Friday movie roundup: A mighty roar
Here comes Gojira and, even better, a movie worthy of him.
The new "Godzilla" is everything you want in a blockbuster: Big action, tight pacing, and a human story to set against the monster-sized action. The story starts in 1999, as a radiation-sucking monster awakens in The Phillippines, attacks a nuclear reactor in Japan, and then heads to the United States to find its mate with both the U.S. Navy and Gojira in hot pursuit. The cast led by Aaron Taylor-Johnson ("Kick-Ass"), Elizabeth Olsen and Bryan Cranston is engaging, but the real draw is how director Gareth Edwards perfectly stages the monster action.
Also opening wide this week is "Million Dollar Arm," an underdog sports story that follows a sports agent (Jon Hamm) struggling to make a big deal and striking the idea of finding pitching talent among India's cricket-loving populace. He ultimately finds two young prospects and brings them to America, where fish-out-of-water adventures begin. The "based on a true story" drama is pure Disney formula, but still pretty engaging.
The week's other great new movie is "Locke," a tight thriller completely focused on one man in his car. The man, Ivan Locke (played by Tom Hardy), is a construction foreman on the eve of his biggest job ever but he's driving away from the job site to tend to a personal matter: The birth of his son, to a woman who is not his wife. Locke tries to juggle both work and home issues over the phone as he drives toward the delivery room. Writer-director Stephen Knight creates a taut, riveting situation, and Hardy gives a commanding performance solely from his dialogue and facial expressions.
Less successful is "God's Pocket," a comedy-drama that debuted at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Based on a Pete Dexter novel, the movie is set in a hardscrabble Philadelphia neighborhood, where a meat-delivery driver, Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is pressured by his wife, Jeannie (Christina Hendricks), to dig into the circumstances of the sudden death of her adult son (Caleb Landry Jones). Jeannie also draws the attention of an alcoholic newspaper columnist (Richard Jenkins), who's besotted by her. "Mad Men" actor John Slattery makes his directorial debut here, but it's a mishmash of overwrought performances and inauthentic characters.
Lastly, another Sundance '14 title arrives: The documentary "Fed Up," in which narrator/executive producer Katie Couric and director Stephanie Soechtig look at the American obesity epidemic and the efforts by the food industry to weaken regulations regarding nutritional standards. It's an engaging look at a big problem, and you can tell it's effective by the way the industry is trying to dismiss it.