This week’s new films reviewed

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A monstrous threat to humanity is unleashed in the action-packed blockbuster Godzilla.

GODZILLA (12A)

Godzilla

Godzilla

In Steven Spielberg’s box-office behemoth Jurassic Park, geneticists arrogantly believe they can tame Mother Nature with cutting-edge science.

“Life finds a way,” warns Jeff Goldblum’s fatalistic chaos mathematician.

These wise words and Spielberg’s entire 1993 blockbuster provide the guiding light for Gareth Edwards’ bombastic resurrection of cinema’s iconic reptile.

The Warwickshire-born director harks back to Ishiro Honda’s groundbreaking 1954 film Gojira, which reflected Japanese society’s fears in the aftermath of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In Edwards’ film, the titular 355ft tall creature boasts familiar dorsal fins, lumbering gait and fiery radioactive breath, and is securely tethered to timely concerns about the environmental consequences of nuclear power.

A mine in the Philippine jungle collapses, exposing the remains of two seemingly fossilised and highly radioactive creatures.

One of the monsters hatches and runs amok, and despite the best efforts of Dr Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his colleague Dr Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins), its mate also escapes confinement.

US Navy Admiral William Stenz (David Strathairn) co-ordinates the response and sends his men into battle including Lieutenant Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), whose parents (Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche) worked at the Janjira nuclear plant, where one creature began its rampage.

Meanwhile in San Francisco, Ford’s wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) prepares to evacuate with their four-year-old son Sam (Carson Bolde).

When military might fails to halt the devastation and hope dims, alpha predator Godzilla emerges from the deep...

Edwards’ picture opens with a helicopter ride that could have been airlifted from Jurassic Park and continues with the Spielbergean nods including theme park ride-style action sequences and children in peril.

Godzilla is a technically accomplished hunk of large-scale monster-mashing.

You can see every cent of the rumoured $160m budget and the director makes good use of the 3D format by reflecting carnage in mirrors and glass.

Chilling images of Cranston and Taylor-Johnson entering a Japanese quarantine zone and a tender moment between the two M.U.T.O.s (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) explicitly reference Edwards’ low budget debut, Monsters.

The director manages to convey the titular reptile’s feelings in the midst of battle.

Human emotions are much harder to unearth.

Taylor-Johnson is a bland all-American hero and heavyweights Cranston and Binoche don’t have sufficient screen time to deliver the wallop we crave.

Ken Watanabe – or Obi-Wan Watanabe as he should be renamed – is reduced to philosophising about our failings (“The arrogance of man is thinking nature is [in] our control, and not the other way round”) and sounding the bell on a final round showdown between Godzilla and his adversaries.

“Let them fight!” he growls.

And fight they do, reducing the Pacific coast to rubble in a titanic tussle of computer-generated sound and fury that should take a large bite out of the UK box office, much like Spielberg’s T-Rex.

RATING: 6/10

THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY (12A)

Like Agatha Christie before her, Patricia Highsmith repeatedly challenged the moral compass of her readers with disturbing psychological thrillers that nudged her characters to the brink of madness.

In her debut novel, Strangers On A Train, she conceived a seemingly perfect murder for every disgruntled husband, which Hitchcock brilliantly adapted for the big screen.

Almost 50 years later, Anthony Minghella tapped into the disturbing sexual undercurrents of her 1955 novel The Talented Mr Ripley for a hauntingly seductively jaunt through Italy that netted five Oscar nominations.

The Two Faces Of January was published almost a decade after Highsmith unleashed her iconic con artist, Tom Ripley, and once again, she indulges in obsession-fuelled skulduggery albeit against a vivid backdrop of sun-baked 1960s Athens.

Hossein Amini’s slow-burning film version conceals its Machiavellian machinations behind an elegant facade of impeccable period costumes and picturesque cinematography.

Yet, while this assured directorial debut is sweeping in scope, the focus of Amini’s lean script is the characters’ strained relationships and notably the frayed bonds of trust between two men, who must rely on each other to escape a hairy predicament of their own making.

The film opens at the Acropolis where American businessman Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) and younger wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst) cut elegant figures on the steps of the citadel.

Greek-speaking guide Rydal (Oscar Isaac), who scams unsuspecting tourists out of hard-earned drachmas, is drawn to the glamorous couple and he gladly accepts their invitation to dinner.

At the end of the night, as he makes his way home, Rydal discovers Colette has mislaid a possession on the back seat of the taxi so he asks the driver to make a detour to the MacFarlands’ exclusive hotel.

Unexpectedly, Rydal walks in on Chester moving the seemingly unconscious body of a man (David Warshofsky) into another room.

The businessman explains that he was protecting his wife.

Blinded by his infatuation with Colette, Rydal pledges his help and suggests a means to obtain fake passports and escape the country.

As the trio head for the coast, the police give chase.

“We’re joined at the hip,” Chester assures Rydal. “I get caught, I take you down. You get caught, you turn me in.”

Shot on location in Greece and Turkey, The Two Faces Of January nods appreciatively to both Highsmith and Hitchcock, ratcheting up tension as the two men trade verbal blows in order to secure Colette’s divided affections.

Mortensen and Isaac relish these fractious exchanges, creating a twisted father-son dynamic with Oedipal yearnings for Dunst’s third wheel.

Her role feels slightly undernourished but she’s pivotal to the on-screen chicanery and the film’s centrepiece sequence in subterranean gloom.

Because it’s under the comforting cloak of darkness that men’s ugly, true natures are revealed.

RATING: 7/10