This is what happens when your president is a conspiracy theorist casting about untethered from any common understanding of the truth: the line, in all its forms, gets smudged. As President Trump leaps from lie to lie, each misdeed is whatabouted, each previously undiscovered theory, no matter how far-fetched, gets equal time on Fox News, and in the end its nearly impossible to see through the ethical haze. The latest example of the Trump administration’s misdirection is that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Washington Postreports, is considering a second special counsel to investigate a series of Republican grievances about, wait for it, Hillary Clinton.
The Justice Department told House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte (R-Va.) in a letter Monday in response to his calls for a second special counsel that Sessions had directed senior DOJ prosecutors to “evaluate certain issues raised in [Goodlatte’s] letters” with an eye on potentially launching an investigation. “These senior prosecutors will report directly to the attorney general and the deputy attorney general, as appropriate, and will make recommendations as to whether any matters not currently under investigation should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources, or whether any matters merit a special counsel,” assistant attorney general Stephen Boyd said in the letter.
What are these pressing issues that demand investigation? “The list of matters [Goodlatte] wanted probed was wide ranging, but included the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, various dealings of the Clinton Foundation and several matters connected to the purchase of the Canadian mining company Uranium One by Russia’s nuclear energy agency,” according to the Washington Post. “Goodlatte took particular aim at former FBI director James B. Comey, asking for a second special counsel to evaluate the leaks he directed about his conversations with President Trump, among other things.”
Trump has been pushing hard to divert attention from his own investigation that looks increasingly ominous for the president and those around him. “I’m really not involved with the Justice Department,” Trump told reporters earlier this month. “But, honestly, they should be looking at the Democrats.” On Twitter, the bar is even lower for what Trump is willing to peddle. The New York Timesreports some White House officials see appointing a second special counsel investigating the 2010 Uranium One deal as the only way Sessions can save his job as attorney general.
With any intellectual honesty, it’s pretty much impossible to read these attempts at obfuscation by Trump, and now his administration, as anything other than political and legal gamesmanship. Investigating political opponents, particularly vanquished ones, is a particularly slippery slope that clearly Trump, who will only have to live another decade or so in the half-cocked America he creates, surely has no problem hydroplaning down.
The Uranium One investigation—especially its timing—is particularly rich because it was quite literally a manufactured freak out by Fox News. The (apparent) issue at hand involves the 2010 sale of a Canadian mining company called Uranium One, which held the rights to 20 percent of U.S. uranium production capacity, to a Russian company. The deal was OK’d by the State Department during Hillary Clinton’s tenure—along with being approved by eight other U.S. governmental agencies. Fox News got wind of allegations that Russia greased the deal and pinned that to the Clinton Foundation and voila, a countervailing Russia scandal quicker than you could heat up a Hot Pocket.
Sessions’ plan to have a 2nd Special Counsel is purely to level partisan cheap shots at Hillary Clinton (bogus Uranium One “scandal”, Emails, and Clinton Foundation) and to deflect from #TrumpRussia.
“This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.” —Barack Obama’s open mic assurance to former Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, March 26, 2012
Progressive ideology is about winning — by any means necessary. Thus, the same Russians Barack Obama’s administration accommodated for years — from Hillary Clinton’s “reset button” and Obama’s cancellation of missile defense systems for Poland and the Czech Republic, to allowing the Kremlin to become a Middle East powerbroker, and Obama mocking Mitt Romney’s correct 2012 assertion that Russia was our foremost geopolitical foe — quickly became the mortal enemies that orchestrated Trump’s election victory. In short, they told us, “collusion” between Trump administration figures and Russia was the primary reason Hillary lost. Yet as we are only beginning to learn, Obama administration collusion with Russia might constitute the greatest scandal in the history of the republic.
Andrew McCarthy sums it up. The Obama administration “green-lighted the transfer of control over one-fifth of American uranium-mining capacity to Russia, a hostile regime — and specifically to Russia’s state-controlled nuclear-energy conglomerate, Rosatom,” he explains. “Worse, at the time the administration approved the transfer, it knew that Rosatom’s American subsidiary was engaged in a lucrative racketeering enterprise that had already committed felony extortion, fraud, and money-laundering offenses.”
Who approved the transfer? The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, (CFIUS) an intergovernmental panel representing 14 departments and offices, including the Treasury, the U.S. Departments of Energy, Commerce, State, Homeland Security, Justice, Trade, Science and Technology Policy and Defense. CFIUS is tasked with determining whether transactions and investments by foreign companies align with national security, and they unanimously approved the deal — despite the reality that when they were considering it, nine members of the Canadian company Uranium One that would receive the uranium contributed more than $145 million to the Clinton Foundation.
Moreover, while the Russians were transferring control of Uranium One to its state-controlled nuclear-energy conglomerate Rosatom via three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records reveal Uranium One chairman Ian Telfer also donated $2.35 million to the Clinton Foundation. And in 2010, Bill Clinton received a $500,000 speaking fee from Renaissance Capital, a Kremlin-linked bank that was promoting Uranium One stock.
Telfer’s contributions were not publicly disclosed, violating an agreement Hillary Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors.
In terms of concealment, she was not alone. The Obama administration knew “congressional Republicans were trying to stop the transfer,” McCarthy explains. “Consequently, the Justice Department concealed what it knew. DOJ allowed the racketeering enterprise to continue compromising the American uranium industry rather than commencing a prosecution that would have scotched the transfer.”
It was a racketeering enterprise conducted by Vadim Mikerin, the Russian official in charge of Tenam USA, which is the American arm of Rosatom subsidiary Tenex. Following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1992, Tenex was given control of the sale and transportation of blended-down uranium from dis-assembled Russian nuclear warheads to U.S. nuclear providers. Mikerin was extorting those U.S. companies, forcing them to pay inflated prices, and leaving them vulnerable to blackmail by Russia.
To facilitate the process, Mikerin secured the help of an unnamed lobbyist who became uncomfortable with the seemingly illegal arrangement, and notified the FBI. As a result he became an informant. At the time, the FBI was headed by Robert Mueller and the investigation was supervised by current Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe. It was centered in Tenam’s home base of Maryland, whose U.S. attorney was Rod Rosenstein. It ended in late 2015, during the tenure of former FBI Director James Comey.
The FBI had proof of Mikerin’s racketeering in 2010, when any disclosure of it would have killed the uranium deal. Yet they let the scheme continue until 2014 when the agency quietly allowed Mikerin to plead guilty to one count of money-laundering conspiracy, courtesy of Rosenstein, whose office chose to prosecute Milkerin under the far less onerous section 371 of the U.S. penal code rather than section 1956 which could have imprisoned him for up to 20 years on each count of racketeering. The deal was cosigned by the DOJ’s Fraud Section, then run by Andrew Weissmann — one of the attorneys Mueller selected to investigate Trump.
While the DOJ slow-walked this prosecution, Russia gained complete control of Rosatom. And despite Nuclear Regulatory Commission assurances made in 2011 to a highly concerned Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) that Rosatom could not export uranium out of the country, The New York Times revealed Uranium One exported it to Canada using the licenses of a proxy transport company to do so.
Moreover, where the uranium is headed remains unknown.
What about the lobbyist/informant? He was issued a gag order and threatened with prosecution by the Loretta Lynch-led Justice Department when he pursued a civil action that would have revealed information about the sale. He is currently represented by attorney Victoria Toensing, who insists her client has “specific information about contributions and bribes to various entities and people in the United States.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is investigating the deal, and has sent letters to 10 federal agencies explaining he remains unconvinced there was no national security concerns associated with it, despite assurances to the contrary. He also pushed to have the gag order lifted.
Which brings us to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. While the DOJ finally announced late Wednesday night the gag order has been lifted, Sessions apparently continues to countenance the agency’s refusal to turn over documents related to the infamous Christopher Steele dossier compiled by Fusion GPS that was subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee.
On Tuesday, The Washington Post revealed the most likely reason for the DOJ’s stonewalling. In a bombshell exposé, the paper reported the Clinton campaign and the DNC helped fund the dossier. The same dossier Clinton may have given the FBI (who initially offered to pay for it themselves), the one that may be the sole basis by which Obama administration officials justified the unmasking of Trump associates — and the entire rationale behind the Leftmedia’s orchestrated effort to convince Americans Trump’s presidency is illegitimate.
The dossier’s disseminators? In the last two weeks, Fusion’s partners exercised their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination during House Intelligence Committee meeting, and filed a complaint in federal court aimed at keeping their subpoenaed banking records secret.
Regardless, Sessions continues to abide an investigation of Trump administration collusion with Russia, conducted by many of the same people who buried possible Obama administration collusion. People like Robert Mueller who “has the means, motive and opportunity to obfuscate and distract from matters embarrassing to the FBI,” WSJ columnist Holman W. Jenkins Jr. astutely notes.
America is facing an existential crisis, one where it appears the same institutions designed to provide law and order and national security are guilty of wholesale corruption — and possible treason. Either the Trump administration will root out the rot, or the electorate will be faced with the undeniable reality we live in a nation where “justice” consists of one set of laws for the rich and powerful, and another for everyone else. A nation where Congress conducts toothless hearings, those who should be investigated conduct the investigations, and utterly corrupt media censor anything inimical to their own interests and those of their ideological allies.
Absolutely no one can justify the sale of the main ingredient used in nuclear weapons to the Russians. Either the swamp gets drained — or the entire nation drowns in it.
GRASSLEY: What are you doing to find out how the Russian takeover of the American uranium was allowed to occur despite criminal conduct by the Russian company that the Obama administration approved to make the purchase?
SESSIONS: Mr Chairman, we will hear your concern, the Department of Justice will take such actions as is appropriate I know, and I would offer that some people have gone to jail in that transaction already, but the article talks about other issues. So without confirming or denying the existence of any particular investigation I would say I hear your concerns and they will be reviewed.
GRASSLEY: I think I know why you’re probably reluctant to go into some detail on that, but I would like to remind you that Deputy Attorney Rosenstein directly supervised the criminal case when he was US Attorney in Maryland. I don’t think it would be proper for him to supervise a review of his own conduct, do you?
SESSIONS: It would be his decision. He’s a man of integrity and ability. If he feels that he has a inability to proceed with any investigation, it would be his responsibility to make the determination and should consult, as I told you I would and as I have done, with the senior ethics people at the Department.
GRASSLEY: Reports suggest the Clinton Foundation received millions of dollars from interested parties of the transaction. Bill Clinton received $500,000 for a speech in Moscow, June 2010, from the Russian-government-aligned bank. The same month as the speech, Russia began the uranium acquisition process. This fact pattern raises serious concerns about improper political influence on the process by the Clintons during the Obama administration. Has the Justice Department fully investigated whether the Russians compromised the Obama administration’s decisions to smooth the way for transactions, and if not, why not?
SESSIONS: Mr Chairman, we’re working hard to maintain discipline in the Department. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment on any ongoing investigation.
That was it. That was all and everything AG Sessions had to say, in that studiously evasive way of all good custodians of the Swamp, about the sell-out of American national security – the transfer of 20 percent of US uranium stocks to Russia for the multi-million-dollar-benefit of the Clinton Foundation and its cronies, and, of course, for the miitary benefit of Russia.
People seem to forget that.
The fact that the Obama administration approved the sale of US uranium stocks by a Canadian company called Uranium One (whose board members “contributed” some $148 million to the Clinton Foundation) to a Russian government entity called Rosatom became even more of a flaming scandal this week when we learned that Rosatom had been under US criminal investigation for bribery and extortion in the run-up to the Obama administration’s approval of the sale! Why are we learning about this criminal investigation only now? Because the Obama administration was so successful for so many years in hushing it up.
That would be the Obama administration of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the FBI of Robert Mueller and James Comey, the Justice Department of Andrew McCabe and US Attorney now Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Still, according to AG Sessions, it “wouldn’t be appropriate” for him to comment to the American people in reply to these questions Senator Grassley asked on our behalf. (Nor would it be improper for DAG Rosenstein to investigate himself!)
On the contrary, I think it’s highly inappropriate for Jeff Sessions not to comment. It’s an outrage. I would say it’s the last straw but I’m sure there will be many more. The Clintons have been chewing up and spitting out every law on the books that apply to public service, even as they have defiled its every tradition of decorum and integrity, over more than thirty years in our faces (once known as “public life”). Simultaneously, they have been imperiling national security, from Bill Clinton’s modernization program for the Communist Chinese military for campaign cash, to Hillary Clinton’s modernization program for the Russian military for foundation cash. (I refer to the Russian “reset” tech-transfer-project known as Skolkovo, which helped Vladimir Putin to develop hypersonic cruise missile engines and who knows what else, which I think has been mentioned in Congress about one time ever.) The damage to our nation is in fact literally unknowable when we factor in Hillary Clinton’s unsecured communications system, which both the Obama administration and now the Trump administration refuse to asssess for damage, flouting protocol and, again, national security.
The Rosatom case would seem to be an especially important key to cracking the whole thing wide open.
Think Jeff Sessions actually wants to turn that key?
Eighteen months before guiding Donald Trump to election victory, Steve Bannon delivered the opening shot in the ruthless Republican campaign to paint their Democratic opponent as corrupt.
The future White House chief strategist produced a book in May 2015 accusing Hillary Clinton of trading favours for donations to her charitable foundation. Its questionable central charge, on the sale of a uranium company to Russia, recently became the subject of a House inquiry and feverish talk on conservative media.
But the financial arrangements of another foundation, which bankrolled Bannon’s creation of the book, Clinton Cash, have received less scrutiny.
Leaked documents and newly obtained public filings show how the billionaire Mercer family built a $60m war chest for conservative causes inside their family foundation by using an offshore investment vehicle to avoid US tax.
The offshore vehicle was part of a network of companies in the Atlantic tax haven of Bermuda led by Robert Mercer, the wealthy hedge-fund executive and Bannon patron whose spending helped put Trump in the White House and aided a resurgence of the Republican right.
Mercer, 71, appears as a director of eight Bermuda companies in the Paradise Papers, a trove of millions of leaked documents on offshore finance reviewed by the Guardian, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and other partners. The files include a copy of Mercer’s US passport and other private data.
Some of the Bermuda companies appear to have been used to legally avoid a little-known US tax of up to 39% on tens of millions of dollars in investment profits amassed by the Mercer family’s foundation, which funded Bannon’s book and a who’s who of conservative groups, along with a $475m retirement fund for the staff of Mercer’s hedge fund, Renaissance Technologies.
From 2013 to 2015, the Mercer foundation gave $4.7m to Bannon’s Government Accountability Institute – more than half its total funding in that time. Mercer’s foundation has not yet filed paperwork disclosing its 2016 spending. An IRS official said the filing was more than five months overdue.
Bannon founded GAI in Florida in 2012 with Peter Schweizer, the conservative author of Clinton Cash. Since then, the GAI has paid Bannon $379,000 and Schweizer $781,000. Rebekah Mercer was a director of the group until 2014. It has continued assailing liberals since Trump’s victory and says exposing the “misuse of taxpayer monies” is central to its mission.
Mercer’s foundation also gave millions more to other groups that funded Bannon. It paid $3.8m to the nonprofit arm of Citizens United, best known for the deregulation of political spending it won in a 2010 supreme court ruling. Bannon has made films for Citizens United and between 2012 and 2013 was paid $450,000 in consulting fees by its nonprofit arm.
The Mercer foundation gave $1.2m to the Young America’s Foundation, another conservative nonprofit, which paid Bannon more than $577,000 between 2010 and 2012 for filmmaking services, according to filings.
Mercer was also a major investor in Breitbart News, the influential rightwing website that Bannon led before joining Trump’s campaign. Bannon returned to the site after being fired from the White House in August. In an extraordinary email to Renaissance staff last week, Mercer moved to distance himself from Bannon and announced he was selling his stake in Breitbart to his daughters.
Clinton Cash dissected donations to the foundation Clinton led with her husband Bill, the former US president. Disputed allegations in the book – that mining executives contributed to the Clinton Foundation to assist their lucrative sale of a uranium company to a Russian state energy agency – attracted prominent coverage in the mainstream media, delivering a blow to Clinton after she announced her candidacy.
FBI officials who looked into the foundation’s activities were later reported to have based their suspicions on details from Clinton Cash. By then, the book’s publisher had corrected more than half a dozen errors in the text relating to the Clintons’ finances, including one based on a bogus press release. The book continues to resonate today, leading to a joint inquiry on the Canadian uranium issue by two House committees announced last month.
Reid was born Joy-Ann Lomena in Brooklyn, New York. Her father was from the Congo and her mother from British Guiana; the two met in graduate school at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Reid grew up in Denver, Colorado, then attended Harvard University, where she studied documentary filmmaking in the Visual and Environmental Studies department.
Conservative news outlets have been pretty much obsessed with the Obama administration’s 2010 approval of the Uranium One deal and have repeatedly criticized the mainstream media for not covering the story. President Donald Trump picked up the baton (yet again) on Sunday and mentioned the supposed controversy as part of his morning tweetstorm in which he tried to shift focus away from the coming Robert Mueller indictments toward Hillary Clinton. But MSNBC’s Joy Reid showed Sunday morning just how easily the whole story falls apart once you start poking at it with a few facts in hand.
Reid had Jen Kerns from the Washington Examiner on as a guest and proceeded to demonstrate just how nonsensical the whole story is when you start looking at it away from the right-wing news prism.
When Kerns starts to explain why she thinks the “Uranium One deal is problematic,” Reid immediately cuts her off. “I want to ask you a couple fact-based questions,” she said. Then she went on:
Reid: Who got the money when the Canadian company was sold to the Russian company? The Uranium One? Who received the money? Kerns: I presume the company. Reid: Yes. Okay, second question. Who approved the sale? Kerns: Yes. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. Reid: How many people sit on the committee? Kerns: Nine members. Reid: How many have to approve a deal like this? Kerns: All nine of them. Reid: How many approved this deal? Kerns: All nine of them. Reid then went on to ask whether Clinton actually sat “personally on that deal.” Kerns recognized she didn’t but said “she pushed for it.” Reid then questioned those supposed Clinton ties to the deal:
Reid: Who is the person who donated to Hillary Clinton who is related to and had an investment in uranium one? What is that person’s name? Do you remember their name? Kerns: They are board members of Uranium One donated up to $143 million I think to the Clinton Foundation. Reid: Did he own any assets in Uranium One at the time Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State? Kerns: You know, I don’t know that, but here’s what I would… Reid: He did not. Sold them. Kerns: Here’s what i would like to know…
Reid: He sold them years before. So what you’re talking about is a deal that nine members of CFIUS approved unanimously. None of them was Hillary Clinton. You have a donor who separately gave Hillary Clinton donations at a time when she was not Secretary of State. The two things cross in the night, they have no relation to each other. The members of CFIUS have been very clear Hillary Clinton had nothing to do with that approving that deal. She would have had to strong-arm eight people in order to get them to unanimously approve the deal and also the President of the United States would intervene if they saw any problems. The CFIUS people say now that if that deal came before them today they would still approve it unanimously. There’s actually nothing about the deal that’s controversial. The only reason we’re talking about it is because per your admission, which I think is very honest, the RNC would like us to be talking about this now.
The only thing missing from Reid’s argument? A mic drop at the end.
“To have the winning side exploring the possibility of prosecuting the losing side in an election — it’s un-American, and it’s grotesque,” said John Danforth, a former special counsel who investigated the FBI’s role in a violent standoff with a cult in Waco, Tex. “The proliferation of special counsels in a political setting is very, very bad.”
A federal law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment freely, said the move is particularly frustrating because many of the subjects Sessions says could fall under the purview of a special counsel were previously investigated by the FBI or are under investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general.
GODZILLA (2014) has hit theaters, and for months (years for most Godzilla fans), potential audiences have been anticipating a return to form for the Lizard King - a film that will revisit the themes of the 1954 original and deliver a brooding, apocalyptic story of destruction and doom.
Instead, what we got could best be described as a sequel to THE TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975).
Trust me, I wouldn’t begin a review with a hyperbolic, attention-grabbing statement like that without explaining it. For the moment, let us turn back the clock and toss out a quick recap of the film’s plot. Obviously, this review will contain a metric crapload of SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS, but you’ll complain anyway, so let’s get on with this.
After a mysterious event in 1954 regarding the Castle Bravo nuclear test and an unknown giant organism, the story jumps to 1999, where two scientists, Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins) are investigating a massive underground tomb in the Phillipines, uncovered by a uranium mining company. SOMETHING had escaped the catacombs, and made its way towards the sea… Meanwhile, at the Janjira suburb in Japan, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche) are concerned by the strange shockwaves being detected under the nuclear power plant. After sending their son, Ford, off to school, the two begin immediately attempting to uncover the problem…when Sandra becomes trapped down in the reactor during a massive tremor. She is locked within while Joe watches in absolute despair, and he only barely escapes while the plant collapses. Skipping ahead, once more, to 2014, a now adult Ford (Aaron Taylor Johnson) is returning home to San Francisco after a tour of duty as an EOD. Sadly, he doesn’t even get 24 hours with his young wife, Ellie (Elizabeth Olson) and little son, Sam, before he is called away back to Japan - his father has been arrested. Upon arrival, Ford discovers that Joe had been knee-deep in his obsession over the plant’s destruction, and had discovered the same readings popping up as that tragic day. After some convincing, a reluctant Ford goes with Joe to discover the truth, and the men find a much BIGGER secret. An organization, called MONARCH, has taken over the site and created a massive cover-up to study a strange, parasitic creature that had been feeding on the reactors, with Serizawa and Graham leading the project. The creature is done feeding, and begins to hatch from its massive, grotesque cocoon. In the ensuing chaos, Joe is mortally injured, and the kaiju spreads its wings and takes to the sky. As the Navy takes command of the operation, a grieving Ford is informed by Serizawa and Graham about the events leading up to this tragedy, and they ask for whatever information he can impart to them. All he remembers is that his father was studying echolocation the day before they left to return to the plant…and that the M.U.T.O. (Massive Unidentified Target Organism) was talking to something, and something responded. Now, with this creature, and potentially others like it, out and loose in the world, these creatures must be eradicated…or else a far greater power will rise to do what mortal man cannot. An Alpha Predator, a Monstrous God, a King of the Monsters…Gojira.
First and foremost, what must be singled out is the direction and cinematography. Gareth Edwards, the young director helming his first major theatrical release, is to be praised for his vision of what filmmaking is. GODZILLA is the rare modern film that allows for one scene to flow into another, and to choose a perspective, and stick with it. Placing the audience in the middle of the action is something rarely achieved as well as it is here. The brilliantly paced assault on Honolulu is a perfect example of visual narrative flow. A beachfront luau is shown early on, as spectators see the military taking up positions, and a palpable sense of dread is felt. As the events on the island unfold, all attention on the beach is pointed inland, until a (admittedly glassy-eyed) little girl notices the quickly receding water from the sea. Her father notices, and tsunami sirens blare, punctuating his slow realization. Panic quickly spreads. A dog on the beach is barking excitedly at the oncoming wave (and presumably the cause). She also panics and bolts offscreen, snapping her leash. We then follow the dog from the beach as a transitional device to the crowds, already running through the streets, and specifically the family of the little girl. Her parents whisk to to the the (relative) safety of a convenience store, as the rest of the crowd is washed away by the power of the oncoming wave. The scene cuts to an above-shot of the flooded streets, while survivors look upon the scene in horror. The flood allows the camera to pan along the buildings, as we see the power in each building cutting out and going dark. One particularly tall building’s power cuts out floor-by-floor, as it allows the camera to lead to the top, where a trio of soldiers fire off their signal flares. The camera follows the flares, and a massive, reptilian form looms into the frame…
The film is filled with little cinematographic nuances: A red phone that is never specifically referred to as “THE red phone,” but the gravity of the situation is still present. A pair of binoculars following the spotlight of a helicopter to three points of interest, before re-focusing to see three spotlights each focusing on three aspects of one giant object. The darkened dread of the low-lit-green lighting of the nuclear waste depository. It’s all extremely compelling stuff.
And let us not forget the sheer breathtaking beauty of the film’s effects work and visual composition. Edwards and his team KNOW how to shoot a damn movie. The gray skies of San Francisco slowly give way to true terrors of the unknown. The choking smoke and fire of a dying city while Titans wage war through the streets. And of course, the oft-praised HALO-jump sequence where a gorgeous palette of subdued colored remind one of a Bob Eggleton landscape painting. The combination of real sets, greenscreening, digital paintovers, and strikingly grounded CGI work allows one to truly believe in what’s happening, and rarely, if ever, feel as though they’re watching an effect for effect’s sake.
As for the script, acting, and overall story structure, your mileage may vary. Personally, I felt the acting ranged from serviceable to downright excellent. Cranston is in his usual top-form, scenery-chewing and all. It’s unfortunate that he’s out of the film as quickly as he was, even though the demands of the script called for it. It would have been a different film had Heisenberg stayed around, and potentially a better film. The active lead of the flick, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, doesn’t fare as well. And I mean that from a reception perspective, not necessarily the performance itself. Johnson is a capable actor, and early on is allowed a few moments of humanization. His sheepish face when goofing around with his family, his pain at having to deal with a father who is dragging a mountain of heartache back into his life…it’s all decent, if not subdued. The problem is that, after a certain point, his character no longer has any pathos or personal drama. He becomes a little too “Keanu” for his own good, and although this may work somewhat as an audience cypher, this resistance towards allowing the character to be humanized more than he is will grate on certain audiences. Upon my first viewing, I interpreted the character to be simply falling back on his training - shoving his heartache to the side and focusing on outside influences (the child on the monorail, jumping back in with the military, retrieving the nuke) in order to drive himself towards his goal, and in turn, drive the audience through the film as quickly as possible. It was only upon subsequent viewings (four it total to date) that I began to realize that his character would certainly have benefited from a few more humanizing moments. It may be “realistic” for a soldier to remove emotion from the equation, but you run the risk of hurting your narrative. Johnson is also repeatedly compared to Cranston, which is unfair for just about anyone. Some have even taken to calling him “terrible,” which is an exaggeration at best, and blindly following the conceit of “He’s not Heisenberg, I wanted Heisenberg!” at worst.
The rest of the cast functions mostly well, even if they get nothing to actively DO in the film (which I’ll get to in a minute). Elizabeth Olson feels genuinely warm in her scenes where she needs to be, genuinely professional when she needs to be, and genuinely despondent when she needs to be, with only one or two flubbed lines. Juliette Binoche is also genuine in her brief role, but you really feel that emotional gut-punch when she plays off of Cranston. The last really substantial character is the powerhouse Ken Watanabe, who is clearly taking more of an acting cue from Takashi Shimura’s Dr. Yamane in the original GOJIRA than his namesake, played by Akihiko Hirata. Instead of a tormented, emotionally unstable scientist with the weight of the world on his shoulders, he is a wide-eyed observer, one of the few people truly aware of the cataclysmic consequences at work before them. Even though he literally does nothing but stand around, gawk, and exposit, he stands around, gawks, and exposits the HELL out of that role. Even though he spends most of the film with his gaze towards the middle-distance, I never felt that there wasn’t anything going on upstairs. I believed 100% that he was taking everything in, always trying to comprehend the majesty and horror around him. A dynamic character it may not make, but you could do considerably worse than Watanabe (and his presence is a welcomed breath of fresh air in this decidedly…*cough*caucasian*cough* casting). Sally Hawkins provides little more than a link between Serizawa and the rest of the world. I was reminded, humorously, of the relationship between Billy and Trini in the original POWER RANGERS - a certifiable genius who thinks and operates on a different level from everyone else, so he needs someone just as smart, yet not so aggressively out-of-touch, to provide the bridge between him and the peons at large. Still, Hawkins has some nice little touches to her acting - with a glance or a slight hand gesture, you know EXACTLY what she’s thinking. The big actor I was least sold on was David Strathairn as Admiral Stenz. It was clear that the character was SUPPOSED to be oozing gravitas, but his matter-of-fact and all-too-realistic delivery fell flat for me.
Now, the statement “these characters get nothing to do” is a fascinating example of how kaiju films function inherently, and how we as an audience (specifically an AMERICAN audience) perceive them. By their very nature, kaiju eiga are about us, as people, and how utterly insignificant we are. Ergo, the best kaiju films make use of “little victories,” “small miracles,” and consist largely of the characters being brought low by the events playing out around them - by the sentient forces of nature, dueling through the city streets, who care nothing for our homes, our families, and our plight. In GOJIRA, the characters literally do nothing except react in terror to the titular menace, and interact with one-another in the handful of quiet moments they have to enjoy each-other’s company before the world crashes down around them. They are not characters of action - not until the finale. In GHIDRAH: THE THREE HEADED MONSTER (1964), the international spy-thriller themes of the film (reminiscent of ROMAN HOLIDAY) only affect the human characters and have zero impact on the monsters themselves, sans perhaps the actors convincing the twin faeries to call Mothra to aid in the battle against Ghidorah. In GODZILLA, MOTHRA, AND KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL OUT ATTACK (2001), the characters are literally nothing but observers until the final act, when Admiral Tachibana enacts the plan to help the Yamato Guardians defeat a rampaging Godzilla. Only in rare cases does human action affect the monsters directly, and usually only in cases where the monster is intrisically tied to some mortal influence, such as in the aforementioned TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA, which requires an extremely particular set of circumstances that usually isn’t possible in these films. American audiences often clamor for dynamic characters who direct the action themselves. It’s one of the major reasons why the military is such a huge factor in the TRANSFORMERS movies, to the point where the protagonistic Autobots are all but irrelevant when the Army could defeat the Decepticons with little help. And for that matter, American monster movies frequently center around a creature that is, for all intents and purposes, a minor inconvenience - an oversized animal run amok that must be punished for its transgression. KING KONG (1933), 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957), THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953), and GODZILLA (1998) all feature animalistic, even somewhat sympathetic, “monsters” that, regardless of their unwillingness to be directly harm or even interact with humanity, represent nature attempting to re-assert itself in humanity’s domain, and are quickly stomped into submission and eventual death with little regret or pathos. As a nation that clawed its way to the top of the North American food chain, we take great pride in our ingenuity and resourcefulness in conquering our foes, regardless of motivation or circumstance. On the other side of the coin, there is Japan - a similarly proud nation that has survived and persevered in SPITE of the constant historical assault of a geographic location that seemingly just plain hates them. Not to mention…y'know, the whole atomic bomb thing (we’ll get to that). In a nutshell, the Japanese understood, at one point or another, what it means to feel completely dehumanized, completely insignificant, which is a running theme throughout MOST kaiju films. Only in extreme, particularly cartoonish cases, can mankind stand up against and dynamically affect the kaiju action (ala PACIFIC RIM or usually whenever there’s a giant robot involved). This is why I will defend the final act of this film to the death - after almost 2 hours of just barely surviving these mammoth gods-made-flesh, the human characters, specifically Ford, manage to not only strike a major blow against the antagonistic MUTO’s, but enact an action plan that saves the survivors of the city and keeps them, and the audience, from what I like to call “Standing-On-A-Roof Syndrome.” American audiences who enjoy kaiju films often give the Japanese Godzilla series a pass in this respect, and are usually perfectly willing to stand with the human cast and gawk at the battling monsters. I can only imagine that this is both expected and tolerated thanks to the inherently “foreign” nature of these films (because, let’s be honest, some folks who enjoy these movies hardly even consider them to be “real movies,” much to my frustration). Therefore, through our own cultural lens, the ultimately insignificant actions of the characters during majority of the film’s runtime could be seen as frustrating. Here we have a film that is most definitely A GODZILLA MOVIE, though now seeing it through a more relatable perspective, an audience member could be forgiven for being frustrated and confused at the notion of being almost totally helpless. And with the frustratingly limited screentime for the kaiju, the audience is forced to decide whether or not to go with the human struggle, and identify with it, or to sit back and twiddle their thumbs, waiting for the action-packed finale. Personally, I was never outright bored, but towards the end of the second act, the near-constant meetings, sit-reps, and dramatic staring had decidedly worn thin. Perhaps extending the mid-movie battle, which is more used as a cinematic teasing device in this film, could have assuaged the less forgiving audiences without sacrificing the narrative. Perhaps…kaiju films are MEANT to have a big mid-movie setpiece in order to offset the potential tedium of humans unable to affect the events at hand? Food for thought.
Like the film, I’ve held off on the monsters long enough. HOLY CRAP IN A PEANUT THEY’RE AWESOME. Allow me to gush for a moment - the film’s title character, despite his limited screentime (as in many of his movies) is absolutely, 100% Godzilla. Notably…this is a Godzilla we haven’t seen since 1975 - a Godzilla with character and motivation - directed by instinct to kill a natural enemy he thought had long since been destroyed. Though said motivation could have been made more obvious onscreen and not lost much. In recent years, Godzilla has waffled between anti-hero and outright destroyer, and the marketing for the film absolutely pushed for a hate-filled, uncaring monster who might prove to simply be more powerful than his enemies, leaving us with a new King of Creation, speeding us towards the inevitable apocalypse. And while that certainly would have made for a hell of a film, it would have removed any sense of empathy or even much character from Godzilla himself. This Godzilla is the Godzilla that trudged off into the sea in 1975 after he cast down his enemies and smote their ruin on the Japanese countryside. This Godzilla is a “hero,” but only in the respect that mankind means nothing to him. That is to say, we don’t piss him off like we did in the early Showa series - this Godzilla is singularly focused on the defeat of his enemy, to the exclusion of mankind’s presence. Instead of plowing through the aircraft carrier outside Honolulu, he merely slides under it, simply not wanting to bother crashing into it, while the smaller battleships are shoved out of the way. As missiles and rockets irritate him in San Francisco Bay, he plows through the Golden Gate Bridge, annoyed that his progress has been impeded, but maintaining the course. This Godzilla FIGHTS like Godzilla, too. Thinking on his giant, stumpy feet, he claws, bites, stomps, tail-whips, and OH MY GOD DAT ATOMIC BREATH just like Godzilla should. He is an ancient creature, past his prime and feeling his age. These traits are compounded by his heavy gasps and lethargic movements during the finale. A small, beautiful moment where a battered, bruised Ford is face-to-face with Godzilla is only undermined by the kaiju actively glancing at the insignificant speck in front of him. This weird little detail seems to be intended to drive our empathy over the edge, instead of allowing Godzilla to remain SLIGHTLY more ambiguous. A similar moment occurs at the very end of the film, when Godzilla leaves San Francisco, with the CNN caption “KING OF THE MONSTERS - SAVIOR OF OUR CITY?” While I was absolutely in love the glorious, on-the-nose reverence of the first bit, the second statement crosses a line to push Godzilla as an outright “hero,” when KING OF THE MONSTERS would have done just fine. We don’t need it thrown in our faces - let the audience decide if he’s a hero or not. The MUTO’s are a bit of a mixed bag for me…and I mean that somewhat literally. Fundamentally they are combinations of Xenomorphs, Soldier Arachnids from STARSHIP TROOPERS, and a heapin’ helpin’ of CLOVERFIELD. The male, specifically, references both Mothra and Rodan in nature and visuals, whereas the female’s bulky form feels appropriately like a stuntman in an massive, awkward suit. Their powers, specifically hooked claws and EMP abilities, call to mind Gigan and Leatherback (from PacRim), respectively. And yet, with all these influences, they still work as antagonists without being outright evil. Despite their ferocity and the world-ending threat they represent, Edwards allows for another one of his small moments, where the MUTO’s first meet and tenderly nuzzle-one-another, to emphasize that they, like the rest of us, are bent on survival, rather than destruction. It adds an extra layer to what’s happening that I’m always thankful for. Their rivalry with Godzilla is what draws the monster king out, as the nest represents the real threat - an army of MUTO’s which, once they’ve consumed all the radiation on the surface, will come for the only source left - Godzilla himself. I can’t help but love the ridiculous audacity of the MUTO’s literally consuming nuclear warheads.
Speaking of which, some fans are frustrated that the film isn’t quite the nuclear-powered apocalypse that was promised in the teasers, and instead got a film that structurally resembles TOMG more than most other Godzilla movies. Some have even gone so far as to say that the film outright disgraces Ishiro Honda’s legacy by completely removing any and all negative connotations towards nuclear proliferation. These fans are provably wrong, of course, and seem to be ignoring that GODZILLA ‘14 has more of a “nukes are bad” message than the MAJORITY of the Godzilla series, including most of Honda’s own work. Without the abundance of nuclear material, proliferated by mankind, these creatures wouldn’t have been able to return, thrive, and breed, even when natural selection had already pushed them into near-extinction. Godzilla, conversely, never really threatened anyone in his appearance during the 1950’s (having long since adapted to living off the planet’s own energy), but the paranoia-happy government decided that he was too much a threat to be left alive, so sought to destroy him. Presumably, the blast from 1954 hurt him and drove him to the depths, but the fallout may have also began to heal him. We’re just lucky he doesn’t hold a grudge (something that IS a plot-hole, but unfortunately necessary if you’re attempting a reboot that simultaneously references the Atomic Age). In a time when nuclear paranoia is quickly becoming less and less relevant (as is, unfortunately, the conceptual motivation behind Godzilla himself), a callback to the 1950’s is indeed necessary. But times change, as do the requirements of the screenplay, so there’s only so much you can do with a nuclear metaphor without bashing one over the head with it, something that even Honda did only circumstantially (one of the reasons why GOJIRA is a masterpiece). The culminating moment of the nuclear themes comes with Serizawa handing his watch to the Admiral, making a brief, but very loaded, reference to Hiroshima before exiting the room. Without being an apologist or jumping on a soapbox, Watanabe, and by extension Edwards, leaves the audience with a hanging question about nuclear energy and its terrible power. While Hiroshima and Nagasaki were terrible, horrific choices, history dictates that the alternative, a prolonged invasion of Japan, COULD have been a much worse, more costly option. But with the bombing, we as a species had unleashed a power that could, one day, destroy the very world we tried to save. “These actions have consequences that we may never fully comprehend,” is what I, personally, interpreted Serizawa’s actions here, even in the wake of the comically overbearing representation of the Navy and their willy-nilly use of nukes that detonate a few miles away from a city with no shockwave (even IF Godzilla’s body absorbed the radiation).
Alexandre Desplat’s score is driving and atmospheric, with a handful of Ifukube-inspired notes. Nothing much more to say than it worked and is very good.
At the end of the day, yes, I enjoyed the film. Yes, it has problems, but it’s really a question as to which side of the fence you fall on. Either you’ll be frustrated and bored by the tedium of characters who, by the very nature of the narrative, are helpless, OR you’ll go along for the ride and allow the rapid-fire editing to whisk you towards the world-shaking final battle. Either way, the film is worth seeing. And either way, it’s making a hell of a lot of money. So let’s hope for more Gamera!…I mean Godzilla.