Monday, March 31, 2014

Movie Review: "The Grand Budapest Hotel" (2014)

Wes Anderson often leaves a weird taste in my mouth, but I find this a good thing. You can immediately tell when you’re watching a Wes Anderson film just by the framing of the shot or the incredibly dry humor. He has a style of his own that may not always leave the best impression on an audience, but he is fully dedicated to it.

Most of his films feel like we are watching a play from inside of a doll house. The camera is always set up so that the actors are right in the middle of the shot, yet we still see the entirety of the room they are in, with much blank space. The actors also do no move unless they absolutely have to and often have blank or vague expressions on their face, much like a doll. 

Yet this style of filmmaking works when given the right set of actors and atmosphere. Anderson has found just the right actors to make this work, which includes Bill Murray, Edward Norton and the Wilson brothers, Owen and Luke. Anderson takes full advantage of their delivery and comedic presence, which makes even the most vague expressions a laugh riot. 

Anderson’s newest film, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is exactly what we’ve expected from him in the past and delivers exactly what it promised: An ensemble cast, with that deadpan delivery that leaves you either laughing or intrigued. 

Our tale is told from a flashback within a flashback, as a famous author (Jude Law) recollects a tale that the owner (F. Murray Abraham) of the once famous Grand Budapest Hotel told him and how this establishment came into his possession. This takes us to the 1930s, when Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) was in charge of the hotel and took on a young lobby boy, Zero (Tony Revolori), as his apprentice. When one of Gustave’s many love interests passes away under mysterious circumstances and leaves a priceless painting to him in her will, suddenly her son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) wants Gustave dead and will do anything to stop him.

If there’s one thing that blew me away about “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” it was its ability to move so fast with deadpan humor. Most of the humor in this film comes from the expressions and reactions rather than the dialogue or actions themselves. Watching Jason Schwartzman simply raise an eyebrow and let out a quiet “Shit” as a costumer chokes on food can go a long way in this film.

I’ve always associated deadpan humor with how slow yet empty it can be. That they’ll eventually get to the joke, just don’t expect much. Yet “The Grand Budapest Hotel” keeps the style but moves at lightning fast speeds. Once a joke is made, the film quickly moves on to the next gag or plot point. 

For example, Jeff Goldblum plays an attorney for the deceased old woman but is eventually hunted down by the family’s bodyguard, played by Willem Dafoe. They have an extended chase sequence through a museum and almost every shot is used to convey the intensity or the comical reactions of Goldblum being chased down. 

The discussions between Gustave and Zero move at a brisk pace, which makes both of them seem intelligent and quick-thinking. This helps to set up the pacing once they are chased by Dafoe, Brody and the police, led by Edward Norton. These two are, as described by the writer, the last bastion of hope and sanity in a world that has become dark and cruel. 

Everyone else in the movie is either caught up in greed and pride or devoted so much to their job that they can’t see it harming others. Yet Gustave and Zero are sophisticated, charming and caring. They always manage to find the bright side in a dark situation, even being trapped in prison. 

The chemistry between Fiennes and Revolori is the highlight of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” as the experienced yet vague master of the hotel trains the willing and able assistant. He does not do it because he has to, but because he sees kindness in Zero. Perhaps, even a bit of himself. 

Final Grade: B-

Why do we watch Superhero movies?

If you look at the highest grossing films of the year since 2008, you’ll notice a reoccurring trend. Movies like “The Dark Knight,” “The Avengers” and “Man Of Steel” keep showing up. I also would not be surprised if one of the four Marvel movies being released in 2014 tops the charts as well. Because of this, it is safe to say that superhero movies are some of the most popular films to see right now. 

This is a more recent trend, as before Marvel’s filmic universe began with “Iron Man” in 2008 and before Christopher Nolan directed “Batman Begins,” most superhero movies were not taken seriously and received either lukewarm success at the box office or terrible reviews with the critics. You look at films like the “Fantastic Four” saga, “Daredevil,” “Electkra,” “Catwoman” or any Batman film not helmed by Tim Burton, and you will see that superhero films had become a laughing stock of their former selves. 

The superhero film genre gained its status with the creation of Richard Donner’s “Superman” and Tim Burton’s “Batman” in the late 1980s. Both films featured stellar casting, wonderful effects and visuals and were able to please the general audience as well as diehard comic fans. It taught film studios that there was a viable market for superheroes, and were even more pleased when looking at the box office returns. 

What probably caused the fallout of superheroes in the late 1990s and early 200s is not that audiences got bored or uninterested in these characters, but that film studios were poorly treating the characters they were creating. A good example of this would be the Joel Schumacher Batman movies, “Batman Forever” and “Batman & Robin.” Instead of telling the story of the caped crusader that would fight to make sure no seven-year old boy has to go through what he experienced, we get the tales of the campy and over the top Adam West Batman. 

So this begs the question of what separates current superhero movies from these terrible ones? Why do we watch movies like “The Dark Knight” but are drawn away from others like “Steel”? Why are we so drawn to the idea of superheroes?

To look at this, we have go back to ancient Greek gods. The tales of Hercules, Zeus and Poseidon. These characters hoisted feats of incredible strength and power, but still honored virtues of humanity. A willingness to help out others and fight for the good of man kind. Some were tragic tales, like Icarus, who was prideful and it cost him is life. While others are dark or disturbing, like Hades, the ruler of the underworld and must oversee the dead. 

In a way, super heroes are the modern day equivalent of these classic Greek characters. Many have tragic backstories, like Batman or Spider-Man, who had to overcome the death of their loved ones but use the values they instilled to inspire greatness in others and themselves. Others, like Superman and Wonder Woman, are tales of those who wish to share their strengths with the world and protect it from those who wish to do harm. You even have villains like Lex Luthor or the Joker, meant to antagonize and create chaos in the world, because they believe they are better than others.  

It is interesting to see the differences in characters between the two main comic book companies, Marvel and DC, and their philosophies. Marvel will usually focus on characters that an audience can relate to, like many of the X-Men, Iron Man or Captain America. They will give these characters flaws that are all too common in society, which makes us root for them. 

DC, on the other hand, focuses on characters that an audience could look up to, like Superman, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Batman. Instead of giving their characters flaws, they make uphold strengths in society that anyone in the world could adhere to. This makes their characters more of role models than anything else. 

There are of course instances were both Marvel and DC will reverse this stance, but this is usually the norm. It is this kind of attitude that has kept both of their companies alive for so many years. Not owning iconic characters, but how they write their characters to make the audience either want to understand these heroes or aspire to be like them.

Perhaps this is why superheroes have thrived as of late. Filmmakers have begun to understand why heroes were appealing first and making that the focal point of their movies. Tony Stark might be a sarcastic, ego-inflated douche at times, but he never lets that get in the way of what we feels is right for the world and is willing to fight to protect it. 

If superhero movies continue to get made in the same manner as “The Dark Knight” or “The Avengers” then not only will they continue to have success at the box office, but they will please audiences long after their time in the theater. 

"South Park" - "Screw you guys, I'ma going home!"

“South Park” is one of those intriguing phenomenon of television. It is one of the few television shows I can think that had a dramatic shift in storytelling, attitude towards others and characters, yet still managed to draw people in by the droves. Thousands of anticipated people would watch the stop-motion-esque animated show to find out who they would talk about next.

Yet, I find myself unable to get invested in the show anymore.

Let’s start at the beginning. While I did not watch “South Park” from the very beginning, I did catch it on Comedy Central from time to time. I saw these four little boys go on adventures in a town full of unique yet captivating characters. Each character had some redeemable characteristics, with Stan being the voice of reason, Kyle being the blunt yet straight to the point one, Kenny the quiet one who always died in horrific ways and Cartman was the troublemaker. 

These personalities were not too exaggerated in the early seasons, which made it much easier to connect with their journeys. It was the towns people who were weird and over the top. To look at the first few seasons of “South Park” from the perspective of our four main characters, is to see the world from the point of view of child. Stan and Kyle believe they are the sane ones in a world of crazy and sometimes stupid people. That they are the ones who are always right. As flawed as that may be, it is something that most children can relate to. 

It is for these reasons that I felt the first eight seasons or so of “South Park” were well handled, funny and treated its audience with maturity and dignity. 

Yet around the start of the ninth season, something changed. The tales of “South Park” became more about what was currently in the news. Not so much about what was going on in South Park, but more about the world and its state of affairs. 

Instead of episodes about the local police officer learning to read so that he could figure out what a ransom note says, we would get an episode about how the paparazzi has made Britney Spears go crazy and want to kill herself. Instead of Cartman buying an amusement park only for himself, we get Cartman pretending that he has Tourette Syndrome so that he can say whatever he wants and get away with it.

My problem with this change in perspective is not that they are talking about what is currently in the news, but how they are treating it. For example, in the Britney Spears episode, they show her attempting suicide many times and treat the paparazzi like a secret cult. 

This stops being funny because it is only the negative, only the rotten parts of our society. What they are doing is a biased perspective on the world that only intends to point out how much our world sucks. There is hardly ever a positive light on something, or even given a fair balance of positive and negative. 

This brings me to my next point on their main source of comedy: Insult comedy. Whether we like it or not, around season nine, “South Park” switched to from suburban comedy, like “The Simpsons,” to insult comedy. 

There is an incredibly thin line in insult comedy, between “funny” and “distasteful.” If you go overboard with the insults, odds are it will stop being funny and feel more like a direct attack on whoever the insults are directed at. 

The key to insult comedy is respect. Admiration for all human beings and the willingness to forgive when others admit mistakes, yet still willing to criticize. To be willing to point out the positives as much as the negatives, if only to give a fair and balanced portrayal. 

One of my favorite comedic television shows of all time is “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” In that show, the main characters are forced to watch the worst movies ever made and, to survive, they rip the movie apart, cracking jokes at the absurd situations, bad acting and poor filmmaking choices. 

The reason this show works so well for me is because the creators’ respect flies off the screen. Even if they make fun of a bad movie, they still respect the movie and understand how hard it is to make a film. That a movie getting finished is a bit of a miracle, and they don’t want to fully ruin that miracle. Their jabs are always directed at the movie, never the people who made the movie. They have the utmost respect, even if they don’t like the movie. 

The same cannot be said for “South Park.”

Most of the comedy comes across as hateful or unnecessary, like an episode where all of South Park loses internet connection and suddenly the families turn into a parody of the Joads from “The Grapes Of Wrath.” As if the episode is saying this is what we turn into with our precious internet. A group of dimwitted, single-minded buffoons who can’t function without computers or access to social media. 

As simple as the early seasons of “South Park” were, at the very least they weren’t trying to call people out. They were not attempting to insult others. Just merely tell the tales of four boys as they grow up in an absurd place. 

It almost comes across like the creators of the show, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, look to see that someone is on a higher pedestal than themselves and wish to either knock those people off their pedestal or put themselves on a higher pedestal. To me, that is disrespectful and tasteless. 

If you want to do insult comedy and talk about celebrities, the government or trends in society, that’s fine. But you should also be willing to give a fair and honest portrayal of whoever you are insulting. Don’t just talk about how much they suck, but also what they’ve given to the world or how they’ve affected it. 

At the very least, be willing to show that you don’t think you are above these people. Crack a joke at yourself, or be willing to admit to your own flaws. To my recollection, this is something “South Park” does not do, so they are guilty of that as well. 

Above all else, show that you respect and care about those around you. Treat them like you want to be treated and not simply as joke material. If you don’t do that, then it makes you look an asshole. If that’s the case, why should I care about what you have to say?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Reality Television - Is it any good?

Television, much like film, is about playing to your audience. Outside of news broadcasts and talk shows, television shows are an illusion. If the show does something out of place, odd, inconsistent with the everything else or just plain stupid, then the audience is going to notice this, thus breaking the illusion. 

It is much like a magic trick. A good magician will make you believe that he just sawed a woman in half, while a bad magician will never draw you in from the beginning. The audience is intelligent enough to know it isn’t real, but a good enough magician can make the audience forget that. 

Television and film works in a similar manner. Too many inconsistencies or flaws, and the audience will lose interest. 

This is possibly why reality television saw a gigantic rise in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but also, for that very same reason, why it has declined in recent years. 

When reality television began, it was simple, straight forward to spoke directly to its core audience: Young adults and teens. Shows like “The Real World,” “Big Brother” and “Survivor” were the first to begin this trend. 

The people, especially in “The Real World” broke away from the standard norm of other shows and tried to tell the story of every day people. There were no tricks or flashy effects, just normal people who have a camera following them around. You got to see the insides and outs of their lives and people adored it. 

“Survivor” thrived due to its attempt to say “these people are literally stranded on an island and must outthink, outwit and outlast everyone else to survive.” For the first few seasons, this idea was the focus of the show, people living in inhospitable environments to see who is the toughest. Simple yet captivating. 

It was because of shows like these that caused a gigantic boom of reality television shows. They were the most basic magic trick that television could pull and it was working wonderfully. 

Perhaps because the trick was too basic is why we no longer see this genre work as well as it did. There are certainly reality shows still around, but they’ve either been pushed to the far corners of television, like any show on MTV or VH1, or have become the butt of many jokes, like Juan Pablo of the most recent season of “The Bachelor.”


Shows like “Survivor” worked because they kept its core idea to a minimum and focused on that. When you try to expound upon that and make it something far more than that, the illusion of it being “reality” is broken.

These are no longer the stories of real people. They have been removed from reality and have become scripted. Real life has no script, no planning or even much of a point. Now if you watch any show attempting to be like “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette” you’ll see artificial challenges added in or people changing their attitudes and personalities for the sake of the show.

Even shows that once were the basis of all reality shows has lost their edge, specifically “Survivor.” I said that the first few seasons maintained the point that these contestants had to survive on their own with no help from any one else. That is true, if you look at some of the screenshots of contestants from earlier seasons, you’ll see they’ve been reduced to practically a skeleton by the end of the season. 

Now, that’s not the case. They look just as healthy and fit by the end as they do from the beginning. That is because the crew now keeps the contestants well fed, bathed and taken care of when they aren’t filming. They are not surviving on their own, but are being treated like actors. It removes the whole point of being a “reality” show. 

In a way, reality television has simply become another way for people to get their fifteen-minutes of fame. To glorify themselves on camera for the world to see. 

So does this mean there are any good reality shows still on television? To me, there are still a few. 

The first which comes to mind is “The Amazing Race.” When it started, it felt like an imitation of “Survivor.” As the latter deteriorated, the former stuck to its roots and kept the show focused on the competition and the personalities of the contestants. The show has necessarily changed since it started, but it didn’t need to. 

Another would be “Pawn Stars.” This one is more in line with “The Real World,” as it is about the lives of these gentlemen who own a pawn store. That’s it, there is no gimmick or anything added in by a producer. These are their lives and we watch, learn and laugh with them. 

To me, that is what reality television should be. It is unmanipulated, uninterrupted and unaltered life. It is an attempt to get as close as possible to the insane randomness of life. We don’t seek it for intriguing plots or wonderfully written characters, but because this is who we are and why we do what we do. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

On Second Thought - "Saving Mr. Banks"

Because of the many award-winning films that came out around its release, “Saving Mr. Banks” was passed by and mostly forgotten. You don’t see many people talking about it or mentioning that it was a good film that was worth seeing. 

Why is that? Was it merely because of all the other films that came out around the same time? Possibly because “Frozen” was a much bigger Disney hit and people only want to see one Disney film at a time? Or is it because, maybe the film isn’t as good as we thought? 

For that reason, let’s take a second look at “Saving Mr. Banks” and see if a bit of time and reflection has changed some outlooks on this movie. 

In my initial review, I talked about how Tom Hanks practically disappeared in the role. That we were witnessing the real Walt Disney and not some actor trying to be him. The film was able to capture the essence of what it means to be a kid and the charm of all Disney movies. There is also a wonderful juxtaposition between Disney and Travers as they butt heads constantly, which makes the a conflict that never gets old. 

“This is the driving force between Hanks and Thompson,” I wrote. “A man who has always embraced being a child and a woman who wishes to forget about being a child. Neither of them are wrong in their pursuits and attitude but they’re both people who wish to dominate and to have everything go their way.”

In the end, I gave “Saving Mr. Banks” a B+.

One thing you might note is missing from my original review is something negative against the film. I obviously had problems with the film, otherwise I would have given it an A. But as time has passed, those flaws which slightly bugged me when I saw the film have now become big glaring problems in the story. 

I now see “Saving Mr. Banks” as two different films coming together as one. The first film is the story of how “Mary Poppins” was created, and the rivalry between Walt Disney and P.L. Travers for the creative vision of the film. 

The second film is an Australian outback piece of a poor family with an alcoholic father but still wants to care for his children. 

The first film is a wonderful piece about two people with enormous egos and always work to get their way. They are both extremely passionate people but work on opposite ends of the spectrum. The second film is clunky, slow, off-putting and goes on much longer than it needs to. 

Granted, the Australian sequences serve as a flashback for Travers, as a way to explain why she is so stuck up and snobby during the making of “Mary Poppins.” My question is, did every little sequence need to be there? 

Did we really need so much detail and focus on something that could be simple to explain? The flashbacks could have been done in two or three scenes, instead of taking up nearly half the film. 

There is a long and extended sequence in the Australian flashbacks where Colin Ferrel’s character has to give a speech on behalf of the bank during a fair. It doesn’t really add anything to the film other than giving us information that we already knew: The father is usually drunk, but he loves his kids and will do anything for them. 

My problem with these scenes is not that they’re particularly bad, but that they are taking away from the much better scenes, the ones with Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson. 

One thing a film should always attempt to do is find the best aspect that it has to offer and focus as much attention on that. In the case of “Saving Mr. Banks,” that would be the relationship between Walt Disney and P.L. Travers. Thus, the flashbacks only serve as a distraction and take away from the film. 

Another aspect worth talking about is the ending. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, but let’s just say what happened in the film deviated from real life. In actuality, when all was said and done, P.L. Travers despised “Mary Poppins.” 

If they wanted to change what happened to give the film a happy ending, that’s fine. I can’t help but look at what happened and find simple ways to give that a happy ending. You can make Ms. Travers hate “Mary Poppins” but still have Walt admit that they tried their hardest to make the film she wanted and are damn proud of the results. The fact that the movie got made at all is a miracle. The fact that it is a movie beloved by millions all over the world is something even greater. 

In the end, both Walt and Ms. Travers got exactly what they wanted. Ms. Travers got a chance to tell the story she wanted to share with everyone and now everyone loves Mary Poppins. Walt got to make the movie he had always dreamed of giving his daughters and got to relive his boyhood fantasies. 

For that reason, I cannot hate “Saving Mr. Banks.” It is still a great movie, even if most of the Australian scenes are unnecessary and take away from the rest of the film. It is a bumpy ride and has a pacing problem, but overall it is worth it to see Tom Hanks play Walt Disney and have a fiery rivalry with Emma Thompson. 

Initial Grade: B+
Revised Grade: B-

Films I love, but everyone else hates

After writing my last post about films I hate but everyone else loves, I realized it would be fair if I touched on the opposite end of the spectrum. To discuss the films I genuinely enjoy but others despise. 

I use the term “despise” loosely in this case. Most of these films received mixed reviews upon their release, but in the case of some I have seem reviews where critics hated the film. It is all a matter of opinion and no two critics are going to come out with the same feelings on one film. Such is the joy of art and discussing it, many things are open to interpretation and perspective. 

Like the last one, if you do not like these movies, I completely understand. My comments are never aimed at those who like or dislike the films I look at, but merely the films themselves. How they made me feel, the impressions they left upon me and the experience of watching them. 

With that said, here are the films I love, but everyone else seems to hate. 

“The Hangover” (2009)

Many of the negative comments I see on “The Hangover” are directed at the rude, unnecessary and gross humor of the movie. That there is far too many fart and dick jokes and not enough of any other kind of humor. 

I felt the humor of “The Hangover” was varied and usually hit the right marks. Most of it lied in the creative premise of a bachelor party gone wrong and the attendees not remembering what happened, slowly being fed that information. That way the audience is in the same boat as the main characters, their reactions mimic our own and can even be funny in their own right. 

Most of the characters are likable (except Zach Galifianakis who is a moron with no sense of reality) and they keep the film afloat. If it weren’t for Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms, this film would sink fast but their spontaneity keeps me interested. 

Granted, I do think the sequels are crap, but thats more so because they are unimaginative and retread the same ground as “The Hangover.” No new jokes and more focus on Galifianakis, who is honestly the worst part of the first film. 

For what it was, I enjoyed “The Hangover.” It kept me laughing and gave us an interesting and creative plot. 

“Kick-Ass” (2009)

I’ve discussed this in my “Kick Ass 2” review, but I felt that “Kick-Ass” was the sleeper hit of 2009. Funny writing that was to the point, a diverse range of characters that kept you interested, a booming soundtrack with range, beautiful cinematography on the fight sequences and a stylistic approach to a coming-of-age story. I did not expect any of that going into the film but was impressed by how much work and passion was put into the film. 

Most of the complaints I’ve heard against the film were against the second main character, Hit Girl. A thirteen year old girl who gets repeatedly beat up, shot at, tortured and nearly killed, but that isn’t afraid to kill someone in return. 

My response to this is, if Hit Girl isn’t okay, then what does that make Alex DeLarge from “A Clockwork Orange”?

Alex is no different from Hit Girl. They both live in a world were violence and crime are the standard and each feel that, to survive, one must be violent and cruel. They both take joy in it, but only because they are so young that they don’t know any other way. 

“Kick-Ass” isn’t being violent for the sake of being violent. It is giving us a story about a bleak and dark world where crime is rampant and has gotten so bad that normal people have decided to dress up like super heroes in an attempt to stop them. This film takes that premise as far as it can go, even if that route is bloody and violent. 

“Son Of Godzilla” (1967)

This one is here because, for as long as I can remember, “Son Of Godzilla” has been one of the most despised Godzilla films. That feeling has died down a bit in recent years, but you still see some people who utterly hate this film.

I’ve tried to understand why and I feel there is only one thing that could make people hate this film: Minya, Godzilla’s son. 

Some fans feel that Minya makes Godzilla look like a wimp. Like declawing a tiger, it would not have the same affect. 

For me, I look at it in a different light. Minya doesn’t weaken Godzilla, he gives Godzilla depth and emotion. It turns an otherwise brainless monster bent on destroying Tokyo into a caring character who wants to preserve his race. 

A constant theme running throughout “Son Of Godzilla” is one of protecting the future. Not just so that we live better lives, but so our children can live a better life than us. The human characters are on a deserted island, conducting tests on a weather machine, but only wish to us it to make inhospitable areas of the planet suitable for vegetation. 

This theme continues with Godzilla and Minya, as he trains Minya to be just like him. Only over the course of the film does he realize that Minya doesn’t want that and comes to respect and love his adopted son. 

For a daikaiju film, that is amazing to me. It isn’t exactly complex, but just the right amount to give Godzilla and Minya character and charm. I love this film for that. 

“Ghost Rider: The Spirit Of Vengeance” (2012)

Now, I understand why some would hate this film. It is a terribly made movie, with over the top acting, a nonsensical plot, laughable action sequences and lines that make you tilt your head in confusion.

For those very same reasons, I enjoy this film. “Ghost Rider: The Spirit Of Vengeance” is one of those “so bad, it’s good” films. One where you can admit that what you’re watching is crap, but you also laugh at its awfulness.

When I went to this, I went in with zero expectations and ended up having a blast. How could you not? It’s about a super hero with a flaming skull who rides around on a flaming motorcycle in leather clothes and if you stare into his eyes he will steal your soul. This is not made any easier when this ridiculous hero is played by the king of zany and over the top, Nicholas Cage. 

Watch this one with a beer and some friends and you will have a great time. 

“Cloud Atlas” (2012)

This one makes the list because, based on what I saw, reactions were split right down the middle. People either loved it, or they hated it. 

I can see and understand both positions. The film is three hours long, it takes well over an hour before any of the six plots start to get interesting and you need a diagram to understand what is going on. 

For that reason, I felt “Cloud Atlas” was almost an experience. Not unlike others, such as “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “The Tree Of Life,” this movie puts you in a state of mind where you aren’t so much along for the ride with the characters of the piece, but like this is all a memory of a long time ago. That you’re recalling these events rather than witnessing them. 

I also feel that, for a film that contains six different stories, three hours is amazingly fast. Not once was I bored or uninterested and each piece moved at a fine pace. 

“Cloud Atlas” impressed me so much that I felt it was the best film of 2012. It was unlike anything I had ever seen or since and it was an achievement on so many levels. Not just story telling or effects, but on a subconscious level. 

Isn’t that the great mark of true work of art? It sticks with you long after you watch it, and gives you something to talk about. Whether you hated it or loved it, it still makes you think. It gives you something to talk about and consider.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Movie Reviews: "The Green Slime" (1968)

It is always fascinating to see two entirely different nationalities work together on a film. While it shows the love of cinema knows no bounds, there is always the problem of the language barrier during production.

This is especially the case with the Japanese, as their films are more about subtlety and being somber than anything else. So when you combine them with the over the top action-packed Americans, something is bound to get lost in translation. 

Take for example the little-known film “The Green Slime,” which was produced by an American studio and stars American actors, but was filmed entirely in a Japanese studio with several key filmmakers being Japanese. Most notably being the director, Kinji Fukasaku. 

Fukasaku had a long and outstanding career in both Japan and America. In his native land, he directed in several genres, most notably the Yakuza genre (Japanese Gangster) from the 1960s through the 2000s, creating films such as “The Graveyard Of Honor,” “Under The Flag Of The Rising Sun,” and “Battle Royale.”

This consistently got the attention of American filmmakers, as they kept asking for his services. His most notable work in America would be directing the Japanese segments of “Tora! Tora! Tora!” A job that was originally given to famed director Akira Kurosawa, but he turned down due to creative differences. 

I like to think of Fukasaku as the Japanese equivalent of Martin Scorsese. He is always willing to give any type of film a shot, and wants to touch all sorts of genres, even the less desirable ones. Yet he always finds a way to add a creative edge to his work that makes his films worth watching.

In the not too distant future, humans live peacefully and have advanced so far in technology that scientists aboard the most advanced satellite have run out of things to do. That changes when a giant meteorite is heading towards Earth and we only have a day before it destroys everything. 

Without going through an elaborate plan to send miners to blow up the meteor like in “Armageddon,” the government quickly sends a team of astronauts to dispatch the meteor. What they find on the surface of the meteor might be just as dangerous. 

What I noticed most about this work was how it felt exactly like the work of an Ishiro Honda daikaiju film. Honda’s films, most notably the Godzilla films, had elaborate sets, expansive miniatures, carried themes of unity through the nations yet still had a fear of the beyond the stars. 

All of that is present in “The Green Slime.” Even more so, it seems like pieces and sets were taken directly from Honda films. The first third of the film revolves around stopping the meteor, something that Honda did with one of his more somber and quiet pieces, “Gorath.” 

The monsters in this film start out at a microscopic level and consume anything they touch. This is also similar to “The H-Man” or even “Matango,” both films directed by Ishiro Honda. 

Even the set of the meteor looks similar to a slightly colored version of the Planet X set from “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero.” 

Perhaps I’m reading too much into it and noticing similarities that are merely coincidences. The way I see it, this is not an attempt to rip off the works of Ishiro Honda, but to praise them. 

The movie never attempts to parody these situations or ridicule the work of other Japanese filmmakers. There is an air of competence throughout the film, always taking everything seriously, even down to the scientific explanation of how these alien creatures can grow. 

As such, “The Green Slime” comes across like a tribute to the kaiju films of the past and all the zany situations that come from them. It is fun, even if a little silly at times, but never so much that it becomes cheesy. The actors are competent in their performances even if the story is straight forward. 

If you like science fiction or Japanese films, give this one a shot. If you couldn’t get into the Godzilla films or think something like this is overdone, then this isn’t for you. 

Final Grade: C+