Monday, August 18, 2014

Godzilla & Gamera: Similarities and Differences


Godzilla has transcended many limitations of his niche genre and has become a pop culture icon. Whether or not you've actually seen one of his movies, you are aware of what Godzilla is. He has a movie career that expands over sixty years and thirty movies, longer than both James Bond and Doctor Who. Godzilla has made his impact on the world, whether through its anti-atomic weapons message, the excitement and fun in his movies, merchandising or his many spin-off creations.

In the mid-1960s, when Godzilla's popularity was at its height in Japan and space adventure films and shows were what people wanted to see, there were dozens of filmmakers trying their hand at making giant monster movies. Every studio seemed to have their answer to Godzilla, including "Gappa," "Daimaijin" and "Monster X From Outer Space."

But the only other giant monster that seemed to enjoy success was Daiei's answer to Toho's King of the Monsters: The friend to all children, Gamera. Or as he would be renamed later, the Guardian of the Universe.


If there was ever any other giant monster that could give Godzilla a run for his money, it would be the fire-breathing turtle with huge fangs and can fly. Ridiculous? Certainly. But, for that very same reason, people enjoy watching Gamera's wacky antics as he fights monsters like the flying terror, Gyaos, and the alien monster with a giant knife for a head, Guiron.

With a career that started in 1965 with "Gamera, the Invincible" and has lasted through the 2005 with "Gamera: The Brave" and another rumored film in the works, Gamera has over a dozen films and has also gained fame around the world.

But why is it that monsters like Godzilla and Gamera have achieved success and recognition over the years, and not other giant monsters? Why have other Japanese monsters faded into obscurity? What is it about Godzilla and Gamera that gives them appeal?

I believe there are many factors, but the biggest one is how humans are incorporated into the Godzilla and Gamera movies.

When you think about it, in the face of such giant creatures who are unharmed by our weapons, we look insignificant and puny. It would be easy to make us look like nothing in the face of these monsters, and thus the human characters would be cast aside and forgotten about. What can we do to stop these massive threats?

But one thing the Gamera and Godzilla films did was never forget where they came from. These films are always focused on the human characters, rather than the monsters. Rather than showing only monsters attacking a city or blowing up the military, they show humans dealing with tragedy or loss that was caused by the giant kaiju and then show how we respond to these events. Along the way, we find out about the existence of these monsters and suddenly our need to stop them grows we more dire. Yet even the face of these insurmountable odds, we never stop trying to defeat our new foe.


In 1954's "Godzilla," it opens up with the creƤture destroying several boats with a huge flash of light. The first thing the movie does is show the families of the sailors on those sunk vessels, begging for any news on what happened and if their loved ones are still alive. The situation becomes even more dire when they get a report that only three crewmen lived, and the families begin to cry and claw at the doors to know which three men lived.

Other the opposite side of the spectrum, we have "Gamera vs. Guiron," which starts out with two little boys playing around and hoping that they could go into outer space. They miraculously get their wish, as a space ship just happens to show up right in front of them as the alien craft auto-sets itself for another planet. It's a good thing that Gamera catches this and follows them to make sure they arrive saftely.

"Godzilla" lets us know right off the bat that this won't be just a rampaging monster movie, but a sad tale of loss and tragedy and how we respond to it. "Gamera vs. Guiron," while not going the same route as "Godzilla" still puts its human characters in the front of everything else, as Gamera is now watching over the boys.

Other giant monster movies think that audiences attend solely to see the monsters and nothing else. But if there is no heart or human connection to any of these events, then why should we care about of it?


It should also be noted that both Godzilla and Gamera offer an important lesson to humans and how they treat the world. Godzilla's is obvious: don't use nuclear weapons or else we might create something far more powerful and dangerous than a bomb.

Gamera, especially in his later films, became a guardian of the earth. Not a guardian of humanity, but the planet. He cares about every living thing, which includes animals, trees, mountains and people. He will protect the earth from anything that threatens it. But in these later films, they make a point that, since Gamera isn't looking specifically after humans, if we posed a big enough threat to the planet, through our continued use of pollution, deforestation and nuclear testing, Gamera could turn on us. We may have a guardian on our side, but he might not protect us if we keep hurting the planet.

Things like this give the Godzilla and Gamera films their own heart and identity. These films can be remembered for more than just their action sequences, but also what they had to say and how it affected the characters in the film. This puts the movies in a reality that is close to our own and makes the human scenes worth watching.

Perhaps another reason these two giants have survived for so long is because of how vastly different they are from each other. Godzilla and Gamera have widely separate personalities and attitudes to their films.

Godzilla's movies normally take themselves quite seriously, with how they respond to the monster attacks, always remembering how many people are being destroyed by these behemoths and giving us little glimpses into the lives of the people merely trying to escape being crushed by Godzilla. The films treat their audience like adults and respects their intelligence.

Gamera, however, is geared towards children, at least he was at first. Gamera is willing to lay down his own life to protect children, kids are always the protagonists of Gamera movies, and Gamera will take the time to make the kids and audience laugh by playing his enemies bodies after he is done. Not to mention Gamera swinging around like an olympic gymnaist and the Gamera theme song.

In his 1990s trilogy, Gamera got a face lift and make him more adult while still keeping his core values. He was still a protector and grew strength from his links to certain humans, while his enemies became more brutal. The films also took special care to add in scenes of innocent people getting destroyed by these monsters, akin to the early Godzilla films.

It boils down to Godzilla being an unstoppable force of nature, while Gamera is a watchful protector. The Godzilla series takes special care of its human element, while the other makes plenty of room for comedy and hijinks with giant monsters.

This not only makes them so different from one another, but also explains why they became so popular. You get the full range of giant monsters by watching these two series. What you couldn't get from one, you got from the other. It attracts all sorts of crowds without the audience getting tired of kaiju.

So why is it that Godzilla always comes out on top of Gamera? Why do people think more highly of the King of the Monsters over the Guardian of the Universe?

I think this boils down to something interesting I realized about Godzilla's transformation over time. Godzilla never stayed the force of nature that could destroy us at a moments notice. He turned into a reluctant hero that would fight space monsters, and then eventually into a super hero like Gamera.


I believe this is due to the major revolutions going on in Japan when these films were released. Once the threat of nuclear annihilation died down in Japan and the threats of space and Communism arrived in the early 1960s, Godzilla changed so that he continued to represent nuclear weapons, but also show how bigger foes are out there and need to be stopped. In the 1970s, when the counter-culture came in and pollution was a major threat, Godzilla changed again, this time into a hero that could combat Japan's biggest threats.

But once the Cold War reached its boiling point in the mid 1980s, it seemed like nuclear weapons were a big threat again. Thus, Godzilla saw a return as a major threat to the world and to his atomic roots.

I bring this up to prove the point that Godzilla's changes as a character are rooted in Japan's own fears. Whatever they may be, Godzilla was there to either represent those fears or to fight them. This means that Godzilla has always changing and in tune with how Japan feels. That is why Godzilla reigns supreme over all other giant monsters, including Gamera.

To Japan, Godzilla and Gamera are more than just giant monsters. They are their hopes, dreams, fears, doubts and strength all manifested in one form. A form that is sometimes terrifying, but always exciting to watch.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Can a film be as good as a book?


It is often said that if one wishes to increase their intelligence, creativity, imagination and sense of the world around them, that one of the best things they can do is read a book. It doesn't really matter what kind of book or how long it takes you to read it, so long as you give it your undivided attention and think about what you are reading.

Lately, I've been thinking about this more and more. Until I realized something: Does it really have to be a book?

Let me take a moment to say that I do enjoy reading. It is a great way to work your imagination and see how you can work yourself up, all with just your mind. It is just as powerful as any other art form out there.

But why do people read books? Some read to gain information on a certain period in history, while others do it to gain knowledge about themselves and become better people. But the main reason people read books is to hear about a story. A story that unfolds before their very eyes and the characters take on a life of their own, so much so that the reader feels like they could reach out and touch them. To imagine an entirely different world from ours and how it must function, where its boundaries are, what kind of currencies it runs on and how people acquire money, food and basic necessities.

People read books because it envelopes them and makes the reader feel like they are apart of this world. Whether they are sword fighting with pirates, going into outer space to explore unknown worlds or taking part in the biggest wedding of the century. There is no limitation to books and novels. Anywhere you wish to go is possible and you can be whoever you want to be.

Once I thought of that, another one came to mind: How is this any different from what movies do?


If people read books because they wish to take part in a story and get enveloped in a brave new world, then what does that make cinema? To be honest, people watch movies for the same reason: Film presents audiences with a gateway into a world that is vast, sprawling and somewhat endless. We watch as characters set up, announce themselves and their idiosyncrasies (or as Robin Williams put it in "Good Will Hunting," their perfections) and see them rip, claw and fight their way through their obstacles and gain the lives that they want more than anything else.

Because of this, I feel a movie can be just as good as book.

However, I will admit that there are drastic differences between the two. For one, books need only one of your senses, your sight. You see and read the words and, for many, the words take on a life of their own. It can also be an audiobook or be in braille, but a book would never take up more than one sense at a time. A movie, however, takes both your sight and hearing. It requires you to both look and hear the picture to fully comprehend what is happening.

Second, a book is traditionally a solo experience. Typically, you are the only one reading the book and it is your time to experience whatever you wish. Film, is done mostly in the presence of an audience. Like the theater, being in a group is what gives a movie its own unique flair, separate from other forms of art.

So which is truly better? A novel that narrows in on one sense and can be done anywhere? Or a film that takes devotion and is normally done in the presence of many other people?

I say, does it really matter which is better?

Each has their own upsides and downs, but that is what gives them their uniqueness. They both offer something that the other doesn't, whether that is sharing a moment with many other people or letting your other senses run wild (as well as your imagination).

Both novels and cinema are forms of art. Much like paintings, sculptures, the theater and music, art has many forms and interpretations. The term "art" can mean many things and be different from person to person. But, one that most people can agree on is that art leaves some sort of impact on the viewer. Whether that is emotional impact, historical impact, personal impact or impact on the mind, art changes people.

When both are at their best, films and books do the same thing. They make people stronger, kinder, more aware and more intelligent. A movie like "Sunset Boulevard" can have just as much of an impact on someone as a book like "The Catcher In The Rye" and leave the viewer wanting more of both. Both cinema and novels can be equally fun and exciting, with "Star Wars" and J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord Of The Rings" books.

Yet both have their obvious downsides. There are certainly bad movies out there that merely serve as a distraction and junk food for your brain, like the Michael Bay "Transformers" films. The same can be said for books, like "50 Shades Of Grey." Both can be painful to view at times, but only because they are told by incompetent storytellers.


It is up to us, as the viewers, to decide which books and movies are worth keeping around. The ones that challenge us and make us better people. Whether accomplished through moving pictures as a man with cancer tries to do one last meaningful thing with his life or through words as we envision the mighty Asland fight the White Witch for control of Narnia. They can both be powerful, haunting, mesmerizing, hysterical, thrilling, epic and everything in between.

Because in the end, a film can be just as good (or as bad) as any book.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

More Films I Hate But Everyone Else Loves


Film, like all art, is a rather subjective experience. While there are some things that most people can agree on that makes good or bad art, no two people are going to get the same experience out of a work of art. Some people like sappy romantic comedies or cheesy action movies, while others can't stand them. Who is really right or wrong in that case?

I like to think of it as a film presenting itself in all of its glory and humility and then lets the audience decide for themselves. There is no right way to look at a movie, which is why there are so many varying opinions on the same films.

Which is why I offer this continuation of the films I hate but everyone else loves. These are the movies that either make my blood boil in frustration, bore me to sleep or are just poorly made.

You could argue that many of these movies are just being deep or have something important to say that I just don't get it. Fair enough, but I tend to keep the intellectual part of the film separate from what makes the film enjoyable to watch. Just because a film is sophisticated or has a lot to say does not mean that it is fun to watch. Having something smart to say is not a substitute for telling a good old-fashion story.

But hey, I'm rambling at this point. Let's start with one of my more despised ones:


"A Streetcar Names Desire" (1951)

This is another film that puts me to sleep. It's about an aging stage performer who goes to see her sister in New Orleans but spends more time talking about how her life sucks now and that life was better back in the old days and blah blah. This is nothing exciting and captivating. The performances are stiff and wooden due to the characters being so absorbed in the dialogue.

I can tell that this was either based off of a play or drew inspiration from one. But when the characters keep repeating the same sentiments again and again, the film stops being enjoyable and becomes a chore to watch.

The only redeemable thing about the film is Marlon Brando's performance. Because, it's freaking Marlon Brando. He is one of the greatest actors ever and probably the best method actor of all time. He could make watching paint dry exciting and still probably more enjoyable than this film.

Overall, "A Streetcar Named Desire" is far too wordy, poorly paced and rarely lets the actions of its characters speak for itself. Outside of Brando, nothing worth watching here.


"Hugo" (2011)

A more recent entry on this list, I felt that "Hugo" was mediocre at best. It had many problems with plot and pacing, but what I found most upsetting was its presentation. The main point of "Hugo" was that cinema, all forms of cinema, should be preserved and honored as a gateway into the past and the work of countless filmmakers.

The film does this by attempting to pay tribute to the films of the early 1900s and 1910s. But where it messes this up is how modern, sleek, stylish and new the rest of the film looks. There is a ton of computer generated images, a modern-day score to fit with Paris and far too many vibrant colors.

"Hugo" wants to be one with the silent era of old, but it does so by being incredibly technological and advanced. This version of Paris feels like it is inside of a snow globe. Prestige, untouched and forever encased in a protective bubble, never to be touched by the outside world.

Shouldn't a film that attempts to pay tribute to older films feel like an old movie? "The Artist" was a great example of that. It honors silent films and feels like it takes place in Hollywood during the 1920s. The setting, the music, the actions of the characters all match the era. I feel that "Hugo"'s does not.


"Saving Private Ryan" (1998)

I love the opening battle scene. I love Tom Hanks. That's about it.

The movie is good for about the first Forty-five minutes, but once the group sets down the path to find Private Ryan, it loses a lot of its charm. A similar predicament happens with "Full Metal Jacket" with the opening in boot camp being far better than when the troops actually arrive in Vietnam.

However, "Full Metal Jacket" fixes that problem by offering up a contrasting point to the boot camp scenes. Boot camp is clean, rough and makes you lose your humanity. Vietnam is filthy, sometimes easy-going, gives you room to breath and requires you to stay human or else you will die.

"Saving Private Ryan" has little to nothing to offer once Tom Hanks and crew start down that path. The other soldiers are un-memorable, there are lots of unnecessary padding and it is long and drawn out. At some point you just want to get up and yell, "Will you get to Private Ryan already?"


"Solaris" (1978)

I have not seen many Russian movies, but I can honestly say that aside from "Koyannaqatsi" they have all made me fall asleep.

I don't know what it is, but the director of "Solaris," Andrei Tarkovsky, knows exactly how to make me tired. Well okay, I do know what it is: Nothing happens in his movies. Tarkovsky's films are usually well over two and a half hours long, and all that ever happens in that amount of time is people looking at other things and questioning what it all means.

This comes back to the "being intellectual" part I mentioned earlier. This film thinks that it is smart and that it has something interesting to say. Some might find its points fascinating, but what would be the point in talking about them? What's the point? In fact, that is my biggest grip with Tarkovsky's work: He has no point. No clear statement that he'd like to discuss or a way of going about doing that. He just does whatever he feels like and expects people to think that's artsy.

I don't think that's artsy. That's just being lazy.


"Tree Of Life" (2011)

This one falls into the same class as "Solaris." Far too much style over substance and drops story and pacing in favor of emotional impact and its "message."

I understand the appeal of this kind of filmmaking. The kind without any sort of narrative structure and leaves a lot of itself up to interpretation. It's the same reason the films of David Lynch and Ingmar Bergman are worth analyzing and discussing. But the problem is that they're only worth analyzing. They're like a science project that needs to be studying, dissected and written about so that others may understand.

To me, that's not worth pursuing. Love for a film should come almost natural. Some first spark that ignites inside of you that makes you want to watch more and see where it'll go. Charlie Chaplin once said that we think too much and feel too little. That we keep using our brains when we should be using our hearts to guide us. It shouldn't take multiple viewings and a detail scientific thesis to make you love a movie. And if it does, then you and the movie are trying way too hard.


"Rope" (1948)

GASP! An Alfred Hitchcock film that I don't like. Burn the witch!

Let me explain. While I feel that Alfred Hitchock is one of the greatest filmmaking minds of all time, I will be the first to admit that I don't all of his work is that great. There are a couple of his films that don't sit well with me.

"Rope" is one such film. I will admit that the presentation of making it seem like the movie is one continuous shot is a nice touch, and James Stewart gives a wonderfully captivating performance (as usual), but I find no suspense or thrills in this film, which is a staple of all Hitchcock movies.

The suspense is supposed to come from the question: Will the murderers get caught? And I immediately know the answer to the question: It is an Alfred Hitchcock film, the bad guys always get caught. They're not really that dangerous or psychotic, they just wanted to know what it felt like to murder someone.

A better question for this film would have been "Did these two actually murder someone?" This would have been a simple thing to fix, simply by removing the murder from the beginning of the film. Then we spend the next hour and a half figuring out if there really is something underneath that chest and if these two have committed a crime that they seem proud of.


"The Dark Knight Rises" (2012)

I will be the first to admit that I actually liked this film when I first saw it. That it was a nice conclusion to Chris Nolan's Batman Trilogy, with wonderful acting, action that is heightened from the other two films and serves as a wonderful conclusion to the trilogy. In fact, it gets even better when you look at it as a Bruce Wayne movie, rather than one about Batman.

But then I started to think more about some of the finer points of the film. Like how Bane was played up as this ultimate wall of muscle and would stop at nothing to get his way, only for him to be someone's puppet and got stuck in the friend zone. Or how Batman gets his back broken and can now hardly walk, but all he needed was someone to punch him in the back again and pull him up on a rope. Or that Batman gets trapped in this prison that no one has ever escaped from, except for this little girl who made it out by not wearing a rope to hold her down.

And then I start to think, what was it that I liked about this movie anyway?

"The Dark Knight Rises" is a big mess. Far too much going on, way too many flaws and plot holes in the screenplay (How did Bruce Wayne escape from the middle of no where, fly back into Gotham when the area is supposed to be blocked off to everyone from the outside and still have time to stop the atomic bomb? And don't say BECAUSE HE'S BATMAN!) and a film that thinks way too highly of itself.

The more you think about this movie, the more you'll end up hating it.


"Vertigo" (1958)

Let me make this clear: I don't really hate "Vertigo." I like "Vertigo."

I think it has many interesting ideas, is quite suspenseful, has a beautiful score, cinematography and atmosphere and is at its best when James Stewart is merely observing Kim Novak without her realizing it, as she observes many forms of art. When the film focuses on those aspects, "Vertigo" is wonderful.

But it is when the film focuses on things like story and character that it begins to fall apart. For one, James Stewart's character is extremely unlikable. He treats everyone around him like filth to be thrown away when he is done with them and has no regard for anyone other than himself and his career. This kind of character might have worked in the hands of a different actor, but when you give it to Jimmy Stewart, the most likable and kind-hearted soul in filmmaking, it does not feel right. By the end of the film, I feel dirty.

Also, the plot of "Vertigo" is silly. I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen it, because this really is a film that everyone needs to see, but let's just say that the villain has created the most elaborate plan ever that has way too many variables and calculations that something could easily go wrong, and all to carry out something that is hardly even addressed in the film. By the end when I realized just what was going on, I couldn't help by chuckle at how absurd and ridiculous that plot of this film was.

These elements on their own wouldn't really make the film all that bad, but what really sells it for me is that Sight & Sound Magazine recently said that "Vertigo" is now the greatest film ever made. It passed even "Citizen Kane," "The Wizard Of Oz," "Singin' In The Rain" and "2001: A Space Odyssey" for being the best movie to ever hit theaters.

All I can say to that is...really? Of all the films in Hitchcock's massive library, you choose the one with the laughable plot and unlikable protagonist as not only the best of the bunch, but also the greatest film ever? I can think of at least six other Hitchcock films that I would consider better than "Vertigo," including "Rear Window," "Psycho," "North By Northwest," "Strangers On A Train," "Shadow Of A Doubt" and "Rebecca."

But as I said, I enjoy "Vertigo." It's just that there are several other works by Hitchcock that I'd prefer to watch and I certainly wouldn't call it the greatest film ever made.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

2014 - Bad year for summer blockbusters?


According to recent box office results and numbers, 2014 has been the worst year for summer blockbusters in over ten years. Not only are many big-name franchises or actors under performing at the box office, like "Transformers: Age Of Extinction" or "Tammy" but people are simply just not going to the movies as much as they use to.

I think a number of reasons why 2014 has been a terrible year for summer blockbusters. But let's start with the most obvious: the lack of good movies.

At this time last year, there were a dozen movies that I and many others were looking forward to. "Man Of Steel," "Pacific Rim," "Despicable Me 2," "The Wolverine," "The Heat," "Kick Ass 2," "The Way, Way Back," "The World's End" and so many more.

But this year? There were maybe five movies that I wanted to see and three of them came out in May.

The general rule of thumb is that, if you make a good movie, people will go see it, even if it has little to no publicity. While that rule has faded in this last decade due to the abundance of high-profile films with inflated budgets and massive casts but low on common sense and good storytelling, the principle remains the same.

I have found myself going to the movies far less than I normally do, and it is not because I'm too busy or low on money. It is because there just aren't that many movies that I want to see.

Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy...Milano..Ph: Film Frame..?Marvel 2014

I believe the reason "Guardians Of The Galaxy" has grossed as much money as it has is not just because it is a fun ride that'll have you smiling all the way through, but because it has almost no competition now. Last week, "Guardians Of The Galaxy" grossed over $90 million in the United States, and the second highest grossing film was "Lucy" with $18 million.

To me, that doesn't just say that everyone wants to see "Guardians Of The Galaxy" but that people are only interested in seeing those worthwhile movies. Films that actually make an impact on the audience and make them feel something, not a piece of film that'll keep you in your seat for two hours.

I would not be surprised if "Guardians Of The Galaxy" gets number one at the box office again this week, even with the release of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." If you cast Johnny Knoxville as your lead ninja and Megan Fox as a "competent" reporter, then you are doing something wrong.

It is the same reason "Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes" did so well at the box office when it came out a month ago. There were no other thoughtful movies out at the time, so that's the one people wanted to go see.

This is not to say there are not any good movies coming out this summer. I've liked plenty of the blockbusters that have been released, especially "Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes," "Godzilla," "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," and to a lesser extent "X-Men: Days Of Future Past" and "Guardians Of The Galaxy."

But this brings me to my second point: When all these films were released.


If you look at the box office totals for the month of May alone, I'm sure that this would have been a good summer blockbuster season. There were at least four movies released in May that people really wanted to see, and all released on separate weekends. "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," "Godzilla," "X-Men: Days Of Future Past" and "Maleficent." Regardless of how you felt about these movies, there was certainly incentive to go see most of them. If the trailers didn't pull you in, certainly the casting or company did.

But the problem was that, after May ended, there really weren't any movies that people wanted to see, especially in June. The most exciting movies that came out that month were "The Edge Of Tomorrow" and "22 Jump Street," with "Edge Of Tomorrow" being considered a failure because it lost the number one box office spot to "The Faults In Our Stars," thus making Warner Bros. scared that people didn't want to see sci-fi movies anymore, so they pushed back the highly anticipated "Jupiter Ascending" to February of next year.

I think they'll reconsider that point when they look at the box office numbers for "Guardians Of The Galaxy."

People are more willing to go to the movies when there is something to look forward to on a weekly basis. Even if they don't care for a particular genre, it leaves the audience wanting more and come back for seconds.

But if only one or two worthwhile films come out in a month, then you're going to get poor box office results. We saw that in July, with the worst Fourth of July weekend box office returns ever. The highest grossing film that weekend was "Transformers: Age Of Extinction" at only roughly $38 million, and the newest Melissa McCarthy comedy "Tammy" opening up at about $19 million.


Imagine that, people get tired of watching the same actor/actress do the same character in every single movie. Seriously, McCarthy's roles in "Bridesmaids," "Identity Thief," "The Heat" and "Tammy" are so interchangeable that it isn't funny anymore. Do something different!

But regardless, all the captivating movies this summer were released early on and left little for us to watch in June, July and August. With nothing to look forward to for months at a time, it is no surprise that the box office took a huge hit.

Other contributing factors to the downward spiral of summer blockbusters this year include Pixar not releasing anything this year, the abundance of sequels to films that did mediocre at best like "The Purge: Anarchy" and "Planes: Fire & Rescue," Disney only releasing one decent picture in "Maleficent" and an over-saturation of Marvel movies, releasing four this year, and not a single DC movie to compliment them.

Though there are still a few weeks left in the summer, it does not seem that there will be any huge winners in the coming month. We might see a surprise in "Sin City: A Dame To Kill For" but I wouldn't be surprised if we hear very little about it, due to the subject matter and excessive violence. But, as long as it is well-put together and not just an excuse to show gore and sex, then who knows?


Overall, 2014 has been a terrible year for summer blockbusters. Not necessarily in the quality of the pictures, but rather the lack of good ones. If anything, summer blockbusters have been steadily getting more tolerable to watch. CGI is blending in better, the screenplays are competent when the writers know what they're doing, and there has been a nice blend of genres that keep the audience entertained in one form or another.

The problem with 2014 is that it thinks less is more. That releasing few good movies in July and August will make up for the rest of the month, when they should be learning from what May did and release intriguing films every week. We don't want to see one good movie every once in a while, we want to continually see good movies.

Hopefully 2014 learns from this and makes the summer blockbuster season of 2015 even better.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Movie Review: "Guardians Of The Galaxy" (2014)

Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy...Milano..Ph: Film Frame..?Marvel 2014

Every once in a while, it can be fun to watch a dumb popcorn film. While it is not something that should be done regularly, popcorn films have their time and place and are good for just simple film-going enjoyment, where you can turn your brain off and watch the madness unfold.

Popcorn films have become a spin-off of summer blockbuster movies, which play down certain filmic elements, like story and character, and up the ante on action sequences, comedy and the sense of adventure. As a result, certain sequences become more memorable and the audience ends up having a blast.

But only while the film is playing. Once it is over, that's the end of it. Maybe reflecting on some of the cooler scenes, but don't be surprised if most people could not tell you what the plot was.

There are varying degrees of the popcorn film, but it mostly comes down to the smart ones and the stupid ones. The intelligent popcorn films, like "Pacific Rim," will take special care to develop its world and to make sure that the actions make logical sense. As logical as giant robots fighting giant monsters can get at least. Dumb popcorn films, like "Independence Day," don't particularly care if the film makes sense or if logic is thrown out the window, so long as we get to see the White House blow up.

Marvel's most recent outing, "Guardians Of The Galaxy" falls into the class of dumb popcorn film. This is the stupidest, nonsensical and craziest films I have seen all year. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

On a far-off distant planet, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) has located an ancient artifact that he intends to sell on the intergalactic black market for a hefty price. But he is soon hunted down by many different factions who also want the artifact, including the Galactic Nova Force, Quill's own band of Renegades who hire bounty hunters Rocket Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and the living tree, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), and the assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), daughter of the dreaded Thanos.

After a fight on the Nova Force home planet, Quill, Rocket, Groot and Gamora are all sent to a deep space prison, where they meet Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). When they find out that a crazed alien, Ronin, is after the artifact and intends to whip out everything with its power, the race is on to escape from the prison and find out exactly what this artifact can do.


Part of the reason this film is so enjoyable is because it does not take itself seriously at all. It knows from the start that the premise is silly, and it lavishes itself in its own absurdity.

Quill is a nut, obsessed with the 1980s from when he left Earth as a child, but has grown up into this playboy outlaw who isn't afraid of shacking up with random alien women. No real reason for him to be the space version of Tony Stark, he just is the guy who will challenge his foes to a dance off and then kiss the nearest alien babe.

Drax gets a thrill out of brutality and murder. At one point, when their ship is mowing down Ronin's soldiers, Drax can't help but laugh and raise his arms up in excitement. Then again, his nickname is "The Destroyer" so I guess that should be expected.

I really don't feel like I need to discuss the genetically engineered and gun-crazy racoon or his tree buddy that can only say "I am Groot." Those go without saying.

The villain, Ronin, wants to conquer the universe, because of reasons that are only briefly mentioned in the film, and basically boils down to "I hate this peace treaty!" Other than that, standard villain who lurks in the background to look menacing.


The reason I say this is a dumb popcorn film is not because of all the craziness going on. More so, it is because of the lack of logic throughout most of the film. At one point, Quill stops everything his gang was doing just so that he can go back and get his mixed tape. Or Drax literally calling up Ronin and telling them where they are so that he can finally face him.

Even bodies being exposed to the emptiness of space without any sort of protection is almost completely ignored. Characters will go through unbelievable events and come out without a scratch on them. After a while, to see Quill walk away from a massive explosion becomes more laughable than it is exciting.

The film follows the "Don't think about it, it just looks cool" train of thought.

Though I will admit that "Guardians Of The Galaxy" is a beautiful movie, with vibrant colors and each planet having its own style that makes it pop off the screen. From the geysers of the forbidden planet, to the mining colony that is based out of a giant severed head, there is no shortage of imaginary images in this film.

If nothing else, see this film for its cinematography and color palate.


Marvel has pushed the envelope with their movies lately. In the last few years, we've had the crossover that had been in the works for over four years with "The Avengers," a film that is almost entirely a comedy with "Iron Man 3," a serious take on what it means to be a super hero and the difference between good and bad with "Captain America: The Winter Solider."

While "Guardians Of The Galaxy" is certainly a different take from these films, it also is a vastly different film from these other ones. Films like "The Avengers" and "Captain America" take themselves rather seriously and try to be as intelligent as possible, while still having fun with its creative scenarios. "Guardians Of The Galaxy" is the opposite of that, as it exists solely for the creativeness and fun of comic book super heroes, and not having something to say.


And there is nothing wrong with that. A film that doesn't take itself seriously can be enjoyed just as much as any other sophisticated movie.

But here is something to keep in mind: Popcorn films are much like junk food, while smart and alluring films are high-class desserts. You can eat away mindlessly at snacks, because that is how they're created. They're addictive by nature. They make you reach for more, even if you don't want more. It can fill you up, but you don't necessarily get anything from it.

But a high-class dessert demands that you really take a moment to enjoy how complex and satisfying it can be. In the end, you'll always think more highly of the high-class desert because it gave you a feeling of true satisfaction. It was so good that you wanted more, but what you had was scrumptious, and you are glad you had it.

Overall, "Guardians Of The Galaxy" is stupid fun. It takes advantage of the various locations, has a good consistent sense of humor and has that fun Marvel-feel to it. There are parts that make me question its motives and actions, but it is a blast to watch once it gets going.

Final Grade: B-

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Morale Of The Story Is... - Star Wars & Star Trek Edition


Think of your favorite film, book or story of all time. Odds are, there is a moral attached to it. Something that you can walk away from and apply to your every-day life that would improve it significantly. Whether it is something as simple as appreciate your loved ones and the time you have on this planet or as deep as "You are what you love, not what loves you."

So, I've decided for the next edition of "The Morale Of The Story Is..." I would do something a bit different, and not limit myself to one series of films. Instead, let's look at two groups of movies that often lead to sci-fi fans butting heads: Star Wars and Star Trek.

Whether you are in the Trek camp or the Jedi league, I believe most people can agree that the morals of these films are pretty simple and straight forward. They have also defined a (next) generation and have inspired countless lives to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Let's begin with...

"Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" (1977)

The events of the following films, all the destruction, lightsaber battles, Jedi mind tricks, Jar Jar Binks and galactic conquest...could have been avoided if Luke had gone to Toshi Station to pick up his power converters.

Fun fact: That was Luke's first line in the movie. Truly, the greatest and wisest Jedi of them all.
"Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back" (1980)

James Earl Jones is the father of the Joker. No wait, I think I got that messed up. Mufasa is Fire Lord Ozai's father.

Damn, I keep getting that mixed up. I blame Jar Jar.


"Star Wars Episode VI: The Return Of The Jedi" (1983)

Had Boba Fett not been eaten by the giant earth butthole (ie, Sarlacc), he could easily dispatched with the greatest threat the Empire had ever seen: The Ewoks. His awesomeness is no match for their rocks and sticks.

But no amount of the Fett could save us from Jar Jar Binks.

"The Star Wars Holiday Special" (1978)

Even Wookiees dream of music videos by Jefferson Starship.

Also, I think all Star Wars fans have found something to hate more than Jar Jar Binks: This Christmas special that has nothing to do with Christmas.


"Star Wars: Caravan Of Courage: An Ewok Adventure" (1984)

If you ever wanted to the epic tale of "The Lord Of The Rings" told with Ewoks, then this movie is everything you will ever want. And more.

I mean, it's called "Caravan Of Courage." How can you go wrong with that?

"Star Wars' Ewoks: The Battle For Endor" (1985)

Clearly, the Ewoks have left a legacy more refined and treasured than any other in the Star Wars franchise. For they have touched the lives of thousands, if not millions, of children. And they shall carry the memories of the mighty battle for Endor for the rest of their days. When the time comes, they will pass this almighty knowledge onto their kin, so that the next generation may learn to appreciate the grandiose and epic journey of Wicket and Teek.

Ewoks: The true teddy bear's picnic.

Boy, I'm all Star Wars'ed out for now. How's about we ditch the hyper drive and go to warp speed? Good god, I am a nerd. Why don't a throw in a flux capacitor in there as well?


"Star Trek: The Motion Picture" (1978)

If all else fails, try to pull a "2001: A Space Odyssey" and earn your film the nickname of "Star Trek: The Slow Motion Picture."

"Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan" (1982)

When you are genetically enhanced super solider, bent on conquering the world, but stranded on a desert planet for several years, the most logical and sane thing to do is to start quoting "Moby Dick" and force worms down people's ears.

And that's before he knows about the device that can destroy an entire planet.

"Star Trek III: The Search For Spock" (1984)

The search for Spock was far easier than it was predicted to be.

"Where is Spock." "Isn't he on the Genesis planet? Where we left him?" "Oh yeah, I forgot. Let's go get him. That search wasn't so bad."


"Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" (1986)

The reason we should not let animals like the Humpback Whale go extinct is not because of the environmental and health reasons. Merely, it is because you never know when a giant space probe will come to Earth, only wish to speak to a species that has been extinct for hundreds of years, just to make sure they're doing okay, and cause global storms and short out all electronics until the probe speaks to this species.

A worthy cause to save the whales.

"Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" (1989)

If ever given the chance, William Shanter would make love to a mountain.

Has it been mentioned that Shanter is bat-shit crazy? And that he directed this bat-shit crazy film?

"Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" (1991)

The Klingons believe that, not only does William Shakespeare sound better in their native tongue, but that Shakespeare must have been a Klingon.

....Yeah, sure. You guys just keep on drinking your blood wine and believe whatever you want.

"Star Trek: Generations" (1994)

Captain Kirk was always meant to die on the bridge. It's just that people never bothered to mention whether that was on the bridge of a ship, or a regular bridge. Oops.


"Star Trek: First Contact" (1996)

Time travel is a casual thing that can happen in the Star Trek universe. It's like having spare power tools. You know you have it, but after a while you just lose interest in it and only really break it out when you need to.

I also have the capability of traveling through time, but you can only visit the middle ages so many times before you've seen it all. I have so many maces that I don't know what to do with them.

"Star Trek: Insurrection" (1998)

In the Star Trek universe, sacrificing 400 lives to save billions of lives is just not a fair or ethical choice.

Why didn't I bring one of my maces to this film?

"Star Trek: Nemesis" (2002)

When you have a fatal illness where you need a blood sample from the most well-known Starfleet captain to live, the first thing you want to do is wait seven hours in your cloaked ship, just watching his ship, then make a long villainous speech about your intentions, and then after several hours of being a hammy villain, make your illness known. It's not like you're on a time crunch or anything.

Oh, wait.

"Star Trek" (2009)

The villain in this film must have found the villain from "Star Trek: Nemesis" to be his biggest inspiration. This guy is sent back in time about 300 years, destroys one random Starfleet ship and then goes into hiding for thirty years until he is called upon once again.

I guess the true moral of the Star Trek films is that time is just an illusion.


"Star Trek: Into Darkness" (2013)

During his spare time, Doctor McCoy likes to inject other people's blood and unknown chemicals into Tribbles and see what happens. And they that doctor's like to play god.

Well, I believe that is it for this edition of "The Morale Of The Story Is..." I hope that you enjoyed this one, and...

Wait, I feel like I forgot something. Something important. But what could it be? I talked about all the important Star Wars films, especially the Ewok movies.

Oh, right. The unimportant Star Wars films. The terrible ones. I was hoping they'd just eventually go away.

I might need my mace for these.


"Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" (1999)

Midi-chlorians and Jar Jar Binks.

That is all.

"Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones" (2002)

Anakin Skywalker hates sand. It's corse, rough and it gets everywhere. Oh, and the people of the sand killed his mother. That might have something to do with it too.

"Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith" (2005)

All the blame for the rise of the Galactic Empire and their reign of fear and war can be put on Jar Jar Binks. He was the one to stand in front of counsel and elected Chancellor Palpetine to get all the power and control over the Senate.

And the alternate moral that I learned while writing that up is, when you think of Star Wars, the first thing that should come to mind is politics and control over a governing body. Screw galactic battles, jedi philosophies, unique characters and worlds and a wonderful soundtrack. I want to know who controls the Senate.

Goddamn, those prequels suck.