Friday, September 22, 2017

Number 29 - "Godzilla Raids Again" (1955)

Now that we've got the disrespectful and terrible Godzilla movies out of the way, we can move to just the terrible ones!

These next three or four entries are all ones that are simply awfully put together movies that are mostly harmless, but I would still rather watch two hours of C-SPAN than turn on these Godzilla movies again. Of these entires, the worst of them is my pick for the most boring entry in the series - "Godzilla Raids Again."

This one was made less than a year after the release of the first Godzilla film in 1954 and is the only other movie to be shot in black and white. The film also sees the introduction of Godzilla's long time ally, Anguirus (or Anglias, or Angurus, or Anguillas...he has more names and pronunciations than any other Toho monster), the spiky-backed Ankylosaurus that seems to be the only sticking point from this film.

Set roughly a year after the events of the first film, when the first Godzilla was killed by a chemical weapon known as the Oxygen Destroyer, the world is shocked to learn that there is not only a second Godzilla but another monster entirely, noting that these two kaiju love to fight each other. The forces of Japan scramble to come up with a solution to fight off the two monsters, or at the very least keep them away from Japan.

But that's not the important part of the film, because far more than half of "Godzilla Raids Again" is spent with Shoichi Tsukioka (Hiroshi Koizumi) and Koji Kobayashi (Minoru Chiaki), two airplane fishing scouts, and their every-day drama. They both live in a small fishing town in a tightly-knit community, Shoichi has a girlfriend whose a radio operator and Koji is terrible with the ladies. They're the ones who find Godzilla and Anguirus on a remote island when Koji's airplane is forced to make a water-landing.

Are you starting to see why "Godzilla Raids Again" isn't the most well-received among Godzilla fans?

Godzilla feels like an after-thought in this movie, with the main focus being some pilots. It would be one thing if we cared about these guys and their struggles, but the film never gives us any reason to like or give a damn about them. Shoichi is too busy talking to his girlfriend that half the time he doesn't do his job, and Koji is dim-witted and too focused on finding love. These elements would be fine if this was just a Japanese melodrama about finding love in a small fishing town, but this is the direct sequel to one of the darkest and most disturbing giant monster movies of all time. Everything involving these guys doesn't feel like it belongs here.

While "Godzilla Raids Again" has one of the shortest runtimes of any Godzilla movie, just 82 minutes, the pacing is excruciatingly slow. While we get a glimpse of Godzilla and Anguirus fighting at the beginning, it lasts all of ten seconds, and then we don't see the two again for what feels like an eternity. We're given a recap of the events of the first film through recycled footage, though with no audio or music, so it's about as exciting as your uncle showing you slides from his vacation to Mt. Rushmore. Then the military spends about ten minutes trying to come up with a plan and every single general takes his sweet-ass time to give his two cents.

And you would think that once Godzilla and Anguirus show up that would be the focus of the movie. But nope, there is a long scene dealing with prisoners trying to escape while being transported, only to set most of Osaka on fire, and Shoichi's girlfriend constantly looking at the destruction from about five miles away at a safe location. To be fair, this leads to the only cool shots of the movie, as we slowly but surely see Osaka get engulfed in flames.

My point is that it takes this movie more than half of its runtime before we finally get to see Godzilla and Anguirus throw down. More than 45 minutes of slow, dull, uninteresting conversations that feel like they don't amount to anything.

Even when we do get to the monster fights, the camera work gets strange. When focusing on solo shots of the two kaiju, their movements seem slow and lumbering, as they should be. But when the two are forced to fight, the camera movement speeds up to 11 and every little movement feels unnatural, like Godzilla and Anguirus are on drugs.

But strangely enough, after the two fight for a little while, Godzilla actually kills Anguirus and just leaves Osaka. Yet the film isn't over. In fact, there's still about 25 minutes left. And we end up spending most of with the pilots again and their drama. The big climatic battle between your two monsters wasn't the end of the movie? We had to get 20 more minutes with these forgettable characters before one last showdown with Godzilla?

The film could have ended after everything in Osaka and our torture could have ceased! But hey, we had know if Koji ended up getting a girlfriend, right?

This leads to one last scene with Godzilla where the local fishing pilots literally start bombing the snowy mountains around him to encase the monster in ice. Let that sink in for a moment - you plan to surround a giant fire-breathing irradiated lizard with snow and ice. Yeah, I'm sure that will hold him for all of five minutes. Also this one mountain seems to have an endless supply of snow, since I swear these guys bomb the mountain about fifty times, each one as uninteresting as the last one.

There's one last thing I'd like to point about "Godzilla Raids Again" and that is the English dub. I won't normally talk about the differences between the Japanese version and English version in these reviews, but this one deserves special mention. Mostly because, in the English dub, all mention of Godzilla is removed from the movie. Instead, the movie is called "Gigantis, the Fire Monster" and Godzilla has now become the titular Gigantis. They also replace most of Godzilla's roars with Anguirus' roars, but don't do anything with Anguirus' roars, making it twice as confusing when you cannot tell which monster is roaring.

The explanation the scientists give for this is to say that Gigantis and Anguirus are of the same species. I don't know if any of these scientists looked at a picture of these two monsters that look nothing alike or if they're blind, but in any case I'm calling bullcrap.

In fact, I call bullcrap on the entire English dub; it takes an already slow, boring movie and makes it even harder to get through, with two monsters that have the same roar and below-average dubbing for the 1950s.

Overall, "Godzilla Raids Again" is not only the most boring Godzilla film, but also the most forgettable. You could marathon the entire series but skip this one and ultimately nothing of value would be lost. There are no note-worthy scenes here, the characters are unlikable, and the pacing is atrocious. As a direct follow-up to the first Godzilla film, this film misses all the marks.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Number 30 - "Godzilla" (1998)

Part of me feels like I shouldn't be reviewing this movie. This one is so far away from how other Godzilla films feel and act that it should not count. The 1998 "Godzilla" is like an alien trying and failing to blend in with a group of humans. But, it has Godzilla in its name and a monster that uses bits of Godzilla's roar, so I guess I'll give my thoughts on the film.

I remember going to see "Godzilla" in theaters when I was eight years old on Memorial Day. I had been excited to see this movie for months, thinking how amazing it would be see my favorite monster on the big screen. Then I went to the theater and was almost immediately disappointed.

Keep in mind that I was in second grade at the time, so it was very easy to keep me entertained. Just put on something pleasant or slightly intriguing and I won't move for hours. But even as a little eight year old, I was so bored and uninterested in "Godzilla" that it still blows me away to this day. How could this film mess up one of the most simple concepts - have Godzilla rampage through New York City and have lots of eye-candy visuals. That shouldn't be hard for the director of "Independence Day," Roland Emmerich, which had some of the most memorable movie images of the 1990s when the Empire State Building and the White House were destroyed. But like "Godzilla: Final Wars," the filmmakers found a way to screw it up royally.

The film follows Dr. Niko Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick), a scientist who is researching the growth rate of earthworms around Chernobyl (fascinating work, I'm sure). He gets called in by the military to study contaminated areas in Panama and Jamaica that had recently been attacked by a giant monster. Unbeknownst to Niko and the military that same monster suddenly shows up in New York City and makes a slight mess.

And when I say "slight mess" I'm not being sarcastic - to start things off, the monster only slightly damages the harbor around NYC. Throws a fishing boat here, knocks part of a roof off a building there, nothing that cannot be fixed in a day or so. I'm not even sure Godzilla killed anyone in first attack on the city.

So the military is called into deal with the monster, and they do a real bang-up job at first. To start things off, they lose track of the beast almost immediately. In a city filled to the brim with vast skyscrapers and state-of-the-art technology, you lose track of a giant dinosaur. This thing isn't like a spy that can easily blend into the background of a city with eight-million people, it is a monster the size of a small building. The film wants you to believe this is because the monster is an expert in stealth, but I don't buy that for a second. It's because this military sucks at their job.

Don't believe me? Then I give you exhibit two of the moronic military and wasted potential - After they have successfully drawn the monster out of hiding, they panic and open fire all their weapons on the creature...except every single missile and bomb misses and destroys the surrounding buildings. A whole squardon of helicopters chases down the monster through the city, while the monster just casually avoids the buildings causing no real damage, and the military continually fires everything they have got only to miss and destroy major landmarks in the New York area, like the Chrysler Building.

In other words, it's not the monster that destroys New York, but the incompetent military that never bothers to stop and aim at their target.

But anyway, let's address the elephant in the room - I have yet to refer to the monster in this movie as Godzilla. That's because, for all intents and purposes, it's not Godzilla. You don't need to be a detective to look at this monster and the classic design of Godzilla to see these two look absolutely nothing alike. This monster looks and behaves like a slightly bigger T-Rex with a few spikes on its shoulders. It is fast, hunched over like most dinosaurs and loves to eat fish. You know, those classic Godzilla traits!

I'd be willing to forgive all that if we got the two things Godzilla is mostly known for - his indestructibility and ability to breathe fire. And we don't get either of those. The best we get is that he can breathe a flammable gas that can cause a bit of fire when exposed to a flame, but that's not even close to being the same thing. Then, as the film ends, the mosnter gets caught in Brooklyn Bridge, giving the military a clean shot at him, and he gets killed by just four or five standard missiles.

This Godzilla is pathetic, with a lame design and no cool abilities that make him standout. The only reason he's remembered today is because of the name, the only thing he has in common with his Japanese counterpart. Which is why most Godzilla fans have taken a liking to the name GINO, an accronym for "Godzilla In Name Only." What's even more hilarious is that Toho bought the rights to this monster in the early 2000s and renamed it to Zilla, because this character is unworthy of having "God" in its name.

This also leads to the only slightly good scene in "Godzilla: Final Wars" where Godzilla and Zilla fight, with Zilla being utterly oblierated, but the fight is over in five seconds so we don't get any time to savor the defeat. It's also set to a Sum 41 metal song that feels very inappropriate for that fight.

If you asked me a few years ago why I hated this movie so much, I would have told you it was only because of how disrespectful it was to the character of Godzilla. Other than how it treated a classic character, it was an okay B-movie. That if the monster wasn't called Godzilla and they changed the title, this film would have been fine.

Nowadays, while I'm still upset at how awful Godzilla is handled, I have come to realize this is a terrible movie all-around. Aside from the military that sucks at every aspect of their jobs, the characters are all selfish arrogant pricks who all think the world revolves around them. They don't care if the city or the world is in danger, they just want to use this opportunity for their personal needs, like Audrey Timmonds (Maria Pitillo) who sells out her boyfriend and ruins his career to get a news story that doesn't even go her way. Or Philippe Roche (Jean Reno), a French agent who thrusts "duty" upon himself by trying to bring down the monster without anyone's help by sneaking into the city and blowing up a nest full of velociraptor eggs.

It also doesn't help that none of these characters seem to learn anything or change. Audrey feels sorry for actions getting her boyfriend fired, but by the end of the film she still comes across as the same smug douchebag who will do whatever it takes to get a story. Character development is non-existent in this movie.

There is also a strange sense of hate in this movie, like no one in this film trusts or likes other characters. Characters like Dr. Tatopoulos, Audrey, and her "quirky" cameraman Animal (Hank Azaria) lack chemistry because they only ever show contempt for each other. Even a giant monster destroying their city doesn't bring out positive emotions for other people.

But the oddest feeling of resentment comes from two side characters, the mayor of New York simply named Ebert, and his aide named Gene. This movie doesn't even try to hide it - these two are supposed to be parodies of Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, the famous film critics. These two act like bumbling morons, with the Ebert character being obsessed with candy and Gene basically being a "Yes man" to everything Ebert says.

Of all the things to parody in your giant monster movie, why Siskel and Ebert? My best guess is that the two of them gave director Roland Emmerich bad reviews on his previous films, including "Stargate" and "Independence Day." Here's an idea Mr. Emmerich, instead of handling negative criticism like a five-year old, you take what they say to heart and learn to make better movies. Because if that's your response to someone saying your movie sucks, then it comes across like Siskel and Ebert know more about good filmmaking than you do.

But the wierdest part of all this? Nothing that bad happens to the Siskel and Ebert parodies in the movie. You'd think if Emmerich hates the two enough to put them in his monster movie that he'd have his giant creature either eat or stomp them, but they're fine at the end. Why go to all this trouble if they don't have a gruesome ending?

Overall, "Godzilla" is just a bad time. If it's not resorting to terrible disaster movie cliches, it is doing a disservice to the character of Godzilla. The action scenes are irritating due to the inept military and devoid of tension because of how unlikable these characters are. Like with "Godzilla: Final Wars" save yourself the time and headache and stay away from this movie.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Number 31 - "Godzilla: Final Wars" (2004)

There aren't many movies that make me angry. Some leave a bad taste in my mouth when they squander great things, while others make me annoyed through bad storytelling or terrible acting. But once in a blue moon, a film will come along that makes me want to pull my hair out and reduce me to the point where watching Barney the Dinosaur sounds better than watching this crap.

"Godzilla: Final Wars" brings this kind of anger out in me. It is not only my pick for the worst Godzilla film, but one of the worst movies I have ever seen. This is not just because of generally bad filmmaking, third-grade level writing, and acting so bad that even Ed Wood would want to try filming the scene again, but a misunderstanding and disrespect towards the source material that it takes all the fun out of the movie.

It's bad enough that "Final Wars" is poorly put together, but then it had to go and defecate over everything that was awesome about Godzilla.

"Godzilla: Final Wars" was released in 2004, the year of Godzilla's fiftieth anniversary, a milestone landmark for any franchise to reach, especially one that was normally seeing the release of a new film every year. At this point, "Final Wars" was the 28th entry in the series (not counting the 1998 American film, but we will get to that) and Toho wanted to celebrate this occasion with a movie that honored the tradition of Godzilla. Toho spent a ridiculous amount of money making this movie, roughly two billion yen or 19.5 million American dollars. At the time, this was the third most expensive movie Toho had ever made. That's not even taking into account the advertising "Final Wars" had, which was advertised all over the world due to Godzilla's fiftieth.

Toho tried to pull all the stops out for this one - Bringing back as many classic Godzilla monsters as they could, attempting to make the movie feel like a classic old Godzilla movie, and for the first time, having not only monster fights, but also human fights!

And they messed all of that up!

Oh sure, it has the largest roster of Toho kaijus, ranging from the obvious like Mothra and Rodan to the more obscure like Hedorah and Ebirah, but most of these monsters are on screen for less than a minute, serve no purpose to the plot, don't act anything like they did in previous movies, and most of them are killed off unceremoniously. The majority of these monsters are just here to fill up screen time and to get the audience's nostalgia hype up.

Does the film feel like a classic Godzilla movie at any point? Absolutely not. It might take plot elements from other Godzilla movies, in particular "Invasion of Astro-Monster" (or "Godzilla vs. Monster Zero") by revolving around aliens trying to conquer earth by controlling monsters, but the Godzilla franchise wasn't the first to cover that type of plot and it will not be the last. Instead, the movie focuses on its bland cast of idiots who would rather punch their way through their problems. "Final Wars" ends up borrowing plot elements from about a dozen different movies, in particular "The Matrix" because of our characters choices in fashion and its over-reliance of kung-fu fight scenes, the "X-Men" franchise because of its mutant characters who can fight a giant sea monster with wire-fu, which isn't nearly as cool as it sounds, and the "Star Wars" franchise because of one scene near the end that feels like a carbon copy of the Death Star trench run. "Final Wars" is a strange hodgepodge of cinematic references, doing none of them well at all, and the one it does the worst is the Godzilla series.

And those human fight scenes? They take up the majority of the movie. In a film that was supposed to celebrate fifty years of Godzilla and represent everything great about the franchise, instead of showing some dream monster match-ups like, for example, King Ghidorah and MechaGodzilla fighting Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and Anguirus, we instead get lots of martial arts scenes that were cut from "The Matrix Reloaded" for being too silly.

But the absolute worst thing that "Final Wars" does is something simple - In the film's two hour runtime, Godzilla is on-screen for all of twelve minutes.

This was supposed to be Godzilla's big shining moment. Fifty years of making movies, creating an entire genre of filmmaking and some of the most iconic monsters of all time, and a franchise that had has more entries than Star Wars, Star Trek and the Lord of the Rings combined. And the filmmakers cannot even be bothered make him the central focus of the movie or give him a fight that lasts more than two minutes.

That is not just bad filmmaking, it is downright disrespectful and insulting to Godzilla and his fans. We didn't watch any of the previous Godzilla movies for the chance that the humans would fight. We came for Godzilla. We came because of his strength and his awe. Something so simple as hearing his roar or watching his spines glow bright blue brings a smile to so many people's faces, and it comes across like these filmmakers don't give a damn about any of that. They would rather imitate other popular franchises poorly, instead of paying tribute to a legacy that is older than most of the people working on this movie.

It makes "Godzilla: Final Wars" feel empty and hollow; insincere in its "love" for Godzilla and his monster companions and never giving the audience enough time to truly appreciate the short monster scenes.

Godzilla doesn't even appear until the halfway point in the movie, and then he proceeds to get into many monster fights that last less than 30 seconds. In these fights, Godzilla basically walks right through his opponents, including Gigan, Zilla (the 1998 American Godzilla - yes, he is in this movie), the giant spider Kumonga, the giant mantis Kamakuras, Hedorah, and Ebirah. These monsters do little more than slow Godzilla down as he makes his way from Antarctica to Tokyo. So not only are the fights too short to enjoy, but Godzilla expends zero effort to defeat them that it takes all the drama and tension out of the scene. One blast of his atomic ray is enough to defeat most of these monsters.

I have seen fight scenes in "My Little Pony" that are more exciting to watch than these ones. At least I will not miss those fights if I have to blink.

To add to this growing mountain of crap, "Godzilla: Final Wars" gets even worse because its boring. For a film that is basically action scenes galore, and often has the entire fate of the world at stake, the pacing is so slow in the early parts that it makes everything dull. "Final Wars" spends its first hour trying to build the mystery behind the alien invaders, the Xiliens, when anyone with two functioning brain cells can figure out that they are evil and want to destroy us.

Then there are the main cast of characters, including the bland Neo-ripoff Ozaki (Masahiro Matsuoka), his mutant rival who is about as mindless as a newborn puppy Kazama (Kane Kosugi), the supermodel turned biologist that can hack any computer (because biology means computer hacking in this world) Miyuki (Rei Kikukawa), and the American captain who only speaks in one-liners (Don Frye).

By the way, Don Frye made a name for himself in Japan through their equivalent of the UFC, called Pride. In other words, he's a boxer/wrestler/fighter turned into an actor for this one movie. Congratulations Toho, you've hired the MMA version of Stone Cold Steve Austin or Hulk Hogan to be one of the lead actors in your giant monster movie attempting to celebrate fifty years of Godzilla. Thanks for continuing the sad tradition of turning wrestlers into movie actors and proving that it often fails miserably.

In any case, the film gives us no reason to care about our protagonists. No humanity to latch on to, since they all act like spoiled brats who will throw a temper tantrum if they don't get what they want. Now imagine that those idiot are in charge of saving the world from aliens and monsters and you might start to see why these characters suck.

As we get further up this countdown and move away from the bottom, I'll be pointing out any redeeming factors these Godzilla films have to offer and show that there is something of value. "Godzilla: Final Wars" has nothing of value. It is devoid of joy and awe, never once making an attempt to develop its own identity. It does a terrible job of trying to pay tribute to Godzilla with how little it cares about the character or his history, with little more than some references with no substance behind them. This is the "Epic Movie" of the Godzilla franchise - it is best left forgotten and never talked about again.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Paul's Godzilla-thon - Introduction

Every cinephile has that one movie or character that got them interested in cinema to begin with. It might be something classic like Dorothy or Rick Blaine, or someone they grew up with like Indiana Jones or Han Solo, or even the weird and strange ones like the works of David Lynch or Woody Allen.

For me, there has always been one movie character that I have adored for over 20 years. Even before I knew that I loved cinema, this character was a huge part of my life. Part of the reason I went to film school was to gain a deeper appreciation for his movies, so that I could adequately explain what makes his 31 films stand out (or not stand out). Because of this, I gained a new love and respect for movies that I wouldn't have gotten anywhere else, and I feel like I am a better person as a result.

If you know anything about me, you know exactly who this movie character is. If you're new and don't know much about me, you still probably know who it is through the title of this post. One of my favorite characters, and the one who got me so invested in films to begin with, is Godzilla.

For a long time, I couldn't describe exactly what it was about Godzilla that I loved so much. All I knew was that I couldn't take my eyes off him ever since I saw him fight King Kong on top of Mt. Fuji when I was three years old. Maybe it was his roar, which is both terrifying and triumphant. Maybe it was his distinct blue atomic breath that destroyed anything it touched. Maybe it was his badass theme song that still gets me excited to this day. But whatever the reason, Godzilla will always have a place in my heart.

Every time I went to Blockbuster as a kid, I would be on the lookout for any Godzilla movies I had never seen. Every Sunday, I would wake up early to get the TV Guide out of the Sunday newspaper, so that I could see if there were any Godzilla movies on TV that week (thank god for the Sci-Fi channel usually having a Godzilla marathon once a month). That was my dedication to the King of the Monsters.

But honestly, I probably wouldn't have done that if it felt like I got to see a new Godzilla movie I had never heard of before every few months. I always felt like a kid in a candy store when some 20-year old Godzilla movie was on that was new to me. Believe me, this happened more often than you would think, mostly because Godzilla is the biggest and longest running movie franchise in the world.

Oh, you thought James Bond was the longest and had the most entries. Well, a movie series staring in 1962 and having 23 different entries and a franchise going to this day is impressive, but Godzilla dates back as far as 1954 and there are over 31 films, with three or four more in the works as I type this.

Suffice to say, there is no shortage of Godzilla material. And I have decided to do my biggest undertaking for this website - I am going to review every Godzilla movie ever made, giving my distinct thoughts on each of them.

I will be reviewing all 29 Japanese movies and the two American films, starting with my least favorite entry in the series and working my way up to my favorite. This means you will get to witness my take on Godzilla starting with the terrible entries, as I make my way up to the best and most memorable films. You will get to witness the good, the bad, the strange and the awesome of Godzilla through my perspective.

I should also mention that these reviews will have plenty of spoilers, so if you plan to watch these movies anytime soon, I would suggest you do it now and then come back and read my reviews. Then again, some of these movies are over 60 years old now and there should be some age limit when it comes to spoiling movies. These reviews will also be a bit more plot-oriented than my other reviews, as I will be talking about anything and everything that sticks out to me about that movie, both good and bad.

So look forward to my biggest and longest project to date, and something that I have been looking forward to for years, as I share my thoughts and feelings on every Godzilla movie.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Movie Review - "It" (2017)

I cannot stress this enough - Your reaction to "It" will be different from everyone else. Whether you find the movie scary or not will depend entirely on your fears and sensibilities. The majority of the crowd I saw "It" with was terrified of the supernatural clown that hunted down children, even though I found myself laughing most of the time this movie tried to scare me. The only person who should tell you if this movie is too scary for you is yourself.

In that case, ask yourself these questions. Do clowns freak you out? Are you petrefied when there's a jump scare? If you answered yes to one or both these questions, then you'll probably need a change of pants after watching "It." But, if you're like me and are not afraid of clowns and can see jump scares coming from a mile away, then most of the scenes with Pennywise the Dancing Clown will want to make you laugh at how serious they want you to take red balloons and a little kid in a yellow rain coat.

That being said, even if you do not find "It" scary, there is still a solid film to be found here. It might be hiding behind a screen of horror, but this movie works much better as a thriller with a solid group of kid main characters and the hilarious comradery they have. Imagine "Stand By Me" but instead of going to find a dead body, they were trying to find a murderous all-seeing demon creature disguised as a clown.

Set mostly in 1989 in Derry, Maine, the authorities have set a town-wide curfew after several children have gone missing. One of the first to disappear is little Georgie Denbrough, whose brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) takes pretty hard but is convinced that he is out there somewhere and not dead like everyone else thinks. In the summer, Bill convinces his high school friends Stan (Wyatt Oleff), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Richie (Finn Wolfhard) to help him track down his brother in a marshy area known as the Barrens. Instead, the group stumbles across the creepy dancing clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) that seems pretty keen on helping them float, just like the rest.

Eventually, our group of young high schoolers come across Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and Beverly (Sophia Lillis), who have all had strange run-ins with this clown as well. Once they all start putting the pieces together to find out more about Pennywise, the clown starts to pick up on it and stops at nothing to break these children before they can get to him.

Bill Skarsgard does a good job as Pennywise, but only when the filmmakers let him be creepy. His performance is chilling when a scene with Skarsgard is allowed to play out and its the clown that is the most terrifying part, instead of the special effects or the "BOO!" moment near the end. Unfortunately, most of the time the filmmakers feel the need to cut off Skarsgard's performance so they can put in a big effect shot at the end of the scene, which I feel cheapens his role.

His scene at the beginning with Georgie and his toy boat was wonderfully handled, especially when they linger on Skarsgard for far longer than they need to. There were few effects in that scene, just a clown trying to get some candy. Then there are moments, like when Pennywise is in Bill's flooded basement and the creepy factor ends when the clown rises out of the water and starts charging at Bill while shaking his head violently. That's not Skarsgard being scary, but a bad digital effect that acts as little more than a jump scare.

It is my firm belief that jump scares are not scary. They are startling. It is the cinematic equivalent of yelling "BOO!" in someone's face. And "It" has at least 20 jump scares, which is about 15 too many.

There are certainly horror moments in "It," with the stand out scene coming about halfway through the movie in Beverly's bathroom. The scene is something straight out of "The Shining" or "Nightmare on Elm Street" that leaves Beverly emotionally and mentally scarred for the rest of the film, and relies very little on digital trickery, instead going for practical effects, which is a rarity in this day-and-age. But the primary focus of the movie is on this group of children that slowly but surely overcome prejudice, bad rumors, abusive parents and other disabilities and evolve from children into adults.

Forget about the clown, the true star of the movie are these kids and the relationships they forge.

Going into this movie, I thought these children would be something straight out of some horrendous after-school special, with no personalities and serve only as fodder for Pennywise. I was proved completely wrong when you hear how foul-mouthed and feisty they can be. Each of them leads a fairly messed up life, some a bit more horrific than others, but they never lose any likability or overly sympathetic, especially Eddie, Richie, and Beverly. Each of them are funny in their own quirky way, like Richie who spews insults like crazy and has a bit of a motor-mouth.

I will remember "It" as a coming-of-age story with plenty of supernatural elements to it. While the filmmakers want to bombard you with silly scares, both digital and startling, the strength of this film comes down to these flawed kids fighting, not just a clown, but an entire world that did not believe in them. Your mileage on the horror elements will vary, but "It" was at least worth watching to see these children stand up for themselves.

Final Grade: B

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Movie Review - "Murder, My Sweet" (1944)

One of the lesser appreciated aspects of a film noir is that most of them tell similar yet intriguing stories about seedy darker worlds and the equally seedy people that inhabit them. If you've seen one film noir, then you're at least aware of how the narrative works and what separates it from other genres, especially thrillers. This is a type of filmmaking lives in darkness and sin, filled with dirty people trying to claw for light and hope.

But what makes "Murder, My Sweet" so special is that, while it feels familiar, the film takes a different route when it comes to visuals and editing that separate it from other noirs like "The Big Sleep" or "Out of the Past." Much like "Double Indemnity" lives and dies by its witty dialogue, "Murder, My Sweet" hinges on its seedy underground cinematography, focusing heavily on eyes and obscuring the visuals, as well as the truth.

The film follows the famous private detective Phillip Marlowe (Dick Powell), a man who isn't afraid to speak his mind even if that gets him in trouble, after he has been captured by the police with bandages over his eyes. The cops have him here because they suspect he murdered two people, so he recalls the last few days to the police, telling us about his encounter with a mountain of a man named Moose (Mike Mazurki) who is looking for his missing wife, a wealthy man named Marriot (Douglas Walton) who hires Marlowe on as a bodyguard and winds up dead on the beach, leading Phillip to hunt down what was happening and to a necklace made of jade.

One small aspect that I particularly enjoyed about "Murder, My Sweet" was that it was easy to follow for a film noir. Normally, there are so many characters to keep track of in these movies, most of them either doing shady dealings off-screen or have been dead for a long time that this makes it hard to remember who's who, especially when the double crossing and back stabbing begins. I had no trouble remembering the characters in this film, mostly because it was a small cast and each of them had a distinct look or attitude. Marlowe spends the majority of the film actively trying to solve the case instead of pontificating about some of the smaller details, so that helped as well.

What I will remember the most about "Murder, My Sweet" was the distinct cinematography. I cannot think of other film noirs that have a drug-induced nightmare sequence, or have crazy dissolves that show our narrator passing out like his world is being flooded with black goo. This film played more with perspective and eyes than any other noir and it compliments a dark and disturbing nature of the story.

Overall, "Murder, My Sweet" may not feel too different from other film noirs, but the look of it is unique and it gives the movie an undeniable charm. The dialogue is witty like "Double Indemnity" and the narration gives this city an extra layer of filth. Dick Powell's performance as Phillip Marlowe gives the character levity and a bit more heart than you would expect. If you're interested in a lesser known film noir that is just as great as any other, give this one a shot.

Final Grade: A-

Movie Review - "Marty" (1955)

"Marty" is one of the most simple yet easily relatable movies I've seen in a long time, all thanks to its main character and the heartwarming performance of Ernest Borgnine. The film follows the titular Marty, a 34-year old butcher who lives with his mother in New York. He has watched all of his other siblings, both older and younger than him, get married and start up a family of their own, but Marty has resigned himself to the life of a bachelor. Not because he likes the single life, but because he's tried finding a woman who likes him for himself, and he has only known heartache.

This has given Marty some terrible self-esteem issues, even yelling at his own mother that the reason no woman wants him is because he's "fat, old, and ugly." Over the course of the film, we learn about his time with the Army and how he lost his purpose in life upon coming back. This is a normally quiet, kind man who normally keeps to himself, but wants the opportunity to do something with his life, even though no woman will give a chance. That is, until he meets Claire (Betsy Blair), a shy school teacher, at a dance and the two just listen to each others' problems.

Borgnine's performance is the highlight of this movie, giving us a vulnerable role that shows a man who has more than a few problems and a bit of a temper when it comes to those problems. I would describe his role as the flawed every-man. We sympathize with Marty, realizing how fragile he is, but he is relatable for that same reason. Unlike other every-man characters, especially those played by Jimmy Stewart, Borgnine's character is so wrapped up in his weaknesses that he is blinded to his strengths.

I loved "Marty" for how different it was for the 1950s, at a time when other movies and television wanted to portray the perfect family. That every man should have a nice upper-class job and be the head of the house, while women worked on the house and kids, here's a film about a damaged man with a job even he looks down on, and cannot find someone to love him. Yet, the film is ultimately an upbeat one about coming to terms with those flaws and loving someone anyway. I came for Ernest Borgnine's performance, but I was transfixed by how understanding and accepting "Marty" truly was.

Final Grade: A-