Godzilla (2014): A Capsule Review

This review was originally written in June 2014. The images are from the film and are not my own.

Genre films can be so boring. Superheros, bumps in the dark, cowboys pointing guns, they have become so much of a template that Hollywood can spit them out with more fanfare and twice as much sticky ooze as EasyBake cooking projects from my childhood. As result, moviegoers looking for visual creativity and thematic interest have learned to look elsewhere. 

But now and then we come across a creative visionary who takes this cookie cutter predictability and turns it into a challenge. In such a chef’s hands a genre  film, by very nature of its familiarity, can be used to say interesting things in interesting ways. Enter indie film darling Gareth Edwards. Entrusted with a Hollywood budget, we have a Godzilla to take note of.


There is a creativity in this film that was unexpected. It contains a storyline that includes all of the major points (MONSTER FIGHTS! NUCLEAR SECRETS! CITIES DESTROYED!) but it had me guessing how he would get us there for the majority of its duration.

But even more appreciated was the way the camera introduces us to its world. There is repeated theme of windows and reflections - characters observing tragedy through a literal window, a window like frame accenting other scenes, and the window of a television used to provide a new angle on the action. But the camera is also aware of the vast space of this canvas and uses this space to full effect. A chameleon crawls on the jungle floor, a foreshadower of a much larger scaly creature. The camera pans beachgoers on vacation before it leads our eye to to the destruction in the distance hills.

These clever entries lead us directly to the “holy sh*t!” moments of scale and terror, making such moments all the more memorable. Equally impressive is the colour language at work (the Dante like scene of the paratroopers descending into the dust and ruin being a favourite).

In addition to being creatively realized, this movie also uses the familiar themes of a monster film to explore serious questions on man’s seeming power to control things. Their is a careful balance at work. Military power is shown to be necessary and important and yet futile in the face of such higher powers, much like the way such power is depicted in the Old Testament.


The portrayal of Godzilla is of a great being to be feared, that leaves your city in tatters but, more importantly, alive, that conquers enemies at great cost to himself, leaving you humbled with the knowledge that, with such a creature alive the deep, your are never quite safe, never quite in control. It’s a biblical image that is rare to find in the blockbuster. There is a sacrifice and a brutality woven into the nature of universe.

It’s a shame that the human characters are so flat compared to such crackling brilliance. If we had something to latch onto in them this would of been a blockbuster for our generation.

Reflections on Babette's Feast (1987)

These reflections were written in June 2014. The images are from the film and are not my own.

Growing up in a Christian community, the majority of the stories that were told to me dealt with the results of the church and the world crossing. The contrast was always impressive. Sometimes the good character would become corrupted, often the worldly character would convert, but occasionally the worldly character would leave the church unchanged and the good character would remain in the church, having learned the importance of staying pious.

Babette's Feast is a fable-like story that explores this topic with greater nuance then those childhood morality tales. But it also addresses a second more subtle contrast of the church and decadence. What happens when worldly luxury meets humble faithfulness? What is the roll of such artistic extravagance in the church?


This film touches on these issues and more. It gets many things right, is lit with an ordinary beauty, and explores important themes with such balance that there is room for many essays. "There is a steady gathering of emotion, a sense of a larger truth being touched."

It's central message is that summed up in a quote from the film. "Grace, my friends, demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and acknowledge it in gratitude. Grace, brothers, makes no conditions and singles out none of us in particular; grace takes us all to its bosom and proclaims general amnesty."


But what that quote misses and what is only lightly touched upon in the film is the cost that such grace requires. A cost that Babette herself freely gave and cost that was given for the grace that we so freely enjoy. That cost begs us to consider when and how such decadence, in life and in the church, should be enjoyed.


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013): A Capsule Review

This capsule review was originally published in May 2014. The images are from the film and are not my own.

Last summer when the trailer for this movie arrived I watched it on repeat. It was perfect. Stunning creative shots set exquisitely to a Monsters and Men track and an ending at the car rental shop so funny my brother and I laughed again and again (I still think it's the funniest moment in the film). If I could have framed that trailer I would have, but part of me knew that such unabashed devotion only resulted in outstandingly high expectations.


Now that I finally got around to watching the film the unusual cinematography that the trailer exhibited remains its major streangth, alongside its creative use of typography. It's fitting that the visual elements are so strong in a film that celebrates the value of photographer's image. This, combined with the mostly unified soundtrack (thanks Josh Ganzoles) and the rugged Icelandic landscape, kept me happy for the film's duration. But the movie as a whole failed to graduate from good to great for three reasons.

The storyline felt slapdash and predictable. A plot that moved from New York to Greenland and Iceland and then back to New York would make sense. But a plot that does all that, then adds a backpack trip to the Himalayas and a segway in LA (for the purpose of reintroducing a minor character), finally returning to New York to neatly sum everything up felt a tad complicated, especially when the eventaul ending felt so predictable.


The film's believablity was also hampered by an inconsistent reality. I enjoyed Walter's daydreams. The cinematography blended so them seamlessly with reality that at first we aren't sure just was is happening. (Did he really just insult his boss's beard so brilliantly?) I particularly enjoyed the battle in New York's streets that poked such good natured fun at our modern obsession over superheros. But when the story changed from daydreams to real adventures, moments like a shark battle in the Arctic Ocean cast this supposed reality into a dreamlike state - which would have been fine if the point of the story was that Walter was now transitioning from solely dreaing about adventures to actually doing them.

Which brings us to the point of the story which was muddled by an uncertain and unarticulate message. I think it's point was that we were supposed to go out and chase our dreams. But maybe it's saying that all it takes to get the girls and stare down the jerks is to have a tanned face and a beard from epic mountaineering? Or that having Iceland on your resume along with skateboarding skills and the skill making descisions to join a Tebiatan football game after hiking all day will get you success in life? It did have something do to with being the hardworking ordinarily employee (as long as you remember to enjoy the moment rather than always photograph it). It is hard to be profound when you have nothing profound to say.


In the end, the film would have done better if it had tried to do less. Like longboarding down an Icelandic road, this is a fun ride with many pleasures. I enjoyed watching it. But its efforts at trying to say something leave it in the dust of so many other films that say such things so much better.

(And no Icelandic kid would trade his brand new longboard for a ridiculous toy from the 80s. Please.)

The Mill and the Cross (2011): A Capsule Review

This review was originally published in April 2014. The images are from the film and are not my own.

I was introduced to this film over a year ago and knew then that I looked forward to returning. But the question was how long to wait? I didn’t want to rush it. But I also knew that this movie would be the perfect fit for Holy Week. So on Holy Saturday I turned down the lights and pressed play.

I am now more familiar with the painting this film brings to life so effortlessly, particularly its lighting. Its costumes and props are so rough and lived in that their foreign realism shocks us.


The theological and artistic heart of the movie is the intersection of ordinary people’s lives with the cruelty of the world. We see this intersection graphically when the life of a young couple is ground to a searing halt after the man is brutally torn from his wife and lifted up to die while on their way to market. We see it subtly in the crows, ominously and repeatedly visible through the window of every house, particularly Brugal's as his young wife cares for their rowdy children.

But nowhere is the contrast more obvious then when these smaller images of the divine morph into an anachronistic representation of the ultimate intersection - the passion of our Lord. In the history of art anachronistic paintings of the crucifixion are common but we see them less in our film driven age. So in the film, when Judas betray Christ by visiting a cathedral's confession room or the condemned thieves meet with a priest before being dragged to their crosses, it’s like cold water to the face. And it reminds us that the world Christ came to save is our world; in this movie, the Flemish world.


In the film Christ’s crucifixion is given a weightiness, most notably in the scene when the miller, representing God, “parts the clouds” by pausing the windmill and with it the scene below him. But when the gears resume their turning and the people their moving and the world its cruelty, I longed to see some glimmer of the resurrection. There lies Christ’s body in a grave, holes on his feet. There is the sun, welcomed after the darkness and violence of the night. There are the people, moving on, dancing, showing Christ in the way they care for their offspring.

There is only one difference. In the background this time there are no crows.