Reviews: 'Godzilla' plays like 'Jurassic Park' times two; 'Million Dollar Arm' wears heart-on-its-sleeve
Published Friday, May 16, 2014 6:50AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 16, 2014 8:04AM EDT
GODZILLA: 4 STARS
Conspiracy theorists are going to love the new "Godzilla" film.
In this big-budget reboot of the giant lizard series "Breaking Bad's" Bryan Cranston plays Joe Brody, head of a nuclear facility in Tokyo. When something triggers a massive meltdown at the facility tragedy, both professional and personal strikes.
Fifteen years later Brody is living on the fringes, still obsessed with the accident that changed his life.
The army, the government and mainstream media wrote off the incident as a nuclear meltdown caused by earthquakes, but Brody is convinced it wasn't Mother Nature but something more nefarious.
When he is arrested for trespassing on the accident site his son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a military bomb expert on leave in the United States, travels to Japan to bail him out and bring him back to San Francisco.
Before father and son can head west Brody Sr's wild theories are proven correct. He was right that it something other than earthquakes and tsunamis responsible for the breakdown fifteen years previous. That "something" turns out to be a Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism (or MUTO), a giant winged creature that feeds off earth's natural radiation.
Unfortunately by the time his theories are validated the MUTOs have begun to wreak havoc and there is only one force on earth (or maybe just under the earth) powerful enough to battle the overgrown mosquitoes-Godzilla, king of the monsters.
In a movie like this you know that when Ford's wife says, "You know you're only going to be away for a few days… it's not the end of the world," that he'll be gone for more than a few days and it just might be the end of the world, or something pretty close to it.
"Godzilla" plays by most of the rules of the giant lizard genre, but stomps all over 1998's Roland Emmerich by-the-book remake. The standard kaiju kitsch is all in place-humungous monsters knock skyscrapers over with the flick of a tail and scientists talk mumbo jumbo-but director Gareth Edwards has added in some moments of real heartbreak, small sequences that underscore the huge amount of destruction the creatures cause.
Cranston hands in a dialed-up-to-eleven performance that occasionally feels like it might have worked better in Emmerich film, but supporting roles from Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Elizabeth Olsen and Taylor-Johnson are more modulated.
But who cares about the humans? They are merely the meat props that set the stage for what we're really paying to see-the showdown between Godzilla and the MUTOs.
For the most part creature feature fans will be pleased. The MUTOs are malevolent spider-like beasts with scythe arms, a bad attitude, and worse, a need to reproduce. Godzilla is a towering figure with nasty looking spikes spouting from his back and tail, like a row of jagged mountains no man or monster will ever be able to cross.
The MUTOs are on full display, but if I have a complaint it's that Godzilla doesn't enter until a bit too late in the game. This whole "Cloverfield" don't-show-the-monster thing is artistically noble, but if I wanted to NOT see Godzilla I'd go see "Million Dollar Arm" instead. For much of the movie every time we get to the cool 'Zilla action, Edwards cuts to something else or shrouds him behind a cloud of soot and smoke. He is, as Sally Hawkins' character says, "a God for all intents and purposes," so we should be treated to a better look at him.
Perhaps a little Godzilla goes a long way for some, but the monster fanboy in me was greedy for more. The battle scenes, however, are top notch, shot from shifting points of view to give you the full experience of Godzilla's awesome presence.
"Godzilla" plays like "Jurassic Park" times two, the thrills have been amped up but Edwards has managed to maintain the spirit of the original "Godzilla" movies while updating them for a new audience.
MILLION DOLLAR ARM: 3 ½ STARS
J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) finds inspiration in the strangest places. The movie "Million Dollar Arm" would have us believe the down-on-his-luck sports agent channel surfed his way into an idea that would change his life and the lives of two Indian athletes.
Flipping between Susan Boyle singing "I Dreamed a Dream" on Britain's Got Talent and a cricket match on ESPN, he is struck by the idea to scout Indian cricket players who could be converted into big league baseball pitchers.
Luckily he didn't come across "Mad Men," or "Million Dollar Arm" might have ended up being called "Don Draper goes Bollywood."
Based on a true story, Hamm plays Bernstein, the founder of 7 Figures Management, a small sports management agency whose clients are being stolen by a firm with deeper pockets.
As his business situation worsens he hits on the idea of recruiting Indian crickets players by way of a contest called the Million Dollar Arm. First and second place winners will receive cash and a chance for a tryout for a US team.
After spending three months in India he finds two promising players, Rinku (Suraj "Life of Pi" Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur "Slumdog Millionaire" Mittal), but back in the states Bernstein is told it's not impossible that his new finds will become professional baseballers, "just highly improbable."
"Million Dollar Arm" lays on the sentiment like a thick layer of lanoline on a new Rawlings Baseball Glove. It's about underdogs and second chances, about finding the love of the game (and maybe some less metaphysical comforts as well). It's about finding a balance between the business of the game versus the fun that should be inherent in the playing.
It is conventional in its approach, but hits a home run with the cast. Hamm's gruff Don Draper-esque exterior will be familiar to "Mad Men" fans, but he has great chemistry with Lake Bell, who plays his tenant, spiritual guide and love interest.
Also appearing are Alan Arkin, who revisits his old coot routine to play baseball scout Ray Poievint, and Bill Paxton whoi is suitable stern as pitching coach Tom House.
Sharma and Mittal, who don't speak any English until near the end of the film, wide-eyedly portray the inevitable culture clash of two young men leaving home for the first time.
Clichés aside, there is something appealingly old fashioned about how "Million Dollar Arm" wears its heart-on-its-sleeve.