands. After a clinking of pints between the Trainspotting author and Cass writer-director, Filth was born.

The novel follows the dark, often shocking misadventures of Bruce Robertson, a bipolar, bigoted junkie cop in Scotland. The bent copper's animal drive for promotion and attempt to win back his family sees a number of colleagues unwittingly become targets as Robertson destructive path becomes a wake of debauched sexual, narcotic and ethically-unhinged encounters.

As you would guess from the title and synopsis, Filth is not a film for sensitive viewers. Jon S. Baird's retelling doesn't pull any punches and James McAvoy's fearless performance adds clout to this downward spiral character portrait. While drenched in filth, this crime drama has dark comedy undertones, which add pale levity and keep it from imploding.

Bruce Robertson is despicable, yet through James McAvoy's red-blooded performance we're still able to sympathise and find something detestable yet accidentally likable at his core. McAvoy is in every scene and carries Filth through its paces with impassioned chest-beating madness and a transformative performance.

It's a role he wanted so badly he agreed to audition for it and take a producer credit, after the producers felt he wasn't right to play the 40-year-old cop. He convinced them with a strong audition and makes the end result difficult to imagine any one else in the role.

"Do I look crazy to you? MUHUAHUAHUAHUA! Well, I'm not."

He's not alone, going into combat with a strong ensemble of British actors, all eager to be attached toFilth's indie adaptation. Jim Broadbent, Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots and Eddie Marsen support McAvoy in completely revising their atypical on-screen roles. Broadbent is comically deranged as Dr. Rossi, Jamie Bell delivers an uncharacteristic performance as Lennox, Poots gets nitty-gritty as the no-nonsense Drummond and Eddie Marsen bubble wraps his psychotic intensity for a goggle-eyed nice guy.

The collective of compelling performances is the glue that holds Filth together, under the indomitable McAvoy. Baird knows the character inside out and manages to rope a rather eclectic narrative of hallucinations, reality and everything in-between. It's a roller-coaster ride through a ghost tunnel. We're entertained, we're shocked and we're amused by Robertson's descent into Richard III madness.

Nic Cage and Werner Herzog's mixed bag version of Bad Lieutenant come to mind... yet Filth doesn't degenerate into parody. The mix of low budget grit and first-rate acting are a wonderful paradox of welcome depravity. We're entranced by the performances, yet repelled by the character's twisted and manic world. Baird dangles redemption in front of Robertson... propelling his nightmare at the same speed as the light at the end of the tunnel.

Filth knows it isn't for everyone. This is a dark, harrowing psychological crime drama with dabs of dark comedy. If you enjoyed Trainspotting, you'll have a good idea of just how off-the-wall Irvine Welsh's writing is. There is a twist that doesn't quite work and the film could have used subtitles in places, but everything's smoothed over by McAvoy's pig-in-mud performance.

The bottom line: Impassioned

 
Movie Review: Konfetti


Every little girl dreams of her wedding day. It's an outrageous generalisation, but popular culture seems geared towards celebrating this as the most special day on every girl's calendar. Months, if not years of planning, go into one pristine day that has to be just perfect... even if the husband isn't. With so much expectation and so much that can go wrong, weddings are an ideal situation for calamity and romantic comedy dramas like Konfetti.

The film is based on Louw Venter's one man show, The Best Man's Speech. As such, it revolves around the best man's wedding preparation, venue teething issues and extended family politics before unleashing the momentous foot-in-mouth speech. Louw Venter's screenplay combines English and Afrikaans to create a universal story about cold feet and wedding jitters.

We've seen a number of solid local "romcoms" hit the big screen over the last few years. While mostly formulaic, they demonstrated we have the ability and the market to sustain this genre. To it's credit, Konfetti breaks loose from the trappings of a cookie-cutter "romcom", representing more down-to-earth characters and trashing the notion of the perfect wedding without remorse.

As warts-and-all as the characters are, Konfetti finds itself desperately in need of some hope in humanity. A full range of negative emotion is on show and the characters are so unlikable that without someone to root for, it becomes a spectator comedy. While there are one or two good laughs surrounding Barry White and speech time, it's just not much more than a series of good intentions and unfortunate events.

Konfetti boasts an ensemble with some strong local acting talent, but the long guest list softens the focus and dilutes the overall level of performance. Semi-soet and Jimmy in Pienk actor, Louw Venter, heads the production as Lukas. His performance is convincing as the recovering best man, but we don't really sympathise with his character - making him simply a part of the dysfunction.

Konfetti Movie Review

"Don't make me come over there."

It's a good showcase for Casey B. Dolan, who finally gets the screen time she deserves. Dolan lights up the screen with her smile and then serves up an equal dose of tears as one spanner is swapped out for another. The dapper Nico Panagio makes another "romcom" showing, playing a distorted version of Prince Charming to good effect.

The sprawling ensemble encompasses too many talents to mention. Some of the stand outs include: Kim Engelbrecht, who stirs things up as the bewitching wedding singer with a history, Mark Elderkin, who gets his attitude on as the bride's stylist, David Sherwood, who goes on an oblivious reformed colonialist "safari" and Casper de Vries, who sweats the small stuff as the pretentious venue host, Barry White.

The setting is the beautiful Stellenbosch winelands and it's great to see a South African film that isn't forced to have a blaring product placement every two minutes. Konfetti deals with a blend of Afrikaans, Jewish and South African heritage, but could have probably got more comedy leverage out of this clash of culture and faith.

Seasoned South African producer, Zaheer Bhyat, directs his first feature film. While Bhyat has a strong sense of what works, the film needed a bit more guidance. There doesn't seem to be a clear vision for Konfetti, underselling the comedy, missing the mark on the drama and sidestepping the romance, leaving it with a rather bland and inconsistent tone. Perhaps it was an ambitious attempt to reach for the same undercurrent as Rachel Getting Married.

Konfetti is one of those films that probably would've worked better as a mockumentary in the style of Christopher Guest with cutaway interviews like Modern Family. The performances would have come across as more natural, the off-the-cuff comedy more sincere and the roving wedding video documentary format would have suited the character-driven scenario.

It's a shame to see a wedding cake flop, especially with so many fine ingredients. Konfetti lays the anti-romcom on thick with some acerbic-to-irritating characters, but after going the distance to disrupt convention, decides to lean back on the genre trappings by slapping on one big Band-aid of an ending. This comes across as contrived and haphazard, when it probably would have made more sense for the entire wedding party to die tragically... with the exception of the best man of course!

The bottom line: Cold

 
Movie Review: The Devil's Knot


True crime has that extra little sting, which makes the experience of reliving it all the more terrifying. That's why shows like Medical Detectives seem to draw us in. We're compelled by the stories because they actually happened. This slice-of-life angle is enticing and only compounds our curiousity in the most detestable cases.

Devil's Knot is one such film that recreates a harrowing true story about three boys, who went missing in West Memphis, Arkansas. The small town was devastated by their disappearance and the revelation of their dead bodies sent the townsfolk into a witch hunt for Satanists believed to be at the heart of the ritualistic killing.

Atom Egoyan is a director who doesn't shy away from difficult subjects. He confronted terrorism in Adoration, genocide inArarat and devastating tragedy in The Sweet Hereafter. InDevil's Knot, the director takes a note from The Sweet Hereafter, by dealing with yet another small town tragedy.

While it stars Colin Firth, an actor already familiar with Egoyan, the lead role of Ron Lax seems like it was written with A Time to Kill's Matthew McConaughey in mind. Both films have their similarities, presenting difficult court cases in hostile and biased communities, where the quest for truth seems secondary to the pursuit of exacting mob justice.

Colin Firth holds fort, but doesn't feel quite at home in this Southern crime drama. Perhaps mastering the accent, playing a perceived second fiddle or resonating with his character's strong convictions made him seem a little uneasy. On the whole, the supporting performances are strong. Reese Witherspoon plays a slightly ambiguous role as a grieving mother opposite a complex stepfather in Alessandro Nivola.

Devil's Knot Movie Review

"Hold still... this facial composite isn't going to sketch itself."

Kevin Durand, Dane DeHaan, Bruce Greenwood and Mireille Enos add more weight to the ensemble. Durand's take on John Mark Byers is impressive, DeHaan brings more sinister rebellion as a local youth, Greenwood holds his usual authority as Judge and Mireille Enos is manic-to-comedic in a small, somewhat jarring performance as a meddling mother. James Hamrick makes a strong showing in his feature film debut, playing the apathetic and fatalistic ring leader, Damien Echols.

Devil's Knot plays like a chronological order of events docudrama. The storytelling is somewhat choppy and scatter-shot as we jump from one re-enactment to the next, pointing the finger in all directions. Just like All Good Things, this crime drama sheds light on an unsolved mystery. The story and characters are creepy, darkly intriguing and fascinating enough to hold our attention, but the drama isn't as gripping as it could have been.

Instead, we're intellectually invested in Lax's detective work as he investigates the grisly murder, sketchy policing, inconsistent witnesses and fallible evidence. The injustice creates tension in this slow-boiling mystery as we're exposed to a swirling list of suspects and forced to answer difficult questions.

Devil's Knot is provocative entertainment that works, despite its minor hitches. Several documentaries have been created since the 1993 event, making this foray seem a little late in the game, but this little crime drama will be appreciated by those who haven't been exposed to the West Memphis Three.

The bottom line: Curious

 
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