Shin Godzilla. Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!

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Warning: Here be spoilers.

When Toho announced in 2014 that we would be getting a new Godzilla film and it would be co-directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi, with a screenplay by Anno and visual effects by Higuchi, it was a certainty that the men who collaborated on the anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion, would be giving us a very different kind of Godzilla.

And so, jump forward to 2016, and that’s exactly what we have. Shin Godzilla, or Godzilla Resurgence as it’s also known, takes a markedly different approach which will either be seen by viewers as a refreshing stroke of genius or as a huge disappointment.

I fall squarely in the former opinion. The human viewpoint in this film is not on some forced love affair, or crazed scientist caught up in the events of a giant monster stomping through Tokyo, but rather it takes a long, hard look at the stuff we usually don’t see: the politicians, the military, the administration and the bureaucracy thrown into complete turmoil by the emergence of a creature in Tokyo bay that comes up onto land and works its way through the city relentlessly.

That this creature is only the first stage in the development leading to the newest form of Godzilla is just one of the new slants taken by Anno & Higuchi. It’s a strange looking beast, almost comical, which serves to keep viewers on loose footing as we’re then shown how much damage it creates on a very personal level.

And that’s another interesting wrinkle, there are no central lead characters (despite the lead billing of Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, and Satomi Ishihara (whose struggles with her English line readings unfortunately shine through all too clearly). Instead, we follow a bureaucratic hive mind of politicians and scientists as they struggle to figure out evacuation plans to minimise the public death toll.

When the final Godzilla emerges again to wreak havoc, the stakes get higher as the U.S. threatens to intervene with nuclear weapons, a course still found abominable by the Japanese, of course. The politicians become caught between a rock and a hard place as they must decide whether to bow to international pressure or strike forward with their own plan.

I found this approach completely refreshing and was absorbed quickly into proceedings. Drawing inspiration from (and heavily alluding to) the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami gave this film a resonating power that really sets it apart from and yet beautifully parallels Ishiro Honda’s nuclear parable in 1954’s original, Godzilla. Anno and Higuchi are highly critical of the bureaucracy that frequently mires Japanese officials into inaction, but they also express positivity and hope of Japan finding its way without international intervention (something I feel has been misread in some quarters as out and out nationalism). Having said this, I can see why this very talky approach will not appeal to all viewers – there are a lot of scenes in board rooms and meeting rooms. Your mileage may vary.

The action when it comes is spectacular. Seeing Godzilla attack the military with an entire bridge is something that filled me with complete joy, and despite one or two shaky FX shots, this is a hugely impressive film visually, with many breathtaking shots. I also loved Godzilla’s astonishingly brutal new radioactive breath, and the newest additions to his arsenal.

The design of this new Godzilla has also proven to be controversial among Godzilla fans (but then change of any kind is always controversial among Godzilla fans). His slow movements and little arms (and biiiig thighs) do take a little getting used to, but I warmed to both approaches by the end.

Without going into full spoiler mode, the final shot is also quite horrifying and chilling (something I’ve not felt in a Godzilla film since Honda’s original) and if a sequel moves ahead – highly likely since this is now the highest grossing live-action Japanese film of 2016 and the highest grossing Japanese-produced Godzilla film in the franchise – then it would prove an intriguing starting point for any new story.

One of the qualities I love best about the Godzilla franchise is its constant ability to reinvent itself – it’s done so many times before and with Godzilla being a worldwide brand thanks to the continued success of the Japanese films and international offshoots such as Gareth Edwards’ 2012 U.S. production – and what I enjoyed about Shin Godzilla is that the big, scaly beast has mutated into something different once again. Don’t like it? Don’t worry, there’ll be yet another type of Godzilla along in twenty or thirty years. Right now, I’m happy with this horrific new incarnation.

Besson’s Valerian trailer is here to make your day!

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Cards on the table, I out and out love Luc Besson. His work has earned so many credits in my critical bank that his occasional bum notes are more than made up for by magnificent compositions such as  Nikita, Léon: The Professional and The Fifth Element.

So the arrival of the trailer for his latest work, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets fills me with unbridled joy! And it should cheer up your day too.

You want hot young leads in the shape of Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne? You got ’em. Insane looking science fiction worlds, creatures and action? In there by the bucket load. Rihanna? Got that covered too.

Valerian is based on  the classic French graphic novel series (by Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières), Valerian and Laureline- which apparently Besson is adapting for the screen as “a contemporary, unique and epic science fiction saga” (so says the press release).

Hey, it’s Besson. It’ll be bold, brash and full of that certain je ne sais quoi he brings to all his films. Even the use of The Beatles singing Because from Abbey Road in the trailer suggests this will be stuffed to the gills with Gallic gall.

Now sit back and feast your eyes on the first teaser trailer, safe in the knowledge it’s one of the prettiest looking things you’ll see today. You’re welcome.

Did that come out already!? – Bone Tomahawk

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Every now and then a movie comes along that just calls to you, that feels like someone you meet and instantly know will become a friend. When I first read about Bone Tomahawk, a Western/cannibal hybrid with Kurt Russell, I said to myself “That’s a film made just for me if ever I heard of one!” and sure enough, I was thrilled and delighted with this brutal, wonderful gem.

Taking its place in the compact but often interesting genre of horror Western, S. Craig Zahler has stuffed his story with an excellent cast and structures it as a slow build that expertly winds up the tension. Kurt Russell, who just gets better with age, strides through the film with rugged ease (and another magnificently crafted moustache) and leads a posse out into some seriously badlands to retrieve townfolk taken by a raiding party of not-quite-Native American Indians. To say much more would spoil your enjoyment, but the film mixes elements of John Ford’s The Searchers with the gruesome horrors of Cannibal Holocaust and The Descent.

What gives the film its true power is the first hour spent in the company of the townspeople and the posse, deftly giving us characters to care about and root for. Lost’s Matthew Fox, Watchmen’s Patrick Wilson and the always dependable Richard Jenkins all work well together and there is much humour in the journey, making the eventual horrors even more unbearable.

Thankfully, Zahler resists the urge to go by-the-numbers, and the somewhat low key ending feels satisfying for a film that both plays by genre rules while bending them. The film is a great mixture of charm and brutality that won’t win over everyone but will find itself championed by those with a taste for films that stray off the beaten path.

Saddle up and settle in for the ride, just make sure you don’t eat while you’re watching.


Marvel’s Masterful, Mystical Doctor Strange

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Many who know me might suggest I was always going to give this movie an easy ride. Doctor Strange has been one of my most beloved characters since I was first introduced to him sometime in the early 1970s. Let’s face it, I’m an easy mark for a movie featuring anything to do with Marvel’s Master of the Mystic Arts, right!?

But, as excited as I’ve been about seeing the good Doctor onscreen, I was always going to be this movie’s worst enemy, sitting in the dark of the theatre daring it to take a wrong step with the Sorcerer Supreme, challenging it to weigh up against forty years of expectation.  Doctor Strange has lived and breathed in my imagination for decades, so my warning to director Scott Derrickson and the Marvel team might have best been summed up by Yeats: Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Thankfully, I needn’t have worried, Doctor Strange delivers as faithful a translation of Stan Lee & Steve Ditko’s creation as a fan could ever wish for, and embellishes it with thoughtful meditations that give this version of the character some important textures.

The thrust of the plot follows that of the comics, and sees talented but arrogant neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange lose the use of his hands in an accident but gain a new life as he travels to the mystical Kamar-Taj to study the teachings of The Ancient One.

As Strange learns to use his newfound powers he comes into conflict with one of The Ancient One’s ex-students and uncovers a threat to the very existence of our reality.

Ultimately what makes Doctor Strange work is that beyond the far-out visuals and imaginative sparkle, Derrickson and the Marvel team have crafted a remarkably human story. Director, script and cast combine to give us a set of characters we care for and the storytelling is gifted with many grace notes of humour and small, human moments. Benedict Cumberbatch shines (sometimes literally) as he enters the Marvel Cinematic Universe, breathing a fully formed life into Doctor Stephen Strange even before the event that takes him on his spiritual journey.

Likewise, both Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor are magnificent as The Ancient One and Karl Mordo respectively, both actors doing a lot of heavy lifting to fill in their unscripted humanity. Likewise, out of necessity of script mechanics, Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, fills in a lot of blanks through sheer will of performance. I can only hope she is given more to do in the sequel, because here she teeters dangerously on the edge of being wasted, and McAdams deserves far better than that. Benedict Wong is superb value too, as a version of Wong thankfully and necessarily much developed from the early comics.

The one actor given short shrift is Mads Mikkelsen, which also highlights the film’s one unfortunate weak point. With so much screen time given to introducing Strange and his supporting cast of characters, we’re never allowed to creep beneath the skin of Mikkelsen’s villainous Kaecilius. This is a charge often levelled at Marvel villains of course, and unfortunately Doctor Strange isn’t going to buck that trend.  Thankfully, this is balanced out by the long game developed for Ejiofor’s Mordo, and if you want the full effect of this you should most definitely stay in your seat until the very end of the credits for the vital scene which will no doubt kick off important events for the sequel. Also of note is the final title card, which promises that: Doctor Strange will return.

For a megalithic blockbuster, Doctor Strange has also emerged as a rather personal movie. Director Derrickson’s well documented faith and spiritualism both shine through and inform the film, adding fascinating and thoughtful layers to the story that needs to function for the franchise. The plot is playful with any number of ideologies and both studio and audiences should be happy that such an intelligent, contemplative fit was found for the character.

This thoughtfulness spills through into the climax of the film, which veers beautifully away from the usual CGI slam-fest (though it involves plenty of CGI) to bring about a truly unusual (oh go on then… downright Strange) resolution, true to the character and true to the notions of ego and selflessness at the heart of the mysticism which propels the film, care of Derrickson (and scriptwriters John Spaihts and C. Robert Cargil).

Of course, the real spiritual heart of Doctor Strange in the comics lies in the astonishing visuals envisioned by co-creator, Steve Ditko, and it’s from here the film truly dazzles. In this age of CGI bloat and fix-it-in-post visual effects, it’s increasingly rare to walk out from a movie feeling you’ve seen something wondrous and fresh, and Doctor Strange delivers both feelings in bucketfuls: from travels through glorious LSD landscapes of the psychedelic multiverse to breathtaking battles across ever-expanding M.C. Escher cityscapes, the film is a treat for the senses.

Those senses include your hearing, as Michael Giacchino (composer of wonderful scores for films such as Pixar’s The Incredibles and the recent Star Trek reboot – as well as, allegedly, Marvel’s forthcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming) lavishes the film with one of the studio’s most effective scores, including a Doctor Strange theme (all harpsichord, Hammond organ, sitars and jingle-jangle guitar) that you’re sure to be humming as you leave the theatre.

They say you should be careful what you wish for, but as an almost lifelong fan of the good Doctor, I could not have hoped for a more thrilling, magical and human translation of the story that’s played out in my psyche for so long.

Buy the ticket, take the ride, you’ll be glad you joined Marvel and Doctor Strange for this trip.

Wow! Wonder Woman gets another fantastic trailer…

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The new Wonder Woman trailer has just dropped and it’s another corker!

Everything we’ve seen so far about the Patty Jenkins’ helmed feature gives me hope that DC/Warner Bros. will right the ship of the DC Universe movies that has veered off course so disastrously with their first three films.

Man of Steel, Batman vs Superman and Suicide Squad have pretty much made a complete hash of their characters to date, either grossly misunderstanding what made them so special or burying them within a mass of confused storytelling (or indeed, both).

And while it’s easy to be fooled by trailers and PR material, it’s difficult not to feel some hope that Wonder Woman is going to save the day.

Wonder Woman opens in theaters on June 2, 2017. It stars Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Ewen Bremner, Saïd Taghmaoui, and Lucy Davis. The film is produced by Charles Roven, Zack Snyder and Deborah Snyder, with Richard Suckle, Stephen Jones, Wesley Coller, Geoff Johns and Rebecca Roven serving as executive producers.

Meanwhile, sit back and enjoy this latest, kick-ass trailer…