Author Archives: Ryan Searles
Godzilla, in almost every single way, is an extremely difficult film to review. It’s that rare film that isn’t exactly bad, but which still manages to be a bit disappointing in almost every single regard. If you’re expressly interested in giant monster fights, a repeat viewing of Pacific Rim is probably a better way to spend your time–Godzilla’s screentime here is pretty sparse. But then that’s the case with nearly every Godzilla movie, so if you were expecting wall-to-wall monster action I don’t really know what to tell you. If you’re going in expecting a return to Ishiro Honda’s 1954 Gojira, which seems to be what the majority of the trailers were selling, you’re likely to be disappointed. If you’re looking for director Gareth Edwards to highlight the ground-level human struggle which comes with the territory of giant monster attacks like he did in his impressive 2010 debut film Monsters, well…I guess that’s what he was going for here, anyway. And yet, this movie pretty much drops the ball in that department as well.
It’s completely unfair, not to mention unprofessional, to judge a film outside of its own merits. You don’t go into a grade school art show and berate a child for not producing the Mona Lisa, in the same way that movie critics don’t begin every review with, “Well, it was no Citizen Kane“. That being said, if the aforementioned grade school artist is loudly demanding millions of dollars and a dedicated wing at the Louvre for their already-crumbling macaroni portrait, it might be time to sit down and have a little chat about the comparative merits of art. So with that in mind, Sony…listen. Your Amazing Spider-Man franchise is NEVER going to be The Avengers. It’s just not. And that’s okay! Literally nobody but you wants or expects it to be. And yet…
Noah, the big-budget Biblical spectacle from auteur director Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Black Swan) hit theaters this weekend, pulling in a surprising amount of cash and generating no end of controversy. With a stellar cast including Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, and Ray Winstone, an array of impressive effects-driven setpieces, and the benefit of a generally familiar story, it’s received generally favorable reviews. I, for one, was impressed with it. Like much of Aronofsky’s work I think the ambition ever so slightly outweighs the execution, but there’s no standout flaw that might make the average film fan regret dropping the cash to go see it. Of course, since it’s a “Bible Movie”, there’s a lot to talk about here outside of what’s shown onscreen. In particular, I find the fact that audience-driven scores on sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes are currently trending far below those of critics to be interesting. I don’t place much stock in aggregate review scores as a general rule, but when there’s nothing inherent in the quality of the film itself to cause such a rift, I think it’s worth talking about. Don’t worry, I’ll get to the film itself eventually.
Contrary to common social media wisdom, remakes aren’t always a bad thing. From John Carpenter’s The Thing, to David Cronenberg’s The Fly, to any number of 1960’s westerns that were just unauthorized rehashes of Akira Kurosawa films, a lot of good has come out of taking preexisting ideas and filtering them through the mind of a different director. And that, in essence, is what’s so troubling about the new RoboCop. By all rights, it should have been good! By no means was this a project automatically doomed to failure. The original is a certified genre classic, far better than a lot of people give it credit for, and the concept might be even more relevant now than it was in the 80’s. There’s so much fertile ground there, so much that could have been done with this (mostly) great cast and super-talented Brazilian director José Padilha at the helm. Instead, we got a few frustrating moments of promise mixed with a whole lot of soul-crushing boredom.
Full disclosure: I love Lego. I ran across a few images of the amazing Monster Fighters Haunted House set early last year, decided that it must be mine, and plunged headlong down the rabbit hole. I convert my dollars into plastic bricks whenever possible, and assembling them has proven to be the perfect companion hobby to my non-stop movie watching. Gotta have something to do during those director’s commentaries. That being said, while I unabashedly love the brand I’d have also been the first in line to register my disappointment had the movie failed to deliver. Luckily, my sky-high level of excitement for this one was repaid in kind.
I’ll admit, the life of a gentleman scientist/adventurer isn’t as easy or as glamorous as it might look from the outside. After months of testing everything from breakfast wine to canned martinis to the chemical-tinged trashwater that is Mad Dragon, there were simply no new horizons. Your old friend Drankenstein had reached that distant coast, and there retired in comfort atop a truckload of simple, predictable Vella boxwine. Both fans of this column sorely lamented its passing, but there was nothing to be done for it. I’d hunted the world of bumwines and questionable malt liquors to extinction. A few days ago however, something new came to my attention, something that immediately re-lit the old fires within. Clutching a fistful of dollar bills and with a reckless gleam in my eye, I scoured the bodegas of Cleveland (okay, I checked about three), but my quarry was nowhere to be found. Just when all hope seemed lost, a new challenger appeared. This isn’t what I was looking for–not even close–but it is a neon green bumwine with a dancing habanero pepper on the label. And that suits old Drankenstein just fine.
The great thing about Guillermo del Toro–what makes him so endlessly interesting as a writer and as a director–is that he never forgot what it’s like to be a kid. He’s got all these years of filmmaking experience and accumulated knowledge on a vast array of obscure subject matter, nestled alongside the uninhibited creativity of a precocious child. I can’t decide if that sounds insulting or not, implying that a grown man has a kid brain, but I’m sticking with it. There’s just no other way to describe it. Nearly everyone has an amazing mind as a child, and it’s only after years of exposure to words like “impossible” that those parts of the brain die off and we resign ourselves to the mundane. Del Toro somehow held on against all odds, and like Billy Batson and Captain Marvel now enjoys a full and equal creative partnership with his inner child. Pacific Rim is the latest fruit of that unique work ethic, a wholly unironic film about giant robots punching giant monsters for the survival of mankind. And I want to you to know that I’m being completely serious when I say that it’s pretty much a masterpiece.
I don’t have cable, and I probably never will, at least under the current business model. As much as I’d love to have access to HBO, AMC, and maybe three other channels, I’m just not willing to pony up that kind of cash for the privilege of accessing several dozen reality TV and sports channels alongside those precious few I’d actually watch. I wait out the seasons and buy discs instead–so many discs–and like many others in this brave new era of cable-cutting I also rely heavily on streaming services. It used to be I could get by on just Netflix, but my insatiable hunger for films and quality cable dramas soon saw Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus added to my list. Even so, it all comes to under $30 a month and I assure you I get my money’s worth. Each app feels like it serves a special purpose, and I enjoy a wide variety of current and classic entertainment. Like all good things though, it’s all coming to an end.
In 2003 Mattel launched a line of 7″ scale figures featuring Batman and an assortment of villains and allies, all of varying degrees of quality and complexity. This line then began to be alternated with waves of Superman figures, before finally giving way to the DC Universe Classics line: Mattel’s answer to the competing Marvel Legends figures, and a series that would become legendary for inspiring customer frustration. It seems we’ve now come full circle, and Mattel’s once again has a collector-oriented line focused entirely on the residents of Gotham City, entitled “Batman Unlimited”. I was heavily invested in all the lines that led up to this one, buying almost every single figure for around six years, until I eventually had to sell the bulk of my collection. Even though I do still have a modest shelf of Batman toys, thus far the Unlimited line has not really piqued my interest. The figures are expensive, there are only around three released at a time (taking any and all fun out of sifting through the pegs at the store), and I generally just try to be a little more careful with my purchases these days. Today, however, “responsible” lost a critical battle with “fanboy”, and I walked out of Target with a brand new figure based on pre-crazy Frank Miller’s magnum Batman opus, The Dark Knight Returns.
As a musician, Rob Zombie has carved out a genre all his own, and every new album he releases is, for lack of a better word, an incredibly “safe” buy for me. His back catalog doesn’t really have any low spots as far as I’m concerned, and when he made the transition into filmmaking part of me was hoping for more of the same. And really, things got off to a pretty good start. House of 1000 Corpses certainly had its issues but at the end of the day it feels like it’s just for me. It’s a long-form music video with some pretty great performances out of Bill Moseley and Sid Haig, tons of memorable dialogue, and a few truly impressive scenes (the backyard execution, for one). And it spawned the vastly improved sequel The Devil’s Rejects, which so far is one of my favorite horror movies of the 21st century. Then he started remaking Halloween films and I stopped caring. The original Halloween was a perfect one-and-done horror story; it didn’t need its sequels, much less a remake. Much less a sequel to the remake. So when Zombie started leaking casting info and images from his newest film, The Lords of Salem, I really wanted to be on board. I didn’t get the same strong sense of concept that I did with his first two efforts, but it wasn’t Halloween 3 and it wasn’t aping any of the well-worn trends that have caused me to take a step back from the horror genre as of late, so despite any minor reservations it really felt like something to get excited about.