Rating: The Good – 70.1 Genre: Action, Crime Duration: 131 mins Director: Oliver Stone Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Benicio Del Toro
Oliver Stone has to work hard these days to make up for two decades of over-stylised not to mention confused pictures and such is the reason that this surprisingly slick crime feature fared poorly both critically as well as commercially. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Taylor Hitsch star as two wildly successful cannabis dealers on the California drug scene who come up against a ruthless cartel attempting to stake their claim north of the border. As the genius botanist, Taylor-Johnson is the brains of the operation while Hitsch’s former Navy SEAL is the enforcer and together they engage Salma Hayek’s drug lord in a bloody chess game as they attempt to secure the release of their hostage girlfriend Blake Lively. Factor in an utterly loathsome and genuinely scary Benicio Del Toro as Hayek’s right-hand man and you’re left with a colourfully twisted little thriller. Nested in Lively’s inevitably stylised visual narration, Stone allows the energetic if sometimes clunky script to play out in a relatively coherent manner as he shows the most directorial restraint he’s managed since Born on the Fourth of July. Make no mistake, it’s vibrantly shot and edited with flair but with enough discipline for the visual aesthetic to not only be enjoyed, but also be complementary of the well conceived set pieces. On the acting front, the leading threesome (as improbable as their relationship is) are satisfactory without shining and while much fun is had with an overwrought John Travolta’s crooked DEA agent, it never detracts from the the darker tones that Stone’s story paints. It all adds up to a rather satisfying crime thriller that should be judged on the merits of that genre’s most essential elements.
Rating: The Ugly 66.8 Genre: Action, Science Fiction Duration: 123 mins Director: Gareth Edwards Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston
A big budget attempt to rectify Hollywood’s attitude towards Toho’s most famous monster shows the right intentions and some of the right ideas but is ultimately crushed under their weight. Bringing Gareth Edwards in to steer this reboot towards Toho redemption was in and of itself a brave move. The director of the critically acclaimed Monsters had recently demonstrated that the monster movie wasn’t the purview of the big studios by making a compelling emotional drama that kept the monsters on the periphery of the action. That he was going to be permitted to similarly sideline the Big Fella was the second surprise! Edwards and writers Max Borenstein and David Callaham thus built this tale around Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s attempt to reunite with his family amid catastrophic destruction as Godzilla resurfaces from his primordial rest to tackle a couple of MUTO’s (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) who are laying waste to the central pacific. It’s a good idea as the battles get to play out in the background through oblique glances and character PoV. And when combined with the stunning visual effects, it paves the way for some electrifying images and action scenarios.
Unfortunately, two major shortcomings prevent those images from manifesting into the emphatic release they should’ve become. Firstly, Taylor-Johnson’s story is only really nominally central. It seems the executives got their grubby mitts on the script after all because just when the movie should be aligning itself with his travails, it keeps darting off to a bunch of faceless military types who are orchestrating the defence against the monsters (and it takes some doing to nullify David Strathairn and Ken Watanabe’s faces!). This repeated marginalisation of the human lead ultimately negates all the decent attempts at character construction to the point that we become completely apathetic to his plight. With the elimination of the human interest, the monsters which continue to be revealed in side-glance, half light, and shadow aren’t enough to salvage the movie as they become a sideshow with no main event. Therefore, as is typical with so many big budget movies these days, it seems the multiple interests were pulling in different directions and the movie fell between two (or three) stools. If the human drama was nourished in the manner it was in Edwards’ previous outing, his Godzilla battles would’ve been an ever building release of large scale monster carnage, a gleaming red cherry on top of the cake. If the human drama was abandoned from the start and we got more than just the five minutes of Godzilla vs MUTO’s, then at the very least, we would’ve had an albeit unoriginal but reasonably distracting “brain-at-reception” popcorn movie. As it is, all we have is a laudable uneven monster drama that fails to build up enough steam on either stage to engineer anything but the most impotent of drama.