Friday, October 20, 2017

Movie Review - "Blade Runner 2049" (2017)


Believe it or not, I was one of the few film buffs who wasn't looking forward to "Blade Runner 2049" for a long time. I am not a huge fan of the original "Blade Runner," especially since it took me three attempts to watch it all the way through without falling asleep. I attribute this to pacing problems with the original film and emphasis on style over substance. While the style of "Blade Runner" is unmistakable in its gritty film noir-esque depiction of the future, I never felt it was enough to carry the movie.

It wasn't until they annouced that Denis Villeneuve was directing and Roger Deakins would do the cinematography that I started getting excited. Villeneuve had already proven himself in the science fiction genre with last year's "Arrival," while cinematographer Roger Deakins has shown that he is the most imaginative and creative eye for captivating images in all of Hollywood with films like "Skyfall," "Prisoners," "Sicario" and "No Country for Old Men." Deakins is almost single-handedly responsible for just about every visually stunning movie out of Hollywood in the last ten years.

In this aspect, Villeneuve and Deakins do not disappoint with "Blade Runner 2049." I went into the movie with slight skepticism and left the theater loving nearly every scene in that movie. It takes the concepts and visuals that "Blade Runner" started and gives it a 21st-century face lift, putting the visuals on an even bigger scale and telling a story that is dripping with style and substance.
 
 

Set thirty years after the original "Blade Runner," we see that the bioengineered human race known as replicants have been remodeled to be subserviant and loyal to humans, while the remaining resistant replicants are still slowly hunted down and terminated by a special branch of the police force, known as the blade runners. One of these runners is K (Ryan Gosling), an obedient newer model replicant. During his hunt to locate the growing replicant resistance movement, he finds a buried box next to a dead tree, something people in this world don't seem to know about anymore.

The LAPD examine the contents of the box and find the bones of a dead replicant, in particular Rachael from the first film, a highly advanced one-of-a-kind model that was lost years ago along with former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). But the analysis finally reveals what was so unique about Rachael - she died giving birth.

Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) is stunned by this news, since it has always been believed that replicants could never procreate. She tells K to keep this startling news a secret, since if anyone finds out it could start a war between humans and replicants. Joshi also assigns K to track down Rachael's child and terminate it before it's too late.
 
 

The main takeaway from "Blade Runner 2049" is that it is visually stunning and the best looking film of the last few years. This film is worth seeing for the visuals alone. From the opening scenes of a farm that consists of crop-circle like solar panels, to the increasingly large landscape of downtown Los Angeles that looks like buildings are staked on top of other buildings. Nearly every shot in the this movie is pleasing to the eye, especially with its neon color palette that makes anything yellow or orange stand out like a forest fire in the night.

"Blade Runner 2049" is like "2001: A Space Odyssey," in that both films are always throwing unique yet interesting futuristic devices at the audience to show you how much the world has grown. From its holographic girlfriends that you can pay extra to take outside of the house, to the cameras that can make the blind see again, to technology that allows you to create and recreate memories.

But unlike "2001," the world in this movie is far from utopia. If anything this world is a dystopia. While the people of Los Angeles live in comfort for the most part, surrounded by all the creature comforts they could ever want, nature and animals are nonexistent. We never see the sun at all in this movie and the most sustainable food source are maggots. Entire cities have been turned into giant garbage heaps, while others like Las Vegas look more like the surface of Mars.
 
 

If the original "Blade Runner" wanted to look like a gritty and darker version of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis," then "Blade Runner 2049" looks like if "Metropolis" went through a nuclear war.

Outside of the visuals and the world of "Blade Runner," the film gives us a compelling mystery with enough twists to always keep the journey interesting while also having a great sense of humanity and emotions, even with its main character being a robot. The first film asked questions about robots having souls, but this movie basically asks what makes up a soul in the first place. Is a soul memories? Ideologies? Emotions? K certainly seems just as emotional as any other character and has a strong code of honor to not kill anyone with a soul; does that give him a soul?

Like the first film, this one has no shortage of philosophical questions about what makes us human and what it means to be alive. The difference with "Blade Runner 2049" is that it doesn't make these questions tedious or uninteresting.

Overall, while "Blade Runner 2049" has some pacing problems from time to time, that is a minor nitpick to an otherwise great movie. Even if you're never seen the original "Blade Runner," the visuals are breath-taking and never lets up, while the world the film creates is imaginative while still being startling in its bleakness. The story is compelling and the acting gets the job done, with Ryan Gosling turning in a subtle performance. I highly recommend this film, if only to watch the most visually appealing science fiction movie of the last ten years.

Final Grade: A-
 

 

Movie Review - "My Little Pony: The Movie" (2017)



E'Yup. I saw this movie in theaters. Was it awkward? It was weird to say "Can I get one ticket to 'My Little Pony: The Movie' please?" but other than that, I was the only one in the movie theater. That's what going at 10 p.m. on a Thursday night will do for you.

But I can honestly say that, if you're a fan of the show "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic," then you will enjoy this movie. It is the same humor, characterization, storytelling, and mythology as the show but on a much bigger budget and slightly changed animation style. If you don't care for "Friendship Is Magic" or outright hate the show, then you will hate this movie just as much if not more.

This movie isn't going to convert any haters or disbelievers of the show into fans. Like "Friendship Is Magic" in general, it is targeted mostly towards little kids and this movie excels at keeping those toddlers and little girls engrossed. The adult fans of the show? It depends on what they're looking for.

Personally, watching "My Little Pony: The Movie" makes me appreciate the most recent season of MLP even more because of how much the characters have changed. My biggest grip with the movie is that it focuses too much on certain characters, in particular Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie, giving them all the good lines, jokes, and standout moments. This leaves little for the three other main characters, Rarity, Applejack, and Fluttershy. AJ and Fluttershy especially get the shaft in this movie, as they get almost nothing to do over the course of the film outside of be in the background.



Even when Fluttershy gets to do something in this movie, it usually resorts to her traditional cowering in the corner and being afraid of all the threats they face. The problem is that the show's version of Fluttershy has evolved beyond this point. In seasons six and seven, she has overcome her fears and anxieties to become a rather assertive yet still kind pony. The movie's version of her resorts back to the early seasons, where every episode she had to overcome a new fear that hadn't surfaced until that episode.

Also, not a single line of dialogue from one of my favorite new characters in "Friendship Is Magic," Starlight Glimmer. This shows that the movie is stuck in the early days of the show, where characterization is basic and mostly revolves around simple ideas for the characters, like Rainbow Dash always talking about being awesome or Rarity only focusing on fashion. That was a little disappointing to see.

While I would prefer to watch a good two-part of the show over this movie, like "To Where And Back Again" or "Twilight's Kingdom," the movie still isn't bad. It nails the style and sense of humor of the show and it does feel grand seeing our heroes traverse an entirely new land to discover all new races with their own backstories and mythology. I even enjoy the animation style since it makes all their movements feel more fluid and connected, and the detail on all their eyes is wonderful.

If you're a parent with a little kid who wants to see this movie, they will have a good time. If you're an adult fan of the show, try going to a late showing on a weeknight when there won't be any kids around and you will at least enjoy some parts of the movie. If you're on the fence about this movie, then this probably isn't for you.

Final Grade: C+

Movie Review - "To Be or Not to Be" (1942)



There is a distinct charm to "To Be or Not to Be" that is unlike any other film I have seen. The main reason for this is that this is one of the few films that turned the Nazis and Hitler into a farce while we were in the middle of World War II. There were plenty of films that depicted the Nazis as evil and the worst thing that has ever happened to the world, especially during the mid-1940s, but little to no comedies. The only other that comes to mind is Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator," which is interesting since both films were made by filmmakers who had direct stakes in Hitler's march through Europe.

Director Ernst Lubitsch, originally from Poland, made a movie that not only treated Hitler like a bad joke, but also shows the strength and resolve of the Polish people. "To Be or Not to Be" is enduring because of smaller characters, like the Polish bit-player in a theater troupe who quotes "Hamlet" when he witnesses the destruction the Nazis cause. Little moments like that which show the vulnerable side while also juggling the comedic aspect makes this a movie worth seeing.



The film follows a theater troupe based in Warsaw, Poland who want to put on a play that satirizes the Nazis and Hitler but ends up getting cancelled the night the Germans invade Poland. Some time after this, a professor-turned-spy for the Nazis secretly gets his hands on a list of names associated with the Polish underground resistance movement and heads back from England to Poland to give the Gestapo the names. A young Polish pilot, Lt. Sobinski (Robert Stack), hears about the professor's plans and heads back to Poland to stop him from reaching the Gestapo. The first person he reaches out to is the leading lady of the theater troupe, Maria Tura (Carole Lombard), which quickly involves her husband Joseph (Jack Benny) and the rest of the troupe as they masquerade as Nazis and the Gestapo to fool just about everyone else.

The star of the movie is Jack Benny, who takes absolute delight in his ability to fool everyone with his acting talents, proving to himself that he is the greatest actor alive. The best scenes are with him, pretending to be the professor, interacting with the head of the Gestapo, Col. Ehrhardt (Sig Ruman). These two have the most inflated egos and take every opportunity to pump more air into theirs just to impress the other.

Overall, I had a lot of fun with "To Be or Not to Be." The plot is a bit confusing at times, especially once Sobinski lands back in Poland, but once Jack Benny has to go undercover as a Nazi spy, everything turns into comedic gold. Yet the film never loses its human charm with its representation of the Polish people in the face of such adversity. Without saying too much or too little, it says everything that needed to be said about Hitler and the Nazis.

Final Grade: B
 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Number 17 - "Ebirah, Horror of the Deep" (1966)



Fun fact: The first movie review I ever wrote on my own time was for this movie, "Ebirah, Horror of the Deep" or "Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster." I wrote it for a website I spent a lot of time on when I was a teenager, called Toho Kingdom, back in 2010. At the time, I was in the middle of my film studies in college and wanted to test the waters of film criticism to see if I was any good at it. Not only did I have fun writing the review, but I felt like I was pretty good at it.

For that reason, "Ebirah, Horror of the Deep" holds a special place in my heart, since it started me down this path and led to over 500 film reviews or articles for this site. In fact, I've worked it out perfectly so this re-review of "Ebirah" is the 500th piece of writing that goes up here, which is fitting now that I think about it. Anyway, let's get to the review proper.

"Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster" is an odd-duck in the franchise, probably because it was not meant to be a Godzilla movie. During the writing process and pre-production, the role of Godzilla was to be played by King Kong and the director of the first Godzilla movie, Ishiro Honda, was set to direct. But Toho thought that this movie would do far better with audiences if they replaced Kong with Godzilla. Honda, who was extremely excited to work a vastly different King Kong film of this caliber, walked off the project when the switched to Godzilla, whom Honda believed was being overplayed by Toho. Instead, Honda would go on to direct "War of the Garganutas" in this same year and make "King Kong Escapes" later on. While Toho was still convinced this idea could do well with Godzilla and hired a relatively new director, Jun Fukuda.

While watching the movie, it is pretty obvious that Godzilla was meant to be Kong, especially given how the ape acted during "King Kong vs. Godzilla." In this movie, Godzilla is awoken by lightning, something that gave Kong power in the previous movie, he shows affection towards an island girl, and routinely uses his strength and fists to solve his problems in fights as opposed to his atomic breath. In fact, Godzilla rarely uses his beam in this movie, just on a couple of finishing moves. But, with that being said, it still feels like the genuine Godzilla with his mannerisms and body language.

This is also the first Godzilla film to not take itself too seriously, with the previous films having dire plots that typically had the fate of the world hanging in the balance, and only some comedic moments. "Ebirah" mostly takes place on a remote island that concerns only a handful of people, while also taking many opportunities to tell jokes and create a more light-hearted atmosphere. For that reason, I do enjoy this one, if only for the human scenes.



After a disastrous shipwreck in the south Pacific, the brother of the one of the crewman is convinced that he is still alive. He contacts government agents to tell them to continue the search, but they've tried everything to find the ship and came up empty handed. So the brother, Ryota, sets out to find him on his own. He finds a couple of guys at a dance marathon who want a boat and the three of them go to the docks and find the nicest boat there, heading inside to admire it. Once there, the three are held at gunpoint by the "owner" who says they can stay the night on the boat if they love it so much.

But everyone wakes up the next morning to discover that the boat has been launched by Ryota, who says they are coming with him to find his brother. The other three are helpless, since they don't know how to operate a boat. We quickly learn the owner of the boat is actually a runaway thief who was using the boat as a hideout spot.

As the boat gets closer to its destination, they get stuck in the middle of a massive storm which destroys most of the ship. But to make matters worse, a giant claw rises out of the ocean and destroys the boat as they jump out. The four land on a small island and learn it is being controlled by the villainous Red Bamboo, a terrorist organization that is building nuclear weapons on this island.

To make sure no one discovers their hidden location, the Red Bamboo have a monster guarding the island, the Sea Monster Ebirah, a giant lobster. The Red Bamboo have also been stealing island natives from Infant Island, Mothra's territory, to use as their slave labor force. One of these natives, Dayo, escapes from the Red Bamboo and meets up with our four other characters, who begin working on a way of getting off the island while also saving the natives.

And it just so happens that our heroes stumble across Godzilla sleeping in one of the caves on this island.


My biggest problem with this movie are all the conveniences to the plot. Our heroes just so happen to pick the same boat that the thief is on. They just so happen to wind up on the same island as the Red Bamboo. They happen to come across Godzilla's cave. In fact, Godzilla being on the same island as the Red Bamboo is very convenient. It all fits together a bit too loosely, where everything seems up to random chance that it worked out this way. It's not a huge problem, but definitely one that shows up more on repeated viewings.

Ebirah is a very simple monster with not a whole lot to him, just a big lobster with huge claws. There isn't much that sticks out about him but he does his job as the villain kaiju well enough.

As expected from the plot synopsis, Mothra plays a part in this movie. But it is a very minor role, since she spends all but the last 10 minutes of the movie asleep and the natives of Infant Island spent the rest of the film trying to wake her up. Once she does finally awaken, she ends up being the one to save the day and bring the natives home.

One thing I always thought about this movie when I was a kid was that this particular Mothra was the same one Godzilla killed back in "Mothra vs. Godzilla," since they looked similar and this one spent the whole movie being asleep, which I thought meant she was dead. I honestly thought they weren't trying to wake her up, I thought they were bringing her back from the dead through interpretive dance.

Anyway, for the first time in this countdown we have some decent acting. Akira Takarada plays Yoshimura, the thief, and he adds a lot of charm to what could have been a straight forward and dull role, especially when he outsmarts the Red Bamboo at every turn and uses their limited resources to their advantage. Kumi Mizuno plays Dayo, and she has a great ferocity to her performance, like she would kill you with any hesitation. While our other three main leads, Ryota, Ichino, and Nita, are mostly around for comedic relief and do a nice job of it.



Comedy is always tricky when it comes to kaiju movies, since it is so at odds with the rest of the genre. Typically, it is done best when used in small doses to lighten the mood and keep a pleasant atmosphere when the monsters aren't around. But "Ebirah" goes all in on the comedy and most of the time it works out well thanks to Ichino and Nita. Their out-of-place yet kind-hearted attitudes and general sense of surprise at all the crazy things in this movie goes a long way towards this films light-hearted atmosphere.

Of all the Godzilla movies, "Ebirah, Horror of the Deep" is the most chill and relaxed one. It doesn't set out to do much in terms of plot or action. Rather, it tells an interesting story about a bunch of odd-balls who happen to stumble into a monster movie and uses comedy at nearly every turn. For that reason, I enjoy it well enough. The monster scenes aren't terribly impressive, especially since most of the fights are in the water, but they're not terrible either, especially when Godzilla gets vicious on Ebirah.



One last thing I'd like to point out about this movie is something I mentioned back in my "Godzilla vs. Megalon" review, about how "Mystery Science Theater 3000" looked at two Godzilla films - "Ebirah" was the other one they looked at. But, unlike in "Megalon" where their commentary complimented the overall ridiculous and cheap nature of the movie, I don't think they gave "Ebirah" a fair shot. Sure, they made fun of the ludicrous nature of the plot, but spent most of the time talking about how Mothra needs to get an alarm clock, how the explosion at the end of this movie was the same used in the beginning of "Megalon" (it was stock footage in "Megalon" and was filmed for this movie, so they had it backwards), and how they didn't know the title of the movie (even though they skipped the opening credits for some reason).

Most of what they offered was pretty poor, even by their standards, which is probably due to "Ebirah" actually being a fairly good movie. The best they could do is provide dumb commentary that a wrestling announcer would normally give.

Overall, this is a fun yet different Godzilla. It is a welcomed change of pace, especially since it does well at comedy and a smaller-scale kaiju movie. It doesn't do anything particularly special but provides a nice solid experience. My view on this movie has changed a bit since my initial review in 2010, where I admitted how much I loved it, but I still agree that it is one of the more memorable films in the franchise.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Number 18 - "Godzilla: Tokyo SOS" (2003)



We are now officially out of the "Bad" tier of Godzilla movies. Now begins the "Okay" tier, the shortest category among Godzilla films. These next few movies are all pretty average or alright, where they either have the same amount of good and bad moments or are just plain from start to finish. And we begin this tier with my definition of an average Godzilla movie - "Godzilla: Tokyo SOS."

This is the only Millennium film that doesn't take place in its own separate universe, but rather is a direct sequel to "Godzilla X MechaGodzilla," completing the Kiryu Saga. In many regards, it feels like the same movie as its predecessor, but has a few added benefits in the form of more monsters and better looking fight scenes, plus a reduced role for the bland human characters.

"Tokyo SOS" takes place roughly one year after the events of the last film, where the end of the battle between Godzilla and MechaGodzilla left both monsters heavily wounded, including the lose of Kiryu's Absolute Zero Cannon and his right arm. Godzilla has gone into hiding for the last year, while the Kiyru squadron continues to repair MechaGodzilla. But it seems that Godzilla's wounds have finished healing and he now begins to make his way back to Japan.



Meanwhile, in the snowy mountains of Japan, we are reintroduced to an aging doctor, Shin'ichi Chujo (Hiroshi Koizumi), one of the original explorers who was on the first mission to Infant Island in "Mothra." One night, while spending time with his grand children, Chujo is visited by the Shobijin, Mothra's tiny twin fairies. Rather than coming here to destroy humanity, like I am positive they truly want to do, the fairies are here to make a plea to all of Japan - Stop the MechaGodzilla project and send Godzilla's bones back to the ocean where they belong.

Chujo, the fairies, and one of his grandsons Yoshito (Noboru Kaneko) debate about what should be done. The fairies say the dead should be left alone for all eternity and that mankind is trying to play god by resurrecting something long gone. Yoshito, who is a mechanic for the MechaGodzilla project, says that Japan needs Kiryu to protect the country from monsters like Godzilla. So the fairies make a promise - If they return Godzilla's bones to the ocean, then Mothra will always be there to protect Japan from Godzilla.

This is a simple yet effective exchange between two sides that both make sense. From the perspective of the fairies, using the bones of a dead monster to fight other monsters is just asking for trouble, as well as the whole spiritual aspect. On the other hand, Japan is constantly attacked by giant monsters and, like it or not, MechaGodzilla is their best form of protection. I would also be hesitant to take the fairies promise, since Japan knows how strong Godzilla is and that Mothra, being a giant creature that will only attack sweaters, probably couldn't do much to stop Godzilla.



Although, an interesting thought I had recently is that this Godzilla didn't show up until just after the Japanese government got their hands on Godzilla's bones, and as we will see this Godzilla is always heading right for MechaGodzilla. Even though we're never told how this Godzilla was created, the theory is that the Earth made a new Godzilla with the sole purpose of getting the original Godzilla's bones back into the ocean. Meaning that if the government were to send MechaGodzilla to the bottom of the ocean, this Godzilla would never bother them again.

Jeez, it's almost like putting the bones of a dead animal inside your giant robot was a bad idea or something! Then again, the fairies are being just as cryptic as ever. They could just say how humanity messed up with Godzilla's bones and that sending them back to where they came from would end Godzilla's rampage. But nope, they have to be vague and non-descriptive!

Anyway, while Yoshito feels conflicted about the fairies message, the Kiryu squadron gets word that Godzilla is approaching Japan. The prime minister is reluctant to send MechaGodzilla out to fight him, mostly because repairs are not complete and he heeds the warning of the twin fairies. We get a pretty cool naval battle scene with ships and submarines attacking Godzilla, which leads into a neat sequence of Godzilla arriving in Tokyo Bay and the explosion of underwater mines matching up with his theme song.

But while the military strike feels massive in scale, it goes about as well as you'd expect on Godzilla. Like trying to take down an armored truck with foam noodles. Godzilla rampages through Tokyo for a little bit, appearing to head towards MechaGodzilla's base. But just before Godzilla gets to the heart of Tokyo, the young grandson of Chujo, Shun (Itsuki Oomori), learns about a way to save Japan. He takes a page out of his grandfather's book and constructs a large version of the Mothra symbol using school desks. And it actually works, the moment Shun finishes constructing the symbol, Mothra appears to defend Japan from Godzilla.



For me, Mothra is the best part of this movie. Without her, this is just another "Godzilla X MechaGodzilla" but with even more dull characters. Mothra adds so much variety to this movie and its fight scenes. Not only has she gotten a new bright and beautiful color scheme, but she fights unlike any other monster in the Millennium series - like a Showa monster! She has no beams or many weapons at her disposal, which means she has to think on her feet...or feelers I guess.

Her opening fight with Godzilla might be my favorite scene in the movie, when she makes her presence known to Godzilla and then proceeds to cause hurricane force winds. It doesn't bring Godzilla down, but it does bring up a lot of dirt to create a smokescreen, which Mothra uses as an opportunity to sneak behind Godzilla and send him hurdling to the ground. It returns to the classic days of monster fighting, when it wasn't all about energy blasts and massive amounts of damage, but outsmarting your opponent and using your strengths and their weaknesses to your advantage. To my knowledge, this is the only monster fight like this in the entire Millennium series, and it is a welcomed change of pace.

Godzilla and Mothra spend a while fighting until Godzilla finally starts getting the upper hand and throws Mothra into a building. Mothra breaks out her "weapon of last resort" which are her scales. They weaken Godzilla and reflects his atomic breath back at him, but the more she uses her scales, the more difficult it becomes for her to fly. Once enough of her scales are gone, Mothra will become immobile and helpless against Godzilla.

This leads into another great moment where the fairies sing Mothra's theme song. In previous Mothra movies, this song was heavily overplayed and butchered to the point that it lost all of its meaning. But this version is beautiful and sung wonderfully, complete with a nice background tropical island tune to make it unique. Because of Mothra's struggle against Godzilla, the song feels natural at this particular moment and works nicely in this scene.



After the prime minister sees Mothra's losing fight against Godzilla, he decides that he will not let Mothra sacrifice herself in vain, and immediately orders MechaGodzilla to join the attack. This leads to about a ten minute sequence of the Kiryu squadron prepping MechaGodzilla before sending him into combat. Again, they were going with a realistic approach, and I still say it was a dumb approach to MechaGodzilla in the first place.

But yeah, MechaGodzilla is send in to fight Godzilla while Mothra has been grounded due to losing too many scales. This leads into a fight between the two Godzilla's that feels exactly like the last time they fought - with Kiryu barely making a dent and then going down to just one or two blasts of Godzilla's atomic breath.

Are you starting to see why Mothra is my favorite part of this movie? Because without her, this is exactly like the last Godzilla movie.

There's a couple of neat parts, like when Kiryu uses a building for cover and the two monsters basically fight around and through the building. Or when Kiryu shows off that his new rocket pack can cause a massive explosion upon impact that does send Godzilla to the ground. But other than, it is a copy-and-paste of the long fight from "Godzilla X MechaGodzilla."



The fight changes up a bit when two Mothra larva show up in the middle of downtown Tokyo to continue to fight their mother cannot. But since they're newborns, they do about as well as you'd imagine against Godzilla. But as all three Mothra's gather for a tender moment, Godzilla has to ruin it by blasting the three with his beam and kill the adult Mothra. It is a sad moment to watch Mothra catch on fire and then explode from the inside out. Too bad it's ruined by the noises the Mothra larva make that make them sound like chimpanzees.

At the same time, Godzilla causes a critical injury to Kiryu that incapacitates the robot. Yoshito happens to be in the area, to save his grandfather and nephew, and is sent in to repair MechaGodzilla. This leads into a long sequence where the Kiryu squadron has to get Yoshito to the robot, while the pilots protect them from Godzilla, and then the repair scene. This is low point of the movie for me, since it all feels way too basic and lifeless. It's like I'm watching someone play a video game, trying to complete the mission and get to the next checkpoint, with no emotional investment in their struggle to get to MechaGodzilla or repair him.

In fact, that's the problem with the majority of the Millennium series, it just feels like its going through the motions without understanding why it has to do that. Like every human character is just a checklist of clichés or plot points. Even if the Heisei series had plots that were ludicrous and made no sense, I'd still take the silly stories over the ones that don't even seem to be trying.



As expected, Yoshito is successful in getting MechaGodzilla repaired and he reengages the fight with Godzilla. And suddenly, this is the point where Kiryu starts getting cool. First he wrestles Godzilla to the ground, while also destroying the old Tokyo capital building, then Kiryu turns his new right hand into a drill arm that pierces Godzilla's skin and puts a massive hole in him. He follows that up by showing his replacement for the Absolute Zero Cannon - the Triple Hyper Maser Cannon. The pilots unleash the full force of that cannon, as well as the regular maser cannon in Kiryu's mouth, right into Godzilla's open wound. How come we couldn't get a kick-ass MechaGodzilla like this in the last movie, or even earlier in this movie?

To top things off, as Godzilla is stunned by Kiryu's onslaught, the Mothra larva wrap Godzilla up in their silk string so he cannot go anywhere.

The film ends with MechaGodzilla preparing to strike the final blow, only for the original Godzilla to take control of Kiryu's body. He grabs the captured Godzilla and the two of them fly out into the Sea of Japan to finally bring things to an end. The people of Japan comment on how this feels like a hollow victory, since it cost them MechaGodzilla, but act like they've learned not to mess with the souls of the dead...even though the end credits reveal that they still have a vault filled with the DNA of every monster that's ever attacked Japan, including the original Godzilla.



From what I understood, this was added to try and push Toho to make a third film in the Kiryu series that never happened. The plan for the third movie sounded pretty neat though, with robot versions of many different kaiju, including Varan, Baragon, and Mothra. But maybe that was for the best, since both entries in this series were average at best.

"Godzilla: Tokyo SOS" is a definite improvement over "Godzilla X MechaGodzilla," if only for many of the Mothra scenes. This film emphasized how beautiful and majestic Mothra is, while also how different she is from any other monster in the Toho movies - one that relies on intelligence and wit instead of brute strength. Some of the fight scenes between the two Godzilla's were better here, but only near the end when MechaGodzilla broke out his new weapons. The human characters and the story are still just as bland as ever, but at least they seem to be downplayed this time. Overall, I wouldn't call this one a bad Godzilla movie, but it certainly isn't a good one either.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Movie Review - "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" (2017)



It's been more than three years since "Kingsmen: The Secret Service" came out and my opinion on the movie has changed slightly. In my initial review, I talked about it is a smart yet stupid action movie with a sense of class and dignity to their mission to save the world. Since then, while I still think there's an air of class to the majority of the movie that you do not get from other dumb popcorn flicks, the scene in the church is way too much and really takes the audience out of the movie. Even if that's the part everyone remembers, it was still unnecessary and went against the atmosphere and tone of the rest of the film.

Well, with the sequel, "Kingsmen: The Golden Circle," imagine that church scene but stretched out to nearly two-and-a-half hours combined with an unbelievably cynical and hateful attitude towards all living creatures. That should give you an idea of how disappointing and off-putting this movie is.

The main thing this movie wants to stress is over-stylized action or violence, but does so in the most asinine or mean-spirited way possible. Even from the opening scene, we're reintroduced to our lead character Eggsy (Taron Egerton) through a CGI car chase sequence through London, where we quickly learn the whole "manners maketh man" point of the first film has gone out the window just to showcase flashy action sequences.

Throughout the movie, we're subjected to multiple cases of our "heroes" doing some really terrible things, like when Eggsy has to use a condom tracker on an unsuspecting woman by any means necessary, or nearly drowning a former colleague (Colin Firth) to job his memory.



I can forgive the utterly ludicrous and stupid plot of using recreational drugs to take over the world, but what I cannot forgive is how negative and horrible these people can truly be. This is not fun to watch, and feels more like an exercise in patience and strength of will.

The only scene I enjoyed in "The Golden Circle" came near the end of the film, after Colin Firth's character has returned to his normal spy-self and Eggsy, his former apprentice, tells Colin that he has a girlfriend now even though it's against Kingsmen protocol. Colin, usually being the stick-in-the-mud who always sticks to regulations, tells Eggsy about what he felt when he was dying - nothing. No fond memories, and no images of loved ones, because he did not have any. At that moment, he realized that emotional attachments are not a weakness, they make life worth living.

And this wonderfully touching and poignant moment is immediately followed up with this films' equivalent of President Trump condemning everyone in the world who has ever taken recreational drugs to a slow and painful death and then calling himself a hero for doing so. Look, I understand that Trump is, for lack of a better term, "Trump" (and to keep politics out of these movie reviews), but the scenes with the President in this movie are painful to watch. I do not care what your stance on Trump is, but this movie is made so much worse because of its lack of empathy, which can be traced back to these President scenes.



The other part of "The Golden Circle" that gets me riled up is how it tries to build up having an all-star cast with dozens of big name stars. Channing Tatum is in the movie for all of five minutes, nor does he really do anything cool. Jeff Bridges is in the movie for about three minutes and the most exciting thing he does is throw a cowboy hat. Halle Berry has a few scenes but spends most of it staring at a computer screen and reading off reports.

And yet the "star" that gets more screen time than all three of these great actors put together, but was barely mentioned in advertising, is Elton John. I swear Elton John is onscreen more than Colin Firth. He supposedly plays himself, but this version of Elton John curses up a storm and threatens to fight several bodyguards and scientists. His inclusion would have been fine if he did not have such a prominent role and have so many speaking lines that were clearly written by a screenwriter instead of Elton himself. This version of Elton acted more like Deadpool than someone whose been knighted by Queen Elizabeth.



If you're going to have someone play themselves in a movie, give us the genuine article, not some fantasized idea of that person.

There is very little I enjoyed about "Kingsman: The Golden Circle." If the film was not boring me with its popcorn-flick science or unnecessary plot twists, it was being unbelievably cynical, taking all the drive and passion out of the action sequences. It tries to throw everything it can at the screen and hope that something sticks, only for most of it to miss the screen entirely. If you're interested in seeing this film, save yourself the trouble and rewatch "The Secret Service" instead.

Final Grade: D

Movie Review - "American Made" (2017)



Here's a type of story that is getting more difficult to tell with each passing film - the fading tale of the American Dream.


There have been a plethora of movies that have done this well, including "Goodfellas," "American Movie," "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," and more recently "The Wolf of Wall Street." Films that showcase the highest of highs in passionate greedy glory and revile in the lowest of lows when egos become bigger than bank accounts and reality comes crashing back down. There's a hard truth to these movies that hands down righteous justice to our characters, some going from a job that's better than being the President to being an average nobody, while still taking the time to glorify how amazing their lives were.


"American Made" is the newest film to join this genre, and while it has some crazy moments here and there, it exchanges the pomp and circumstance for a more gritty realistic interpretation. This ends up taking a lot of the excitement out of the movie, especially when Tom Cruise's performance is so mellow and underwhelming.


The movie follows TWA pilot Barry Seal (Cruise) after he contacted by CIA agent Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson). Schafer hires Seal to be a private pilot for him, assigned to take pictures of small Central American villages and weapon shacks with a special camera inserted into his airplane. Eventually, Seal is contacted by the Columbian drug cartel to smuggle their produce into America without being caught, which Seal agrees to do. Seal is eventually caught, but Schafer bails him out and hires him for a new task of helping out the contras in Nicaragua by bringing them weapons and even training them on his own private airfield, all while becoming filthy rich.




My problem with "American Made" is Tom Cruise's performance as Barry Seal and how lifeless he feels. Maybe this is because he's always looking over his shoulder or because he knows he cannot trust anyone, but Barry never seems to take joy in anything he does. He has enough money to fill up his whole closet and burying more in his backyard, and I do not think he ever raises his voice above a whisper. Since he always acts like he's in the middle of his lowest low, he is so unemotional here that it takes most of the fun out of his rise to glory.


The camera work in "American Made" is pretty horrendous, with lots of shaky or unsteady camera movement and unnecessary zooms in the middle of some shots. The cinematography is going for a home video from the 1980s feel, but it draws so much unnecessary attention to itself that it took me out of the viewing experience.




While Barry Seal's journey from TWA pilot to CIA henchman to drug and soldier delivery man is not a boring one, and even has some great moments about the kind of power rush he can only get in America, "American Made" lacks any sort of charm to its journey. There was not any scene that stood out as being entertaining or note-worthy, just a dull version of "Goodfellas" or "The Wolf of Wall Street."


Final Grade: C-


Movie Review - "The Lego Ninjago Movie" (2017)



If you asked me what my favorite animated film of the 2010s is so far, I would say "The Lego Movie" without any hesitation. Aside from one of the most visually stunning animated movies of the last decade, as well as having a visual style that no other movie has ever had, it has this massive sense of imagination and wonder where you feel like anything could happen. The movie even has a fantastic twist that makes the whole movie far more understanding and heartwarming.

It's a movie where Batman, Star Wars, pirates, and astronauts obsessed with building space ships all set out on this massive adventure across equally imaginative landscapes. How can anyone hate this movie? Even "The Lego Batman Movie" still had this great sense of wonder and scope while still doing its own thing by acting as a love letter to everything Batman has ever done.

Which is why it pains me to say "The Lego Ninjago Movie" is such a disappointment. Not only does the film mostly limit itself to action movie clichés, but it does little with its Lego-setup, never fully utilizing that unique concept to its full potential. The movie feels like a 2-D animated kids adventure flick that was converted into a Lego movie at the last minute.

Told through the perspective of an old antique shop keeper (Jackie Chan), he tells a little boy the story of Lloyd (Dave Franco), a Lego teenager who lives in Ninjago City, a relatively peaceful metropolis except for the occasional attack from the evil Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), Lloyd's father. But everything Garmadon attacks the city, the Ninjago ninjas are always there to stop his evil plans with their giant mechas. Lloyd is the Green Ninja of this group of six ninjas, trained by Master Wu (also Jackie Chan), who face their toughest battle yet when their plan to finally defeat Garmadon goes horribly wrong.



Part of the problem is that most of these characters leave no impression on me. Most of the ninjas get little to no screen time or development, outside of Lloyd, and are mostly delegated to churning out one-liners or there to fight the bad guys. Lloyd is irritating at times and average at other points. The relationship with his father gets grating especially when the film forces hacky father-son moments near the end of the film.

The only character I enjoyed in the movie was Zane (Zach Woods), the ice ninja of the group. He's a robot, programmed to act and think like a teenager, which leads to the funniest lines in the movie. He tries to act like he has all these problems every other kid in high school has, only to find out the way his "mother" yells at him is by screaming the old internet dial-up noise. He's like a comedic-version of Data from "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

This movie would have been so much better if Zane had a bigger focus or if he were the main character in general. He has more quirks and charm than Lloyd does, so that would have at least saved the movie. Instead, he spends most of the time in the background with an emotionless face. This makes it even weirder in the later parts of the movie when the ninjas need to concentrate and calm their minds to gain new powers and they never bring up the fact that one of them is a robot.



The biggest problem with "The Lego Ninjago Movie" is that it does not take any chances. The reason the previous two Lego movies stood out is because they tried to do so many different things with their characters and plot, some things that no other movies have done before in terms of scope. But this movie is so straight-forward and by-the-books. Even from the opening scene where Jackie Chan explains how to look at something from a new perspective, the point is made that this is your standard animated kids film with little to no surprises.

As a kids movie, "The Lego Ninjago Movie" is fine. It is bright and colorful with a fine story that will keep kids entertained. But as a fan of the Lego movies to this point, I feel let down by this film because it lacks that same grand sense of wonder. The film does not take a piece of plastic and make a grand adventure out of it for people of all ages, it just makes an average yet clichéd little kid movie.

If "The Lego Movie" is like a kid using his toys to reenact "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, then "The Lego Ninjago Movie" is like a kid lazily playing on a Sunday afternoon.

Final Grade: C-

Friday, October 13, 2017

Number 19 - "Godzilla vs. Gigan" (1972)


 
As I said in my "Godzilla vs. Megalon" review, "Godzilla vs. Gigan" and that movie are so intertwined that it is almost impossible for me to separate them. Mostly because both of these movies are products of their time. In the 1970s, the daikaiju boom of the 1960s had lost its luster and monster movies in Japan were seen more as children's films than ones for adults. This certainly was not helped by Daiei making cheesy and campy Gamera movies that were always aimed at little kids, and the Godzilla movies started doing more comedic scenes with implausible plots, even for monster movies.

Both "Godzilla vs. Megalon" and "Godzilla vs. Gigan" are the height of that campy, cheesy era, while also keeping their budgets low and relying probably far too much on stock footage. So not only were these movies made for kids, but they were often lazy too.

The reason I put "Godzilla vs. Gigan" ahead of "Megalon" is because it feels like there was more effort put into the movie. Not much more effort, but enough to notice that there are some good monster scenes to be found here, even if you have to wait some time to get to them. In a way, "Gigan" feels like more of what we got in the 1960s with Godzilla, with its sense of atmosphere, monster battles and music, while still going heavy on the 1970s acid and counter culture antics.



Our movie begins with a comic book writer, Gengo Kotaka (Hiroshi Ishikawa), trying to sell his ideas for monsters to his publisher, in particular monsters centered around homework and strict mothers. His publisher thinks his ideas are terrible, even though they are what he asked for when he wanted something far away from the kaiju on Monster Island. Gengo starts looking for inspiration and goes to a newly built area of Japan known as World Children's Land, with it's main attraction being a Godzilla tower that is just as tall as the real Godzilla.

While Gento is there, he bumps into a young lady who drops a weird tape. He quickly finds out this girl is being chased by the head of security Kubota (Toshiaka Nishizawa), who says that Gento shouldn't worry about what she was up to. Gento secretly holds onto the tape as he meets with the chairman of the World Children's Land, Fumio Sudo (Zan Fujita), a young prodigy who is far too busy with astrological calculations to pay much attention to Gento, outside of saying he wants to bring about peace to the entire world.

Eventually, we find out exactly what the chairman means by "peace," and that is the age-old villain perspective of bringing about peace by wiping out all of humanity. In this case, the chairman needs that tape to broadcast a signal into outer space that would put the monsters Gigan and King Ghidorah under his control. He would then use his two monsters to destroy all human life and anything that stands in his way. Oh, and it turns out the chairman and Kubota are aliens from the Space Hunter Nebula M galaxy - giant cockroaches disguised as humans.

We'll ignore the obvious logical hole of a tapes' signal reaching beyond the vacuum of space and simply ask why these aliens went to all the trouble of building a land for children and proclaiming peace when all they ever wanted was to wipe us out. Wouldn't it just be easier to take the tapes, summon King Ghidorah and Gigan and conquer the world? Why even give humans a chance to learn about your plans and stop you?

These aliens have the same problem as the Futurians in "Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah" - they give our heroes an unreasonable number of opportunities to foil their plans.

Gento eventually meets up with the girl who got her hands on the tape and her hippie boyfriend who threatens Gento with an ear of corn (though Gento believes it is a gun). They play one tape and it has a strange effect on the kaiju on Monster Island - they start talking. Yup, in the English version of this movie, we get to hear Godzilla and Anguirus have a full conversation about how something funny is going on. Personally, I would have liked to see them do an entire Quentin Tarantino-like exchange, maybe the opening scene from "Inglorious Basterds," but this is still just as hilarious.



In the Japanese version, Godzilla, and Anguirus have this conversation through word balloons, like a comic book, and it is just as silly. They only have two conversations in the movie, one about how Anguirus needs to go check out what's going on, and another about how Anguirus needs to keep up if they want to save Tokyo from Gigan and King Ghidorah.

Gigan's design is one of the more unique kaiju out there. A chicken-looking monster with hooks for hands, one giant red eye shaped like a Cylon visor from "Battlestar Galatica," with a buzz saw on his chest and huge oddly-shaped fins on his back. His design is certainly the most memorable thing about his character, because otherwise he comes across like a dummy who has no idea how his body even works.

Once Gigan and King Ghidorah are introduced, they spend about twenty minutes destroying Tokyo together until Godzilla and Anguirus show up to engage in the titular monster battle. Most of the destruction scenes with these two monsters are comprised of stock footage from previous Godzilla movies, especially the shots with King Ghidorah, though it is set to Akira Ifukube's amazing music.

In fact, that's another thing I should address - this film is not only made up of mostly stock footage, but also all stock music. Just about every piece of music used in "Godzilla vs. Gigan" was composed by Akira Ifukube, but was taken from about ten or twelve different movies that he worked on in the past. Honestly, I don't mind this as much as the stock footage, because Ifukube's music is used well here, adding more impact to many of the monster scenes that it would otherwise lack.

I like to think of "Godzilla vs. Gigan" as a best-of compilation for Akira Ifukube's music.



Anyway, after another long swim, Godzilla and Anguirus arrive in the middle of Gigan and King Ghidorah's attack on Tokyo, leading us into a battle that takes up the entire third act of the movie, like "Megalon" and "Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla." But unlike those two films, "Gigan" has these four monsters battling all over the place, starting in the oil refinery district of Tokyo, before moving to a large grassy plain, and then to the World Children's Land, where the Godzilla Tower gets in on the action and starts shooting the real Godzilla with its beam.

One aspect I'll give this film credit for is making it look like Godzilla's having the toughest battle of his life (up to this point), as he gets smothered by King Ghidorah, blasted by Godzilla tower, is practically blind at one point in the fight, and Gigan becomes the first monster in the Showa series to make Godzilla bleed. This was not an easy fight for Godzilla and Anguirus, and it is only due to the interference of our main characters that Godzilla is victorious.

Gento and his friends are able to infiltrate the Godzilla tower at one point and plant explosives in the elevator, causing the head to blow up and destroying the tapes that controlled Gigan and King Ghidorah. With the two being practically incapacitated, Godzilla and Anguirus take advantage of this and do some gravity defying stunts, as Godzilla tosses King Ghidorah around like a rag-doll and Anguirus slams into both monsters with his spikey back with the thrust power of a rocket.



If there's one part of this fight that I'm not a fan of it, it is the suits they choose for King Ghidorah and Godzilla. This Ghidorah, while not too different from the one that was around in the 1960s, looks much skinnier and doesn't have as much detail on the heads and eyes, making it look like this Ghidorah went on a diet. While this Godzilla suit had been previously used in the last three Godzilla movies, the wear-and-tear on the suit is clearly visible. Near the end of the movie, you can practically see the suit falling apart. The bad monster suits bring me out of the fight nowadays, especially as the fight goes on and it relies less on stock footage and more on the crappy cheap suits.

I would normally say the fight between the four monsters was the best part of the movie, but honestly the human characters are so energized and quirky that I liked most of their scenes better than many of the monster fights. Gento's girlfriend was especially great, since she constantly used her martial arts skills to fight off the cockroaches henchmen and wasn't afraid to call Gento out every once in a while. It felt like they played an active role in this attempt to save the planet, maybe even more so than Godzilla.

Still, "Godzilla vs. Gigan" is not well-put together. It is cheap, from its monster suits to its use of stock footage, convoluted, and more than a little silly. But it never takes itself too seriously and always has an upbeat attitude thanks to its main cast of characters. The soundtrack all of Akira Ifukube's greatest hits and is used wonderfully in this movie. I'm not entirely sure if I'd call this one "so bad, it's good," but it does blur the line between the two.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Number 20 - "Godzilla vs. Megalon" (1973)



These next two Godzilla films have way more in common for me than they probably do for most people. Not only were numbers 20 and 19 made less than a year apart, they have the same director, both involve aliens using monsters to take over the world while Godzilla comes in to stop them, they were made on the cheap, and are the only two Godzilla films that fall into the "so bad, it's good" category. To me, "Godzilla vs. Megalon" and the next entry in our countdown, "Godzilla vs. Gigan" are inseparable.

"Godzilla vs. Megalon" is one of the last entries in the first series of Godzilla films, known as the Showa series. At this point in the series, these films were no longer aimed at the general film-going audience, but little kids who were more used to Saturday morning cartoons about super heroes fighting off bad guys. And this film fully embraces that attitude with its pleasant exterior, convoluted yet silly plot, and the way Godzilla is framed as a super hero instead of world destroying menace.

This film was made on an extremely tight budget, far smaller than most other Godzilla films, and was reportedly filmed over the course of three weeks. In fact, originally this wasn't even supposed to be a Godzilla movie, but was going to be a solo film about Godzilla's side kick, Jet Jaguar, but Toho thought that kids wouldn't be sold on just Jet Jaguar, so they included Godzilla at the last minute.

Interestingly enough, the design of Jet Jaguar was supposedly created by some kid in elementary school. Toho let kids submitted their entry for Jet Jaguar's design, and this is the look they choose - A robot that looks like Jack Nicholson wearing sun glasses and a Mister Rogers sweater. Oh, and Jet Jaguar can change sizes, between being human-sized and giant monster-sized...and yet, Jet Jaguar supposedly programmed himself to do that, even though he's only equipped to do remedial work, so how he's able to change size on a whim is anyone's guess.

Are you starting to see why this falls into the "so bad, it's good" category?



The plot of the film begins with a real world issue at the time - underground nuclear testing. It turns out these tests had disturbed an ancient race of people that had been living underground for millions of years in the city known as Seatopia. These nuclear tests have destroyed more than a third of their country, and now they wish to retaliate against the surface dwellers by unleashing their giant monster to give us a good butt-whooping. Their monster is the cockroach monster that has Christmas-tree drills for hands and can spew napalm, Megalon.

Their way of unleashing Megalon is through interpretive dance and a stern talking to from the Seatopian leader. They also didn't seem to have a solid plan once Megalon reached the surface, outside of cause a general panic and a little destruction.

So a film that was motivated by the horrors of underground nuclear tests has quickly devolved into the ancient ancestors of Easter Island unleashing a bug monster that can't be tamed without the help of a Jack Nicholson-looking robot and will cause some mild inconvenience in Tokyo. I would say this is the dumbest plot of any Godzilla movie if it wasn't so hilariously bad that I actually have fun with it.

The first half of the film is spent with the inventor of Jet Jaguar, Goro Ibuki (Katsuhiko Sasaki), his kid brother Rokuro (Hiroyuki Kawase) and Goro's best friend Hiroshi Jinkawa (Yutaka Hayashi), as Seatopian agents hunt the three of them down to gain access to Goro's lab and get control over Jet Jaguar, which the Seatopians plan to use as bait for Megalon. Goro claims to have created Jet Jaguar, but doesn't seem to understand how he works, acting genuinely surprised when he grows, knows how to fight giant monsters, and doesn't listen to his commands. Rokuro is your typical kid character with an annoyingly high-pitched voice and upsettingly short shorts for a little boy, something you'd see often in the Gamera films at this same time. The friend Hiroshi, on the other hand, is the true badass of the film, always engaging the Seatopians in a fight and often pursuing them in car chases, leading to an excellently hilarious chase scene down the side of a mountain and a large flight of stairs.



Eventually, Goro and his gang are able to get Jet Jaguar away from the control of the Seatopians and tell him to go to Monster Island and bring Godzilla back to fight Megalon. Upon hearing that Jet Jaguar is getting Godzilla, the Seatopian controller decides to call up the leaders of the Space Hunter M galaxy (I guess he has them on speed dial) so they can lend him Gigan to fight Godzilla.

I'll give my thoughts on Gigan next time, but let's just say that he and Megalon are two peas in a pod - outrageous designs that scream of the 1970s, but are ultimately both as dumb as a bag of giant hammers. They work fairly well off of each other, as far as evil mutant monsters go, and it makes for a fairly entertaining fight between the two of them and Jet Jaguar.

Of course, Godzilla eventually shows up (though he takes his sweet ass time to swim from Monster Island to Japan), and we have ourselves a two-on-two monster battle. But Godzilla's fighting style is a little different from the previous movies. Instead of mostly using his strength, claws and atomic breath, Godzilla uses...kung-fu fighting and props.

If you were ever wondering what it would be like if Bruce Lee was underneath the Godzilla suit, here is your answer.



Honestly, the fight between these four monsters is pretty entertaining, in much the same way the final battle in "Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla" is fun to watch - it takes up the entire last third of the movie and leads to a few clever scenarios. My favorite part is when Gigan and Megalon trap Godzilla and Jet Jaguar in a ring of napalm fire, something Godzilla would normally be able to walk through no problem, but instead Godzilla just rides Jet Jaguar out of the fire and finally uses his atomic breath on the two villain monsters. It is exactly what I would expect from an over-the-top and silly monster movie.

I should also note that about a third of the monster scenes in "Godzilla vs. Megalon" are all stock footage from previous Godzilla and Toho monster movies. That makes sense, considering this film had to be made in three weeks and I don't mind it nearly as much here as I did in "Godzilla's Revenge." The stock footage isn't incorporated very well though, since one scene has Megalon attacking some jets, but the stock footage shows Gigan's hook hands destroying the planes.

But in the end, I have a ton of fun with "Godzilla vs. Megalon." It is by no means a good movie, and might be one of the worst put-together Godzilla films. But it never takes itself seriously in the slightest and offers a lot of stupid, over-the-top, cheesy moments that I can't help but crack a smile at, especially Godzilla's now-infamous tail slide.

However, if you're going to watch "Godzilla vs. Megalon," there is absolutely a definitive version that makes the viewing experience even better - the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" version of this movie. MST3K riffed on two Godzilla movies, and this one absolutely deserved it, but their jokes only enhance the already ludicrous plot and monsters. As far as I know, there are no cut scenes in the MST3K version, so you get to see the full movie, plus some of the best casual riffing Joel and the bots did in the early seasons of the show.



Overall, this is my go-to definition of the "so bad, it's good" movie. All other films that are hilariously awful are compared to "Godzilla vs. Megalon" for me. This movie is barely held together by scotch tape and bubble gum, has the strangest and most outlandish plot of any Godzilla movie, is centered around a dopey-looking robot that can't even be understood by his creator, and features a monster that knows kung fu. How can you not at least enjoy the absurd nature of this crappy movie?

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Number 21 - "Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah" (1991)

 

This is a Godzilla movie that I'm always on the fence about - On the one hand, it might just be the most stupid, ludicrous, poorly written mess in the entire Godzilla series. Yet, when this movie is good, it is the best of the entire Heisei series. The problem is that those scenes are harder to come by than a good scene with Miki Saegusa.

"Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah" is the third entry in the Heisei series and almost acts as a soft reboot to the series. In the previous two entries, Godzilla had been scaled to roughly 80 meters tall, but Toho realized that this was just too short and wanted to make Godzilla even bigger, scaling him up to 100 meters. This also marked the beginning of Toho reinventing other classic kaijus outside of Godzilla, with the first being his most classic enemy, King Ghidorah, the three-headed golden dragon.

Toho took this opportunity to change Godzilla's size once again and also used it to show Godzilla's origin. I'm not exactly sure who was asking to see what Godzilla was like before he was hit by an atomic bomb, but here it is, for all of its good and bad points.

The film begins with a UFO circling around Japan. The Japanese government tracks its strange path and learns that it passed right over the location of Godzilla, resting deep in the ocean. Eventually, the UFO lands in a field and the military is quick to surround it. But much to everyone's surprise, three humans emerge from the UFO and wish to talk to the Japanese prime minister.

The three tell the government about themselves - they're actually from the future, the 23rd century to be exact, and the UFO is their time machine. They explain that, in the 23rd century, most of the world has been utterly destroyed by Godzilla, who will only grow stronger with time as he absorbs more nuclear radiation. They have come back in time to prevent Godzilla from ever being created and thus ensuring humanity won't be destroyed by Godzilla.

We learn earlier in the film that a Japanese platoon was stranded on a seemingly deserted island called Lagos, surrounded by American battleships near the end of World War II. They had just about given up hope, when suddenly they were saved by a dinosaur, who killed all the American ground troops before retreating due to injuries. After hearing reports about the event from some of the surviving Japanese troop members, some reporters are able to piece together that this dinosaur was still on Lagos island when an atomic bomb was dropped on a nearby island and the resulting radiation mutated the dinosaur into Godzilla.



The Futurians, as those three from the UFO are called, plan on going back to 1945 and move the dinosaur away from Lagos island so that it doesn't get hit with radiation. No dinosaur on Lagos, no Godzilla.

But our first plot hole reveals itself at this point, and it's a pretty big one - If the Futurians had planned all along to go back to 1945 and erase Godzilla from history, then why did they stop in 1991 first? Why tell the Japanese government about their plans at this point when their only intention was to get rid of Godzilla before he was born? Why not just go straight from the 23rd century to 1945? It's not like the Futurians needed anything in 1991 that they couldn't get any where else.

They try to write it off like the Futurians needed to stop in 1991 by bringing along three passengers from the modern day, a novel writer who would eventually write about Godzilla's extensive history, a dinosaur expert, and our dear friend Miki Seagusa, because...they had to find a way to work her into the movie. The problem with this is these three are just passengers. They don't do anything while on Lagos in 1945 other than watch this dinosaur stomp on some American soldiers and then make some Gamera roars when it gets shot by the battleships (I'm not kidding, this pre-Godzilla has Gamera's roars). They serve no purpose other than to look at WW2 in awe.

Anyway, the Futurians succeed in their plan, as they remove Godzilla from the island and return to the present to learn Godzilla no longer exists. Except that, as far as we can tell, very little has changed about the world they live in. You'd think something like Godzilla, the menace of Japan for over 30 years, being erased from history would change things. Maybe Japan would have picked a different prime minister, one who might be more focused on the Cold War or industrial development instead of handling Godzilla. But nope, everything' is the same except Godzilla is gone. Oddly enough, everyone still knows exactly who Godzilla is and what he did.



I'm starting to think this form of time travel is stupid.

But the moment everyone returns to the present, the Futurians show their true colors. When they departed Lagos island, one of them dropped off three tiny future animals known as Dorats, empathic creatures that can be controlled by a computer. As it turns out, they wanted the Dorats to be hit by the atomic bomb instead of the dinosaur, which results in an entirely new monster being created, one that they can control, King Ghidorah.

So I have a question - The film implies that King Ghidorah is pretty useless unless someone is controlling him with a computer, which the Futurians don't start using until 1991. So does that mean King Ghidorah was just sitting on Lagos island from 1954 until 1991 doing nothing? And no one ever noticed the giant three-headed golden dragon just sitting on Lagos until the Futurians activated him?

In any case, the Futurians unleash King Ghidorah on Japan, saying that they will destroy all of Japan except for Tokyo and then rebuild it as they see fit. The military is about as effective at stopping King Ghidorah as they were with fighting Godzilla, except now their enemy can fly. And with Godzilla being erased from history, there is nothing on Earth that can defeat King Ghidorah.

But one of the Futurians, a Japanese woman named Emmy (Anna Nakagawa), turns on the other two when they start destroying her homeland. She tells the novel writer the truth - Japan in the 23rd century basically owns the world. Every major technological advancement came from Japan, causing the country to become the major metropolis of the world. Japan also outright buys entire continents, including Australia and Africa, and uses their advanced technology to defeat Godzilla. There is no war, no pollution and nothing nuclear-powered.

Which means the Futurians are just a bunch of rogue thieves who got their hands on a time machine and want to change history so that Japan isn't the powerhouse of the world...even though the future sounds pretty sweet from Emmy's description. She never tells us why the Futurians were so upset with the 23rd century and why they wanted to change it, so let us just chalk that up to another plot hole.

With Emmy's help, our characters try to find a solution to stop King Ghidorah and the Futurians, with their best plan being to find the dinosaur that becomes Godzilla and hit him with lots of radiation to create a new Godzilla.



This leads to a complicated series of events involving a private industrial company buying their own nuclear submarine that ignores international waters and orders and then stumbles across Godzilla in the Bering Sea. Godzilla attacks and destroys the submarine and absorbs all of its radiation, growing even larger and more violent than before.

Now that the plot recap is out of the way, I can finally say that this story is stupid. Granted, stories about time travel are beyond complicated, but if films like "Back to the Future" can make it seem plausible and tell it in a way that anyone can understand, then I'd expect something a little less absurd from this movie. It can sometimes be funny with how crazy and nonsensical things can get at times, especially when Terminator-like robots start chasing after Emmy just to bring her back to the time machine. Still, it took the film over an hour and 20 minutes for Godzilla to finally show up so that could also be a pacing problem.

Once Godzilla shows back up in Japan, the Futurians immediately send in King Ghidorah to kill him, resulting in our first fight between the two.



This is where the film starts getting good, if not great. These fight scenes are some of the best in the entire Heisei series, with the opening fight between Godzilla and King Ghidorah showcasing some great background and setting effects. Their fight takes place on a large grassy field and every once of the monsters' blasts tears up the field and often shows the type of smoke you'd see with a forest fire. Even though the two monsters mostly use beams throughout their fight, it shows that their attacks do carry immense weight and damage, especially when you see little amounts of damage to King Ghidorah's wings.

The problem with this opening fight though is the pacing and the need to cram in as many human scenes in the middle of the fight. The scenes with Godzilla and King Ghidorah are always cut short when we cut back over to Emmy and friends infiltrating the time machine to blow up the computer controlling KIng Ghidorah. We hardly ever get a moment to just enjoy the fight on its own when there's so many other things going on. It turns what would be an amazing five-or-six minute fight, including Godzilla lifting up King Ghidorah by his tails and slamming him to the ground, into a 15-minute sequence. Lame.

Eventually, they are successful in destroying the computer that controls King Ghidorah and Godzilla destroys the time machine with the two evil Futurians inside before they can return to their own time. King Ghidorah tries to escape but Godzilla blasts off one of his heads and a giant hole in his wing, causing King Ghidorah to fall into the ocean. But the Japanese quickly realize that, because of this new more evil Godzilla, they may have created a far more dangerous and more powerful monster than King Ghidorah.



One thing that annoys the crap out of me about "Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah" is that the film insists that Godzilla is a good monster who would never hurt Japan. They get this from the dinosaur on Lagos only attacking the American forces and not the Japanese, implying that Godzilla has a soft spot for the Japanese. Except that this is the same Godzilla that already ravaged Japan in the previous two movies. Godzilla's behavior is hardly any different in this movie from those other two, so they have no reason to act surprised when he attacks Japan after King Ghidorah is gone. If this were the Godzilla from the 1970s when he was a hero to Japan, then I could buy that, but this particular Godzilla has always been portrayed as evil.

Emmy and her friends think of a new plan to deal with Godzilla, coming to the conclusion that King Ghidorah probably isn't dead at the bottom of the ocean and could be repaired to fight Godzilla again. Emmy returns to the 23rd century to use their technology to rebuild King Ghidorah, but not without admitting her feelings for the novel writer.

In the present, Godzilla arrives in Tokyo and starts to destroy the city. In the middle of his rampage, he spots one of the soldiers he saved back on Lagos and actually seems to recognize him...before blasting him with an atomic ray.

But in the middle of Godzilla's attack, we get the crowning moment of the movie - In an explosion of electricity and technology, King Ghidorah emerges out of no where, with new metal wings and a metal third head, bringing forth the new monster Mecha-King Ghidorah. Set to Akira Ifukube's awesome King Ghidorah theme, Emmy arrives piloting the rejuvenated monster to do battle with Godzilla in the heart of downtown Tokyo.



This is one of the best monster fights in the entire Godzilla series. The effects are always impressive and carry the weight of two huge monsters fighting in the middle of a metropolis, especially when the massive buildings around them start collapsing in on them. Akira Ifukube's music is at its full strength here, providing an even greater impact to the destruction and battle. The pacing is perfect, with nothing to interrupt the fight this time and every action feeling genuine. There is never a boring moment in this fight also, with each one gaining the upper hand at one point or another, especially when Emmy starts using restraints on Godzilla.

For all the problems I have with this movie, the ending fight between Godzilla and Mecha-King Ghidorah makes it all worth it.

In the end, Emmy forces Godzilla back into the ocean, but at the cost of Mecha-King Ghidorah. As she prepares to head back to the 23rd century again, we learn one last thing about her - Emmy is actually related to the novel writer...the writer that she seemed to have a crush on. I guess this film ran out of things to say or do, so it chose to end on the thought of incest!

While "Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah" has more than its share of problem, I cannot bring myself to say I hate it or that it is a bad movie. There are genuinely good scenes here, in particular anytime Godzilla and King Ghidorah fight. While it takes forever to get to those scenes, and even then the film suffers from pacing problems, the effects and music really shine through. The story can sometimes be enjoyable bad, if only for the crazy time travel elements and the stupid plot holes. Watch this one with some beer and some good friends and you'll have a great time.