Not only is Wonder Woman likely to be the best superhero movie of this summer, it may well take its place within the pantheon of truly great mythological sagas, reimagined for the big screen. It’s a coming of age story, it’s a love story, AND a story of female empowerment that goes beyond cliches. Add to all this, its heroine is a kick-ass beauty of rare panache and vulnerability. So this movie has a LOT going for it even before we get to the deeper levels of meaning which get me excited.
First, a little exposition. Our Wonder Woman, the Princess Diana of the Amazons, comes of age on a secluded island of female warriors, Themiscrya. Although they have been training for thousands of year, the island exists in total seclusion from the world, shrouded in a protective fog that has kept them untroubled by the modern world. Although they have been placed there by Zeus (as a kind of reserve army against the re-emergence of evil in the world) the story borrows heavily from Biblical lore – in which the father of all Gods banishes his son Ares, the god of war, over Ares’ jealousy of man (Zeus’ newest creation). If this sounds like Satan cast out of heaven, it is! Which I guess makes the Amazons either demigods or angels, depending upon your mythology. The point is: Ares is out to create evil in the hearts of men and turn them against one another. And the Amazons are charged with stopping this. But apparently, they’re a little too well secluded. They’ve lived without men, they’ve lived without war or trouble of any kind. And young Diana comes of age, schooled to await a great destiny, yet having no idea what it might be. Like many a young prince or princess before her (Siddhartha, to name one) she longs to reach beyond her mother’s protection. She longs to fulfill her life. (more…)
FILM: EDGE OF TOMORROW
Director: Doug Liman
Writers: Christopher McQuarrie and Jez & John-Henry Butterworth, based on the novel “All You Need Is Kill,” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
Starring: Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt
A few weeks ago, a friend suggested we take in this summer’s latest Tom Cruise offering, “Edge of Tomorrow.” I had seen the trailer and was pretty skeptical. As a general rule, I avoid movie trailers. There’s nothing I love more than sitting down before the big screen, having no idea what I’m about to see or where it’s going to take me. Besides, one of the occupational hazards of being a professional screenwriter is that – given any 3 plot points – we can extrapolate the entire narrative. Trailers give away much too much information (but that’s another topic).
What I saw in the trailer left me very uninterested. Tom Cruise was in a war (with aliens it turns out) in which he could not be killed. Catch a bullet, die, start over. He and Emily Blunt. Again and again, fighting, dying, coming right back to life. Just like a video game.
“Where’s the fun in that?” I wondered. “Where’s the jeopardy? Where are the stakes?” (read the answers…) (more…)
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Jon Favreau
Starring: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony, Sofía Vergara.
Anyone who loves good food and great music will love “Chef,” so we can dispense with the review. This column isn’t about film reviews. It’s about why things work on screen and how they do it.
Written, directed and starring Jon Favreau, no one will argue that this movie is fun. It was so much fun, in fact, that for most of the film I kept waiting for the real conflict to kick in. It never did. So I left the theater feeling amused, but with the nagging sensation that this meal would not last. That it was the cinematic equivalent of a well made soufflé. Which is not “wrong” or even easy to do. But it does provide a great teaching experience for those of us who can’t bank on Robert Downey Jr. & Dustin Hoffman to drop by the set for a great cameo. (read on…) (more…)
FILM REVIEW: GODZILLA 2014
Director: Gareth Edwards
Screenplay: Max Borenstein; Story: Dave Callahan
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson; Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston & Ken Watanabe
reviewed 5/16/14 by Ric Gibbs
First off, I am a tremendous fan of the big guy. I was a Godzilla fan, just like I was a dinosaur fan, loved dinosaur bones and saw every Godzilla movie they made growing up. Even the cheesy ones cranked out of Tokyo with an ever expanding chorus of monsters and monster agendas and even fairies that spoke to giant moths. I get this franchise. And I love it.
So it hurts me to report that this year’s Godzilla is a dud. I wanted soooooo much to like this movie, but left the theater with such a deep sense of dissatisfaction that I just had to look into why it felt so “off base.”
It’s not a hard search. Godzilla 2014 is a classic example of what happens when the filmmakers either don’t know, or don’t care about the core myth beneath their story. This same myth that was important enough to launch a 60 year franchise and turned a 1954 “B” grade monster movie into part of cinema history! When movies connect with a core myth – Star Wars is the classic example – magic happens. So let’s look at the myth of Gojira and why it worked so well for so long.
Central to this myth is the angry god. The destroyer of worlds. The merciless cleanser of man’s excess. This god goes by many names. He is the angry Yahweh sending the floods that destroy the world (except for Noah and his arc). He is Kali the Destroyer, the Hindu Goddess of death, sent to annihilate all men who have grown greedy and wicked in their appetites.
Almost every major mythology has some incarnation of the “World Destroyer,” because central to the human myth is that our species will inevitably get too greedy, too careless, too arrogant, too big for our britches and need to be taken out and thrashed. That’s the myth. And that’s the job for Godzilla. He’s not supposed to be nice about it.
The reason that Gojira enjoyed such success – well beyond anything that could be expected from a cheaply made monster movie and a guy in a rubber suit – was that in 1954 the moral consequences of man’s nuclear ambitions were very real. The original movie came out a mere 9 years after Hiroshima. The US, French and Brits were STILL testing nukes on islands all over the Pacific. Deep down we all knew this was crazy, that generals were leading a charge towards the brink of annihilation. So the Japanese conjured up Gojira as a cautionary tale to say, “Hey! Enough with the nukes!” Thou shalt not play god with the planet. Or you will unleash such a beast of destruction you won’t be able to stop it.
Am I saying we should do the same exact story all over again in 2014? No! But I AM arguing to keep Godzilla in his role of destroyer! Even the guys who made the poster knew that! You wouldn’t turn the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse into prancing ponies. How come this Godzilla is suddenly our pal? Defender of San Francisco and all around good guy? With all the dumb things we are doing to our planet right now, is there really no human excess we are willing to consider as punishable?
Now, I’m sure this discussion was had in development meetings. Just like I’m sure filmmakers were told to keep things PG friendly and deliver something that can play to kids and bump the box office. But this storyline contained such nonsensical thinking that Godzilla ends up as mankind’s savior and nobody even asks why?
None of us were in the room, so we’ll probably never know how or why this cuddly, friendly version of Godzilla came to be. But for this core fan of the franchise – they missed the whole point! Maybe this is what comes of handing the franchise over to filmmakers with expertise in visual effects. You get great visual effects! But the guy in the giant rubber suit needed a story that makes sense.