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This Week at the Movies

Aisle Seat Special Weekend Edition

by Andy Dursin

Memorial Day always means a couple of things to me personally--first, Dad overcooking the barbecue to the point where the burgers resemble the charcoal brickets, and second--big, big expensive movies.

There are two of them out there right now, GODZILLA and DEAD IMPACT, neither of which will go down as a classic but I'll take either of them over THE LOST WORLD any day of the week (thus, we're already ahead of last year). More "serious" fare can be found in Warren Beatty's primarily-well-reviewed BULWORTH, which opens nationwide this weekend, and Robert Redford's THE HORSE WHISPERER, which runs 165 minutes and would take some sort of Herculean task to drag me into the theater to see. (No offense, I'm sure the scenary is nice, as is Thomas Newman's score, but I just am not in the mood for this kind of thing right now. I want effects, dammit! And hopefully a little bit of story to go along with it).

Here are a couple of quick takes for your weekend viewing enjoyment. Drop me a line at dursina@worldnet.att.net and let me know what you think--we'll go through the Aisle Seat "Mailbag" next week!

*IN THEATERS

GODZILLA (***): Critics have already decided to jump on the bandwagon of dissing this latest effort from ID4 filmmakers Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, but I'm not going to join them, since, truth be told, this is one of the more enjoyable summer-time blockbusters I've seen in a while.

Resembling THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS as much as any of the original Toho Studios imports, this GODZILLA is pure escapist fun, a monster movie without any substantial point or fully developed characters. That being said, how many movies in this genre actually HAVE fully developed characters to begin with? We've all seen Saturday Matinee pictures where a prehistoric beast wrecks havoc in a metropolitan area, and the new GODZILLA is a movie that clearly owes as much of a debt to every GORGO and KING KONG of decades past than to JURASSIC PARK (which one set-piece near the end clearly resembles, however). Of course, anyone looking for serious characterization or significant messages will be disappointed, but those going in with the mindset of seeing what is, essentially, an old-time monster opus will not be disappointed.

Already I've read critics complaining about the lack of story (so what if "all it is" is Godzilla destroying a city--what the heck were they expecting?) and acting (it's also not a genre where we typically find Oscar-caliber performances), but what particularly surprised me about the film were the performances. Not that you'd expect a GODZILLA movie to be an actor's showcase, but the characters--thinly drawn as they are--are very appealing and fit right in with the energetic tone of Emmerich's film. Not quite tongue-in-cheek but nowhere near as pretentious as the stoic figures of STARGATE or ID4, Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno make for an engaging leading pair, and Maria Pitillo and Hank Azaria fare well in parts that are also broadly written and played. The movie's opening is a bit rushed, feeling as if story elements may have been left on the cutting room floor, but once the film settles into its groove audiences will no doubt be entertained by the mayhem.

Looking more like Draco from DRAGONHEART than the original monster, this GODZILLA is a gorgeously rendered beast, almost classically drawn in a Harryhausen kind of style. The film's climactic sequence on the Brooklyn Bridge is vividly filmed and thrillingly edited, with memorable images of the beast battiling for its life much in the same way that Kong and the original Gojira did decades ago. It's a great sequence, and David Arnold's marvelous score adds immeasurably to the scene and, for that matter, the entire film, being more far more melodic and evocative in its treatment of the creature than the bombastic choral sections found in ID4. (A lot of listeners will undoubtedly be looking forward to the score album, and here's hoping it arrives sooner than later).

So, even though the plot is haphazardly constructed and a lot of the supporting characters are sketchy at best, in the end it doesn't matter. It's a monster movie, folks. Enjoy it as such, and you'll probably find the new GODZILLA to be a pleasant surprise. The beast does live again. (PG-13, 138 mins).

DEEP IMPACT (***): Mimi Leder knows how to direct a movie. If you saw the overlooked THE PEACEMAKER, then you know the lady has a vast knowledge of pacing and action, not to mention filming in widescreen.

You know the plot by now--a comet is headed towards our planet and impending holocaust along with it--and you've seen movies like METEOR before, so certainly you know what to expect. Fortunately, Leder and screenwriters Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin have come up with a handful of well-written scenes and some developed characters to compliment the horrifying premise. Best among the ensemble cast are Robert Duvall as a veteran astronaut who commandeers the doomed space shuttle mission to destroy the comet before impact, and Morgan Freeman as the President (after watching Freeman's convincing performance, you wonder why we can't have guys like him in charge). The other two subplots don't fare quite as well--Elijah Wood's whiz-kid teen scientist is a missed opportunity, while Tea Leoini's anchorwoman fails to evoke much audience sympathy (is there some reason why we have to have an MSNBC reporter as the main character in a movie like this?).

DEEP IMPACT is a disaster movie, no doubt there, but it's a good one. The confines of the genre--having four subplots headed in different directions that rarely intersect--limit this taut, efficient thriller from becoming something more than it is, but all told, DEEP IMPACT makes for an enjoyable popcorn-munching time at the cinema. Leder's direction keeps the movie going, James Horner's fine score swells with appropriate emotion, and the ILM effects at the conclusion are just enough so the whole film doesn't deteriorate into one big FX show. Pretty good stuff, and enough to make Bruce Willis & company fear for their box-office lives when their ARMAGGEDON arrives in July. (PG-13).


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