‘Godzilla’ rocks once the humans get out of the way

After being dormant for a decade, Godzilla is back and recharged in a $160 million pre-summer extravaganza. And although he gets top billing in “Godzilla,” he has to share screen time with the humans, who just have a knack for getting in the way.
Those humans in this movie are the usual characters plugged into the typical science-fiction roles, led by Joe Brody (Brian Cranston), the conspiracy-sniffing man, dismissed as a person so wracked with guilt and grief that he has become nothing more than a pesky looney whose frightening prognostications are inevitable.
Then we have Joe’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a U.S. Navy bomb-disarming expert who ultimately is more adept in the clutch than anybody else.
Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his able assistant Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) are the scientists whose “let nature do its thing” suggestions are ignored despite Vivienne’s graphics that illustrate pending doom if action is taken. Representing the military might, which turns out to be hopelessly over-matched by Godzilla — didn’t these guys do their homework and see that the giant reptile just swats away fighter jets and artillery like they are mosquitos? — is Adm. William Stenz (David Strathairn), looking perplexed as all the weaponry at his disposal has all the firepower of squirt guns against these monsters.
Of course there are the collateral characters like Ford’s wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and son Sam (Carson Bolde), who are put in harm’s way.
The real stars are Godzilla and the two MUTOs — Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms — that once they unfurl their gigantic and ferocious forces really ignite “Godzilla.”
The build-up story takes about an hour to unfold, and Cranston’s Joe Brody gets to holler and growl about cover-ups while trying to retrieve the old data he had accumulated that proved the tremors causing a nuclear meltdown on the coast of India in 1999 had far more ominous implications. Once that data reach Dr. Serizawa, it all is moot.
Two MUTOs, one male, one female, have risen after being dormant, and zeroing in on radiation sources from which to feed, are moving to rendezvous and make soon-to-be MUTOs. Godzilla, meanwhile, driven by some instinctive force, is zooming across the ocean toward the U.S. west coast in pursuit of the MUTOs in what Dr. Serizawa says is an effort to re-establish a balance to nature.
Also, by this time, the audience in the theater is getting itchy to see Godzilla in action.
When Godzilla is finally seen, it is worth the wait. This Godzilla is about 355 feet tall and more agile than the lumbering ’Zilla that has become so familiar via the Toho Studios’ run of films from the 1960s to 2004.
The MUTOs are pretty imposing themselves — one can fly while the other stomps around — and they look like a couple of insects that mutated when sprayed with a can of radioactive Raid.
Honolulu and Las Vegas are laid to waste before the main event commences in San Francisco, a two-on-one match that seems grossly unfair. But there is only so much abuse Godzilla will take before his scales start glowing, meaning, OK, you’ve gone too far and now I’m mad.
The battle is the highlight of the movie, but again triggers frustrations, as the action cuts away from the fight to bring us updates on the people.
Director Gareth Edwards does a good job with the extensive budget he was given. Edwards, who was first exposed to Godzilla as a child via the Hanna-Barbera cartoon, accumulated experience with digital effects while working on TV documentaries “Perfect Disasters” and BBC’s “Hiroshima.”
Edwards has said in interviews that he considers “Godzilla” to be screenwriter Max Borenstein’s movie, adding that he and Borenstein worked together for more than a year on “Godzilla.”
The result is a new Godzilla that owes a lot to its predecessors but appears quite capable of carrying on a tradition that has gone 60 years.

Soska twins find adoring fans at Texas Frightmare Weekend

Jen and Sylvia Soska have directed "American Mary," and have "See No Evil 2" coming out in October.

Jen and Sylvia Soska have directed “American Mary,” and have “See No Evil 2” coming out in October.

They call themselves the Twisted Twins.

Jen and Sylvia Soska are definitely standouts in the movie industry. They are 31-year-old identical twins who are up-and-coming forces in the world of horror films.

The Soskas have enjoyed seeing their film, “American Mary,” gaining more fans. The movie has also opened doors for the twins, who have directed “See No Evil 2” and a segment in “The ABCs of Death 2,” both slated for fall 2014 releases.

The Soska twins have traveled extensively, meeting people who admire “American Mary,” a growing fan base. During Texas Frightmare Weekend, held May 2-4 at the Hyatt Regency in Dallas, Jen and Sylvia were kept busy, with a steady line of people eager to meet them, get a signed photo and a photo opportunity.

The twins also were guests of a panel, moderated by Bekah McKendry, marketing director of Fangoria magazine. McKendry opened the panel by asking the twins how they got started in the movie business.

“We were proudly failed actresses,” said Jen. “We started as child actresses and we really never did anything momentous, and when we got to puberty it got to the stereotypical Penthousey slutty syndrome, so it was ‘sexy this and slutty that’ and eventually we got to slutty Martians, and it was:  even a Martian has to be a slut. Really?”

The twins also were trained in martial arts so they tried out stunt and film school.

“Grindhouse was in the theaters and we were huge (Robert) Rodriguez nerds, so after film school, we’d go to ‘real’ film school,” Sylvia said. “We would watch the movie for three hours and we would say, ‘I want to do that.’ “

It was Jen who thought up the title “Dead Hooker in a Trunk,” from which the Soskas developed their first movie.

Sylvia said that their movie was a project they put together as part of the film school work, and even though there was a list of things deemed inappropriate topics for film projects, the twins took a chance with their off-the-wall film. When it was shown in the class,  half of the people walked out while the other half was cheering so wildly “you could barely hear the intentionally disgustingly crude dialog,” Sylvia said.

With “Dead Hooker in a Trunk,” the twins experienced every aspect of making a movie, from writing to directing to finding locations and props.

“American Mary” followed. The story of a disillusioned medical school student, Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle), who becomes drawn into the world of body modification, and then later uses the skills she developed in this under-the-radar business to extract a hideous revenge on a mentor who abused her, “American Mary” has become a popular film in the horror movie realm.

Sylvia said about the Mary character being assaulted, “I think it was more than a physical rape, but a rape of everything she held so dear, so I wanted her (to react) in a very physical way. When she does her surgery on Rat (her first body modification client, played by Paul Anthony), she’s disgusted and she has like a complete mental breakdown. But then she does the surgery on Ruby (Paula Lindberg), where she’s disgusted with herself, but she’s not crying about it anymore, and by the time the Doctor Grant thing happens to her, she’s done, she’s finished with the mainstream, she’s just going to do it all on her own.”

The Soskas admitted “American Mary” was a tough sell, as the subjects in the movie were dismissed as freaks, but the twins stressed the themes of individuality and acceptance.

The twins’ parents re-mortgaged their house to help Jen and Sylvia finance their quest to find a distributor for “American Mary.”

The twins said they wrote the Mary Mason role specifically for Isabelle.

Said Sylvia, “ ‘American Mary’ looks like we had a lot of money, but a lot of people came out and worked for free. Everybody did a favor on that movie. They’d bring things from home, or they would make costumes, or they’d bring prosthetics and they’d donate music. Everybody got so behind that movie, and I think that’s why it is such a success. You can see that people actually cared as you watch it.”

Jen credited Mike Hewitt of Universal for pushing so hard to get “American Mary” distributed not only in the U.S. but overseas as well.

Despite Universal’s commitment to distributing the film, the company did not finance the promotional tours and festival appearances Jen and Sylvia made. That all was financed by the Soskas’ parents.

“We kinda owe Mom and Dad another house,” said Sylvia. “If you feel bad for my parents, please go see ‘See No Evil 2’  (to be released in October).”

When asked how they work together, Jen said, “We do plan everything together ahead of time. However, I like to say that I’m an unstoppable force and she’s (Sylvia) an unmovable object, and sometimes the force has to go around the object. We see the same goals but get there in very different ways.”

“On set Jen and I are mom and dad,” Sylvia said.  “Jen is the one you always want to talk to.”

Added Jen, “If there’s something awful you have to tell us, please tell me before you tell Sylvia, and let me tell her because she’ll get mad at me, but she’ll get worse at you.”

The Soskas’ other film, “The ABC’s of Death 2,” also is due out in October.

On “ABC’s of Death,” Sylvia laughingly said their aim is to have people come out of the theater saying: that was disgusting. The twins admit that they pushed the envelope in this movie, but promised to shoot “artfully” some scenes that might make the studio nervous.

The twins admit that “See No Evil 2” has a stigma in that it is under the auspices of World Wrestling Entertainment’s studio company, known for showcasing some of its wrestling stars in adventure B movies.

Jen said that at WWE, the film studio is separate from the wrestling enterprise and that Vince McMahon, head of WWE, is not hands-on involved with the movie-making. He usually sees the movie as a finished product.

“I’m proud to say — I’ve been told — that we’re the only two directors that Mr. McMahon knows by name,” said Jen.

“That’s probably because we keep tweeting him that we love him,” added Sylvia.

Sylvia said that WWE is a good place for underdog movie-makers to produce their films. “They are going the art house way now and are making good films (such as “Oculus”).”

As far as the writing process is concerned, Jen said, “We almost share like a hive mind; we have 30-plus years of in-jokes now. We love all the same things. We take a lot of influences from video games and comics. When we write, we pitch each other until we find something we don’t hate. We’re cutthroat when we pitch. And then we start warming up to something we both like, and then we pick up the characters and we break them down, and then we do a little timeline – first act, second act, third act – and we fight over what happens, and when.”

Jen said that they do “tag team” writing – one is working, the other is playing video games until the writer says, “I don’t have anything else.” The other one comes over and reads and offers usually positive reinforcement like “That’s awesome.”

Regarding “See No Evil 2,” Sylvia said, “Basically, what they wanted was for the modern woman to be reflected in this film, not only for that but for everyone else to seem like a person.” The Soskas are calling it an “action horror film.”

The Soska twins knew from an early age they were “twisted,” and they found that it could be a lonely existence.

“It was difficult and sad and lonely,” Jen said. “We were bullied a lot. They hated that we liked Goth stuff, that we liked horror movies, video games, comic books, that we wanted to be actors.”

“It also didn’t help that we were quite tiny and fit quite easily into lockers,” Sylvia added.

The Soskas said their mother would watch horror movies with them when they were children.

“I’m so grateful to my mom, being cool enough to let us like the stuff we liked when we liked it,” Jen said. “We liked horror movies and she let us watch them, and it became a big part of who we ended up being.”

Added Sylvia, “And she would go to the principal’s office when they said there’s something wrong with your daughters, and she said, are they still straight-A students? They’d say, yeah, and she’d say, well shut your mouth.”