Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Number 13 - "Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster" (1964)

This is one film that is mostly loved by Godzilla fans that has always left me a bit cold. Part of this is because it was the first daikaiju film by Toho to include more than two of their classic monsters, in this case having Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra as well as introducing the classic King Ghidorah, and doing little with having all four monsters in the same movie. While the scene where all four monsters fight at the end is the highlight of the movie, there is little going on in between that really warrants any attention.

That being said, this is one of the classic Toho monster movies and it still excels at everything a monster movie should, including effects, music, and atmosphere. "Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster" is by no means a bad movie, but it does feel weaker than some of the other Showa entries that came before and after it.

The film begins with a group of alien enthusiasts observing a meteor shower, taking it as a sign that aliens are trying to communicate with them. When the aliens fail to send them anything, the group blames the reporter that is among them, Naoko Shindo (Yuriko Hoshi), for sending negative brain waves up to the aliens that might have blocked the signal. Naturally, her reaction is to call the group a bunch of weridos who think meteorites are how aliens talk to us but it's a good way to start the movie off with crazy characters.

At the same time, a plane is flying over Japan, carrying the royal princess of Sergina, Mas Selina Salno (Akiko Wakabayahsi), on her way back to her homeland. What she doesn't know is that a terrorist planted a bomb on her plane and it will be exploding soon. But just as the bomb is about to go off, one of those meteorites passes by the plane and a voice suddenly tells the princess to get off the plane. So she just opens the hatch in the middle of the flight, without putting on a parachute or anything, and jumps out of the plane right before it blows up. The meteorite then crashes into a nearby valley and is mostly intact.

So we're not even 10 minutes into the movie and we've already had crazy people who think aliens talk to us through meteors and believe negative brain waves and influence that, some alien voice talk to someone in their head, and a princess jump out of an exploding plane to her certain death. To say this movie is weird would be an understatement.

After this, we're introduced to some of our other main characters, including a detective (Yoshuke Natsuki) who is the brother of the reporter from earlier, and professor Murai (Hiroshi Koizumi), who is dating the reporter and has been assigned to investigate the meteorite that crashed in the valley. The detective was assigned to be the bodyguard of the princess while she was briefly in Japan and is saddened to hear that her plane blew up before she got here. Meanwhile, the reporter is sent to a gathering crowd in a park, where everyone has gathered to hear about the warnings of a woman claiming to be from Venus, who looks exactly like the Sergina princess.

After a hard day's work, both of the Shindo siblings meet at home to tell each other about their day and watch television with their mother. The program they pick is called "What are they Doing Now?" a show with a bunch of celebrities hosted by a Bob Hope and Buddy Hackett-like duo. They bring out two little boys who say they want to see their favorite celebrity, Mothra. Naturally, the two don't have access to the giant monster, but surprisingly they do bring out Mothra's twin fairies.

This always bothered me. Why would the fairies agree to come all the way from Infant Island to Japan just to be on a television show? It's not like the inhabitants of Infant Island back home are watching them. Did they learn nothing from the last two movies with Mothra and how they shouldn't trust corporations who want to use them for a profit? My best guess is that they want to establish peaceful relationships with the Japanese people, but why a television show? We find out that they're leaving for Infant Island pretty quickly after their show is done, so they literally just came for that. Why not just talk to the Prime Minister or have a discussion with the governors of Japan?

In any case, I just chalk that up to the movie being weird once again.

Anyway, the reporter publishes a story on the crazy Venus woman, which immediately gets the attention of her brother and the assassin who planted that bomb on the plane of the princess. The assassin, Malmess (Hisaya Ito) is told by his superior to head to Japan and make sure this woman claiming to be from Venus isn't the princess, but if they are the same then he has to finish the job.

The detective does some investigating and through some eye-witness accounts learns that this woman from Venus is the princess and must have suffered some sort of head injury to make her think she's from another planet. Which begs the question of how the princess survived falling out of a plane with no support at all. Well, the movie decides to give us that answer by going back to the leader of the alien enthusiasts club. His theory is that the explosion of the plane opened up a hole in the fabric of reality that allowed the princess to safely fall to the Earth and land in a lake where she suddenly believed she was from Venus.

You know, the Godzilla films have done some crazy things before but this just might be the most absurd bullshit I've ever heard. I'm more willing to believe the origin of Space Godzilla or that Jet Jaguar could program himself to change his size before I believe anything this weirdo has to say about bombs opening up holes in space and time.

Meanwhile, the professor has made it to the meteorite and his crew immediately find that it has strange magnetic properties that it turns on and off, as it messes with their compass and sucks in all their mining equipment. At the same time, the princess still fully believes she is from Venus and says that the whole world is in terrible danger and it will start to fall apart in the crater of Mt. Aso.

Surprisingly, most of Japan believes the crazy ramblings of this woman and a large amount of people head to the supposedly active volcano to see what might happen. The scientists at the volcano say there hasn't been any sign of activity in months, but the true horror lies within the volcano. Out of the rocks and crater of the mountain, Rodan rises up and flies away to continue causing destruction across Japan.

For what its worth, this is a great reveal. After "Rodan," it was thought that the two Rodans were killed in the fires of Mt. Aso. While the curtain is being pulled to reveal Rodan, the film takes its time to build up the mystery, making us doubt if the princess is telling the truth. But soon the rock walls of the volcano give way to giant claws and a beak. It may have taken the movie a while to get to this point, but it was worth it for that moment.

With Rodan being let loose on Japan, Mothra's twin fairies decide to head back to Infant Island...by boat. They have a giant monster at their disposal and they take a boat back home. This leads into more weirdness when the princess shows up at their formal goodbye to say no one should be getting on this boat, because another tragedy awaits at sea. The reporter Shindo is there and decides to take the princess in, mostly so she can conduct a full interview who somehow knew that Rodan was hiding in Mt. Aso.

The reporter ends up calling her brother in for help, who takes it upon himself to serve as the bodyguard for the princess. Though he does so just in time, as the assassin shows up in Japan and starts tracking down the princess. While in a hotel room that the reporter bought, she and the princess find out that Mothra's twin fairies listened to her words and didn't get on that boat and have been following them since then.

The princess repeats her words about the terrible danger that awaits that boat and we see exactly what she was talking about - Godzilla rises out of the ocean and destroys the boat. Like with Rodan's reveal, this one takes its time as we first see a large school of whales that Godzilla is chasing, only for the camera to pan way to the right and show Godzilla slowly coming up.

Anyway, the assassin kidnaps the amnesiac princess who is saved by the twin fairies and the detective. They ask the princess how she managed to escape from the assassin and responds with "I'm from Venus." This film already has more face-palm moments than every other Godzilla film put together.

The Shindos' start working together on finding a way to get the princess back to normal and head out to a brain doctor out in the country, but not before Godzilla reaches the mainland and destroys a good portion of the city. Interestingly enough, Rodan shows up in the middle of Godzilla's attack and Godzilla seems to head in the direction of Rodan.

The princess, Mothra's fairies and the Shindos' make it to the doctor (played by the always stellar Takashi Shimura), where the doctor can get some information out of the princess. She believes that she is from another planet, or at least a direct descendant from a Venusian. She tells everyone that Venus was once a world not unlike our own but was made into the terrible uninhabitable planet it is now by the all-powerful King Ghidorah three thousand years ago. She has come to Earth now because King Ghidorah has made it to our planet and intends to destroy everything.

As if right on queue, the meteorite in the valley starts to go crazy and explodes into a giant ball of fire, which forms into the giant three-headed golden space dragon, King Ghidorah. Ghidorah's design is classic, stylish yet grandiose. Outside of Godzilla and Mothra, King Ghidorah has the most iconic design of any Toho monster and certainly the most imposing with its three massive heads and wings bigger than the rest of its body.

Which brings me to a small grievance I have with the interpretation of King Ghidorah. People always like to call him Godzilla's greatest foe and his arch enemy, even though the two never have a one-on-one fight until the Heisei series. Anytime Godzilla and King Ghidorah fight in the Showa series, one or the other has another monster on their side. Therefore, I feel that King Ghidorah is the greatest foe to all Earth monsters in general. Anytime Ghidorah comes back to conquer Earth, the kaiju have to try their hardest to bring down the space dragon. No one Earth monster can take down King Ghidorah on their own, meaning these animals of fury and terror have to work together as we're about to see.

The Japanese government holds a special meeting to discuss what they're going to do about Godzilla, Rodan and King Ghidorah and it really shows just how screwed they are in the face of all three monsters. Especially when King Ghidorah shows up at a nearby city and wipes out the downtown area with ease.

But help comes in the form of Mothra's twin fairies, who arrive at the meeting to say they have a plan. They will contact Mothra and tell her to convince Godzilla and Rodan to work together with her and fight King Ghidorah. With no other options, the Japanese government pleas with the fairies to call for Mothra before Japan is destroyed...leading into a three-minute song that we had previously heard during the television show sequence.

This contributes to my biggest problem with the movie - the budget. If they had to do a three-minute scene twice in the same movie, clearly they had budget problems. To make the first daikaiju film with four classic monsters feel appropriately grand, they budget needed to be much bigger than it was. This leads to a few cheap sequences where Godzilla looks like a hand puppet and his atomic breath looks like mist instead of a solid beam. The film does fine with the budget it has, especially with minimal effects work on the introductions for Rodan and Godzilla, and going big once on King Ghidorah's attack on the city, but little things like the hand puppet and reused sequences show that the budget was either improperly used or too small.

How great would it have been if we got a full military sequence against Godzilla, only for Rodan to show up halfway through to really show how screwed the military is? Instead, I don't think we ever see a single air force plane, tank or missile in this movie. The military is a non-factor in a film with four monsters. This isn't necessarily bad, since we still get some great monster scenes throughout the movie, but it is disappointing to see this movie not live up to its full potential.

Anyway, the assassin finds out where the princess is being kept and heads out into the country to find her even though it is near to Godzilla and Rodan fighting. This sequence is entertaining in how different it feels from any other kaiju fight up to that point, focusing more on comedy and monsters' reactions. One of my favorite bits is when Rodan gets a hold of Godzilla's tail and the look on Godzilla's face is like he just got kicked in the nuts.

After a convoluted sequence of events, including Rodan dropping Godzilla onto an electrical line, Shindo and the professor save the princess from the assassin and everyone in the doctor's office evacuates as Mothra shows up. The Shindos', princess, professor, Mothra's fairies and Takashi Shimura all pile out of the car to witness the first ever council of Earth monsters. Mothra stops the fight between Godzilla and Rodan and the three converse in monster talk, with Mothra pleading with the others to drop their petty squabble and work together in stopping King Ghidorah, while Godzilla and Rodan are being stubborn and don't want to help save mankind from the space dragon.

This scene is just the icing on the absurdity cake that is "Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster." We have Mothra's fairies translating everything the three monsters say while our human characters make snide comments about how childish Godzilla and Rodan are being. On top of an alien enthusiast saying explosions can open holes to other dimensions, a princess being possessed by someone from another planet who has been dead for three-thousand years, and Mothra's fairies going on a television show, I have no problem calling this one of the strangest Godzilla movies. Not that I have a problem with that, since it clearly embraces that odd nature.

After Mothra is unable to convince Godzilla and Rodan to work together, she goes off to fight King Ghidorah on her own...and gets her tail end handed to her just by a couple of Ghidorah's gravity bolts. Luckily, Godzilla and Rodan have a change of heart and decide to help Mothra in their combined fight against the space monster.

This leads to a sequence that never gets old, as we see just how each monster fights King Ghidorah, with Godzilla going for brute force and head-on attacks, Mothra using her intelligence to subdue Ghidorah, and Rodan using speed and sneaky tactics by hiding behind a mountain from the gravity bolts. This culminates in a great ending where all three work together and wrap Ghidorah up in Mothra's silk string before he retreats back into outer space.

The human plot ends with the princess running off in the middle of the final battle while Shindo gives chase. The two are confronted by the assassin one last time, who manages to graze her head with a bullet and bring her out of her amnesiac state. She recognizes the assassin as a traitor from her country, who also killed her father many years ago, before the assassin is killed by falling debris from the monsters' nearby fight.

"Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster" is a busy movie. It has a lot that it wants to get done, including the introduction of an extremely powerful monster, reintroducing three classic monsters, juggling multiple plotlines about detectives, reporters, scientific research, assassination attempts and royalty. And that's not even including all the points about one of its characters being possessed by an alien or all the other absurd things that happen in this movie. The story is all over the map, trying to conver each story adequately enough and I admire this movie for doing that.

For all of its quirks and budget problems, this movie is still a blast. The monster scenes are unique and memorable, the music by Akira Ifukube adds a greater emotional punch to many scenes and the acting is solid all around, especially from Akiko Wakabayashi as Princess Selina Salno. Even if it is odd and more absurd than I remember it being, that gives is a unique charm that I appreciate even more.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Movie Review - "Gilda" (1946)

Imagine if they took the love-hate dynamic relationship between Rick Blaine and Ilsa from "Casablanca" but focused much more on the hate side, and you'll get something pretty close to "Gilda." The contempt and jealousy throughout this film is thick, as our two former love birds fight for the only thing that matters to them, control over the other.

Set in Bueno Aries during and after World War II, we follow gambler Johnny Farrow (Glenn Ford) who is down on his luck having just moved from New York to Argentina. Johnny is rescued by the friendly owner of a high-class casino, Ballin Mundson (George Macready), who eventually takes in Johnny as his right-hand man. But things take a strange turn when Mundson leaves for a little while and returns with his new bride, Gilda (Rita Hayworth). It is quickly established that Johnny and Gilda have a history together, a relationship that meant a lot to the two of them but ended badly.

Gilda takes absolute delight in messing with Johnny's head, flaunting her sexuality and authority over him being his bosses wife. Johnny, on the other hand, goes out of his way to make sure Gilda has a terrible time in Argentina while serving as her body guard. This leads to a war of attrition and insults between Johnny and Gilda, where both admit they're fine with destroying themselves as long as they take the other down with them.

While we never learn the details of the previous relationship between Gilda and Johnny, the performances by Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford tells us everything we need to know. The way these two look at each other with such hatred and ferocity, yet cannot take their eyes off each other, shows how deep their contempt goes.

While their dynamic is the backbone of the movie, it is sold by just how sexy Rita Hayworth looks throughout this movie. She's less a femme fatale and more so a temptress driven by a grudge against one man. There is not a single moment in this film where Rita doesn't look attractive or isn't trying to flaunt her beauty.

But ultimately, "Gilda" is a film about control. Our two leads fight throughout the film to show they are superior to the other and their feelings for the other. They're always looking for a new weakness or way to manipulate the other, even if it's something as simple as a jab using insults. Even the third player in all this, Mundson, seeks to control everything from his casino, to Johnny and his wife, even demanding control of how the world will be shaped following World War II. All of these people crave and demand power over other people, which they feel is the only power worth having.

Overall, "Gilda" is a powerful romantic thriller, with some great sets and atmosphere with its casino backdrop set in Argentina. Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth are mesmerizing together and have one of the best love-hate relationships in cinema. This is never a dull moment while Rita Hayworth is around, and this is her crowning achievement.

Final Grade: A-

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Number 14 - "Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla" (1974)

The 1970s were an interesting time for Godzilla movies. At this point, there was no doubt that these films were made for little kids and that Godzilla was pictured as a super hero. But starting with "Godzilla vs. Gigan," it felt like Godzilla's threats were becoming less and less world threatening and more silly, like a Saturday morning cartoon. This was especially the case with "Godzilla vs. Megalon," when Godzilla used kung-fu to fight a cockroach monster alongside a giant smiling robot.

Well the next Godzilla film, "Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla" sought to fix that problem by making a film that took Godzilla and his opponent seriously while still keeping the tone and atmosphere light-hearted enough for children and adults to enjoy it. This was also Godzilla's 30th anniversary film and introduced us to my favorite Godzilla villain, MechaGodzilla.

The film was directed by Jun Fukuda, who had previously directed the last two Godzilla films, "Gigan" and "Megalon," as well as "Ebirah, Horror of the Deep" and another Godzilla film we'll get to much later. In his later years, Fukuda would go on record to say that he wasn't a fan of Godzilla but was under contract to make Godzilla movies for Toho. He once said that he wasn't proud of any of the Godzilla films he did, which is a shame because he made some great monster movies, this being a pretty good one. Fukuda did admit that he would rather be making spy movies, which he did with "ESPY" in 1974, though one could argue that he got to do a spy film with "Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla" too.

Our story begins, oddly enough, in Siberia, where Anguirus has awaken and seems to sense that something is wrong. He roars out and, somewhere in the world, the side of a mountain erupts in an explosion and Godzilla's roar can be heard. This opening always confused the hell out of me. In the VHS print of the movie, you cannot tell that Anguirus is in Siberia, it looks like he might be underground instead since he's just surrounded by rocks and dirt. And is it supposed to say that Godzilla was in the side of the mountain? Given what we see later, that's probably not the case.

We cut to Okinawa, where an ancient royal Azumi family ceremony is taking place but is cut short when one of the dancers breaks down and has a vision of a "great and terrible monster that will destroy Japan." Oh, it must be Tuesday. Time for another monster to try and destroy Japan!

One of the witnesses, Gosuke Shimizu (Masaaki Daimon), later discovers a long lost cave in Okinawa and, after searching through the cave for about four minutes, discovers a statue in the shape of the Azumi family's ancient guardian, King Caesar, along with a strange shiny piece of metal. He dislodges the statue and finds a phrase engraved on it - "When a black mountain appears above the clouds, a monster will appear to destroy the earth." Gosuke takes the statue with him back to Japan so he can have his friend, a professor (Hiroshi Koizumi), look it over. But on his way back, he looks out his airplane window to find a massive black cloud that looks exactly like a mountain, exactly what the prophecy had predicted.

He finds out from the professor that there is more to the prophecy. "When the red moon sets and the sun rises in the west, two more shall appear to save humanity." The professor is also able to find out that the metal Gosuke discovered is similar to titanium, but is not from our planet. Meanwhile, the entire time Gosuke has made is trip, there have been people watching him from every corner, including a man with sunglasses and a trench coat. In the middle of the night, a thug breaks in and try to steal the King Caesar statue from him but fails and flees.

Shortly after this, a giant meatball-shaped rock explodes out of Mt. Fuji...I don't make any of this up, I just report it to you guys as it happens. Once the rock lands, it explodes and out pops Godzilla, but with a different roar. This Godzilla's roar is more like a high-pitched screech and far more mechanical. Everyone starts to fear that the prophecy is coming true and that Godzilla is the monster that'll destroy the world.

Godzilla beings his rampage through the countryside, destroying several buildings with his bare hands while also moving just a bit differently. In the middle of all this, Anguirus pops up out of the ground and starts attacking Godzilla. Our characters find this odd, since by this point Godzilla and Anguirus are supposed to be best friends. But as Anguirus continues to attack Godzilla, he chips away some skin on Godzilla's shoulder to reveal a shiny metal interior, showing that this isn't the real Godzilla.

This leads to possibly the most brutal beat down in the history of the Godzilla movies, as the Fake Godzilla kicks Anguirus around, tosses him by his tail and then breaks his jaw like King Kong loves to do T-Rex's. Luckily this doesn't kill Anguirus, who just walks away with a destroyed jaw and bleeding like crazy. Gosuke goes through the wreckage of the fight to find more of that strange titanium, but in greater quantity.

We cut to a few hours later, when Fake Godzilla has made his way to an oil district of Tokyo and has set the entire area ablaze with his flamethrower breath. And I have to say, I love this entire sequence as it uses the entire miniature set to good use and shows the scale of this Godzilla's destruction. But it gets even better in the middle of his attack, when a building near the pier is destroyed to reveal the real Godzilla ready to fight.

As a kid, my jaw dropped when I saw this scene. Two Godzilla's at the same time, one good and one evil, ready to duke it out to see who was better. The fight uses the entire miniature set and each explosion make their conflict feel even more grand, especially with a strange yellow tint to everything.

The real Godzilla chips more of the fake Godzilla's skin away and the professor finally deduces that the Godzilla that flew out of Mt. Fuji is a cyborg. And without any justification, the film cuts to a man in a silver jump suit smoking a cigar who says, "Damn Godzilla. You're mistaken if you think your power is a match for MechaGodzilla." He then proceeds to flip a couple of switches to burn away all of the fake Godzilla's skin and reveal MechaGodzilla in all his cheesy, badass glory.

The reveal of MechaGodzilla is one of my favorite moments in all of these movies. Perfectly paced to build up mystery, while still keeping the mystery of MechaGodzilla's creators hidden, while the first shots of MechaGodzilla show how he is decked out in stylish weapons. The music is flashy yet cool, and the setting of the burning oil refinery is unique and adds some great lighting to this whole scene. To top it off, MechaGodzilla unleashes his attack on Godzilla and downs him on his first missile strike, showing off how much more powerful he is than Godzilla. It's only thanks to a clash of beams that ends the fight in a draw, but Godzilla certainly gets it worse as his blood coats the ocean.

Shortly after this, we learn a lot more about MechaGodzilla's creators. They are aliens from another galaxy, whose planet is slowly being consumed by a black hole. They've come to Earth to claim it as their own and intend to use MechaGodzilla to wipe out humanity.

As a kid, I always wondered why they made their robot look like Godzilla and why they disguised it as the real Godzilla at the beginning of the movie. For that, I like to look at the short scene we had earlier with the guy who talked about MechaGodzilla's power and how relaxed he was with his cigar and cool voice. These aliens are all about style, they want to have all the power but look good while doing it. So of course they would design their giant killer robot in the shape of our greatest champion, it is to demoralize us and show how much better they are. And to be fair, after their first encounter, it is clear that MechaGodzilla is far superior to the original.

Noticing how screwed Earth is if the Black Hole aliens get what they want, our heroes take the second part of the prophecy to heart and find a way to make it come true. They head back to Okinawa to see what they can do. Weirdly enough, the aliens know about the prophecy as well and send more thugs and goons to get the statue and destroy it so that King Caesar cannot be summoned.

This is where "Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla" becomes more of a spy/action film than a monster film, since our heroes are being hunted down for their statue and have to fend off multiple attacks while onboard a ship heading to Okinawa. This goes on for about half an hour, as the goons attack, the guy in the trench coat returns but continues to be sneaky until it's revealed that he's an Interpol agent who is trying to find his fellow agent, supposedly kidnapped by the aliens.

It's at this point that it stops feeling like a Godzilla movie and more like a James Bond film. It does the spy and action scenes fine, but after the great set-up they had with the scene at the oil refinery this all feels like a bit of a letdown.

Eventually, our heroes get back to Okinawa and outsmart the goons and thugs and get the statue onto the ancient pedestal just in time to complete the prophecy and open the side of a mountain that reveals the hidden location of King Caesar, who is still asleep.

This leads to the stupidest moment of the movie when the Azumi family dancer from the beginning of the movie sings to King Caesar to wake him up. Not only does she sing to a sleeping monster, but she sings the same song twice, and all while MechaGodzilla is slowly walking towards King Caesar. MechaGodzilla is literally letting her sing to him when he could just fly over to destroy King Caesar or blast him with his beams or missiles while he is asleep.

Anyway, she is successful and King Caesar is awoken from his slumber. King Caesar's design is unique, with a lot of visible fur and expressive ears. He moves like is made of rock but looks like a dog monster, so he's certainly no slouch on the visuals. My biggest problem with King Caesar is his roar, not that its bad, just that his roar is identical to King Kong's roar from "King Kong vs. Godzilla."

Which brings me to an grievance I have with this film - With how King Caesar is a up-front and physical fighter against MechaGodzilla, and sounds like King Kong, how much cooler would this film have been if King Caesar was replaced with King Kong? That would bring everything full circle, where Godzilla and his first big opponent have to team up and fight his strongest enemy yet. Not much would have to be changed, since both Kong and Caesar have an entire religion and mystery surrounding them, and the two pretty much act the same also.

But King Caesar is such a huge focus on the plot of the film that it is ultimately disappointing once he finally shows up. Our heroes spend about a third of the runtime trying to bring Caesar to life and all we get out of it is a short fight between the two that ends as Godzilla shows up again to join the fight, completing the prophecy that two monsters would fight the threat that could destroy the world.

Actually, the fight between MechaGodzilla and King Caesar is comical. Caesar can reflect MechaGodzilla's eye lasers back at him...but only if the eye lasers hit Caesar in his eyes. MechaGodzilla quickly figures this out and simply targets his eye lasers at other parts of King Caesar's body or just uses other weapons that cannot be reflected. Then Caesar just ends up hiding behind a mountain like a scared puppy until Godzilla arrives.

But once Godzilla gets back into the fight, things get awesome again as the two Godzillas duke it out. Godzilla proves to be the most resilient he's ever been, switching between quick physical strikes and his atomic breath and refusing to go down against MechaGodzilla's attacks. But MechaGodzilla is still able to counter Godzilla at every turn, especially with his ability to fly and shoot beams and missiles that ground Godzilla. Even when King Caesar rejoins the fight, after cowering the corner for a little while, MechaGodzilla still finds a way to overpower both monsters at the same time.

One of my favorite bits is when Godzilla and King Caesar have MechaGodzilla front and back, but MechaGodzilla turns his head 180 degrees to Godzilla has to face missiles and bombs, while Caesar gets the eye lasers. And just for good measure, after MechaGodzilla blasts both monsters to the ground, he uses his finger missiles on a couple of nearby houses. The movie always takes full advantage of the fact that MechaGodzilla is a robot and can do all these weird things with his mechanical body.

But the best moment is when MechaGodzilla unleashes his all-out assault, literally unloading all of his missiles and beams on the helpless Godzilla and King Caesar. There's missiles coming out of every possible spot on MechaGodzilla, including his toes, knees, fingers, mouth, and a piercing beam from the center of his chest. Godzilla and Caesar are tripping over themselves trying to avoid every attack and the entire landscape is destroyed in the carnage. MechaGodzilla has become an entire armory of kaiju-busting weapons.

Eventually, Godzilla barely manages to get through MechaGodzilla's all-out assault, but then has to take the attacks at point-blank range, leading to Godzilla spewing blood everywhere and getting some finger missiles stuck in his neck. This leads to my only complaint with the monster scenes in this movie, Godzilla's deus-ex-machina new power that he developed after getting struck by lightning multiple times and becoming a magnetic pole.

Remember kids, if you get struck my lightning several times in a row, it'll turn you into a magnet!

The problem with this is that it feels like it comes out of nowhere. While there was a scene earlier to show Godzilla getting the power, that doesn't mean it suddenly makes sense or that it works for the story. They did it because they wrote themselves into a corner and couldn't come up with a better idea so Godzilla could beat MechaGodzilla.

With the ability to turn himself into a magnet, Godzilla forces MechaGodzilla to come to him, even reeling MechaGodzilla in like he was a fish on a hook at one point, and grabs MechaGodzilla from behind. King Caesar rams into MechaGodzilla a couple of times for good measure before Godzilla twists his mechanical clones' head off to finally defeat his cosmic foe.

At the same time, the Interpol agent and the professor work together to disable the Black Hole aliens controls, kill their leader and escape their exploding base alive, ending the threat of MechaGodzilla and the aliens once and for all. Godzilla returns to the sea, while King Caesar goes back to sleep and peace is resorted to Okinawa and the world.

"Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla" is one of the few Godzilla films I have no problem popping in every once in a while just to watch the monster scenes and skip the human scenes. Not that the human scenes are terrible, but that they are weak compared to how amazing the monster scenes are. Both of the confrontations between its titular monsters are highlights of the entire Showa series, showcasing a much more vulnerable Godzilla that offers a nice change of pace. For once, it feels like Godzilla isn't uberly strong and has to work much harder to achieve victory, facing off against a monster that is just as cool as him. The music by Masaru Sato is heart-pounding and catchy with its use of horns and drums. Still, so much focus on the ultimately pointless King Caesar does bring this film down but not enough to say this is a bad film. This is an extremely fun monster movie, but a below-average spy thriller.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Number 15 - "Godzilla vs. Biollante" (1989)

I know that it may come across like I hate the Heisei series, especially since I put more than half of the second Godzilla series so low on my list and outright despise entries like "Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth," but I'll admit that when the Heisei series wanted to be good, it was often some of the best the entire Godzilla series had to offer. Like I said in my review of "Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah," the monster scenes in that film are spectacular especially the final fight between with Mecha-King Ghidorah.

What I find so interesting about the Heisei series that, from the beginning, Toho had everything in place to make a new Godzilla series that would be better than the Showa series. The studio was dedicated to telling deeper and more adult-oriented stories, supply bigger budgets and get the best possible special effects crews they could get. And for the first two-and-a-half movies of the Heisei series, they delivered on this. But somewhere along the line, the filmmakers got complacent and tired of the material. The passion and energy in the Godzilla films was gone, and replaced by a need to put butts in theater seats and sell toys. The reason films like "Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla" and "Godzilla vs. Destoroyah" are so low on my countdown is because they are so by the numbers and lack the fun of watching a great monster movie.

But I will say there are two different sides to the Heisei series that showed its potential. The monster scenes in "Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah" were a part of that potential, but now we've got a entire film that amps it up, "Godzilla vs. Biollante." This is the second film in the Heisei series and serves as a direct follow-up to the first film, "The Return of Godzilla" or sometimes simply "Godzilla" (1984) (though I'll refer to it from now on as "The Return of Godzilla" since we already have three films in this series called "Godzilla"). This film builds off everything the first film started, with a darker tone, greater focus on realism and world building that showed how Godzilla affects the entire world instead of just Japan.

The film begins immediately after the events of "The Return of Godzilla" where the majority of Tokyo has been destroyed, but scientists were able to trap Godzilla inside of an active volcano. Rescue crews get to work on repairing the city, while a group of soldiers scourer Tokyo for live Godzilla cells. They find a few samples and it's revealed they are working for an American corporation who wants to use Godzilla's cells for their own needs. As they flee from Japanese soldiers, they run into a foreign assassin who kills them all and takes the cells for himself, heading back to his home country of Saradia, a fictional country meant to replace Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia. The assassin returns the cells to his government, who say they plan to combine the cells with wheat and turn their desert into a fertile wonderland of crops and food.

Saradia's leading scientist is Dr. Shiragami (Koji Takahashi), a Japanese who fully believes in the power these cells have but doesn't fully trust science to handle its pure strength. But just as he's explaining this to a Saradian leader, the lab holding the Godzilla cells explodes due to a terrorist attack, killing Shiragami's daughter Erika.

We cut to five years later and get our first introduction to the eye-rolling irritation of Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka). Dr. Shiragami has returned to Japan but has given up all science after the death of his daughter. Miki is here to see if she can use her psychic powers to communicate with plants...like you do. Shiragami believes that his daughter transferred her soul into a rose before she died so his new hobby is tending to his rose garden...like you do.

Meanwhile, other Japanese scientists have been trying to come up with new ways to combat Godzilla in case he ever emerges from the volcano. Their leading project in that area is known as Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria, which if used properly on Godzilla could immobilize him if not outright kill him. The problem with this project is that they need Godzilla cells to complete it and they only have a finite amount of them. This raises tensions between Japan, Saradia, and the American company that tried to steal the cells at the beginning of the movie, known as Bio-Major.

Shortly after this, volcanic activity increases at Mt. Mihara, where Godzilla is being held, and the Japanese defense force begins to fear the worst. They have Miki fly over the volcano in a helicopter to see if she can sense Godzilla, which sounds really stupid now that I'm typing that up, and she learns that Godzilla is moving again.

This provokes the Japanese government to go ahead with the Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria project and use the Godzilla cells they have to complete it. The scientists ask for Dr. Shiragami's help, since he was an expert on gene-splicing. He turns them down but changes his mind later when an earthquake, caused by a volcanic explosion on Mt. Mihara, leads to his rose garden getting destroyed. Shiragami then uses the Godzilla cells that he's been given access to and combines them with the remains of the rose his daughter's soul was supposedly in to keep the rose from dying.

And suddenly Dr. Shiragami goes from a sympathetic scientist to mad scientist by thinking that nothing could go wrong by combining the cells of a plant and a radioactive fire-breathing lizard monster.

While Koji Takahashi does a wonderful job played Dr. Shiragami, my problem with the character is how hypocritical he is. He goes from adoring the work scientists do, to outright rejecting it, then performs the same experiments he used to do for selfish reasons, and will ultimately flip-flop several more times throughout the movie. It gives off the impression that this movie is anti-science, even though it leads to humanity to many great things over the course of this movie. As a result, the message of "Godzilla vs. Biollante" gets gummed up in the process.

Anyway, we get a hilarious scene with Miki and bunch of grade-school psychic kids who all had dreams about Godzilla emerging out of the volcano to destroy Japan, while the kids cheer loudly and hold up their Godzilla crayon drawings. It's a short sequence, but it makes me laugh every time. They're all so happy and cheerful about the destruction that's coming! Also, still funny that psychics in the Godzilla universe are never explained.

Dr. Shiragami's lab is attacked by some American assassins trying to retrieve the Godzilla cells, who in turned are attacked by the same Saradian assassin, SSS9, who in turn is attacked by a giant tentacle. SSS9 escapes without the cells, but the Americans are killed by the tentacle. The next morning, the authorities and Shiragami examine the wreckage and find a massive hole in the wall that leads to a nearby lake. A couple of days later, this creature has grown into a giant rose creature with massive tendrils and tentacles in the middle of the lake, which Shiragami names Biollante.

Jeez, it's almost like the guy who talked about how bad it is to tempering in God's domain was tampering in God's domain by combining Godzilla's cells with a plant!

With no other options, Bio-Major gives Japan an ultimatum. It turns out they've planted explosives all around Mt. Mihara and say they will detonate all of them and unleash Godzilla upon the world again unless they're given all of the Godzilla cells and research on the ANEB. Japan has no other option but to agree to their demands and meets a neutral location to exchange the cells and the codes to disable the explosives.

But just as they deal goes down SSS9 is there to get in the way. He walks away with all of the cells, while the truck with the commands to the bombs is overturned and disabled. They're unable to stop the detonation and the bombs go off, thus freeing Godzilla from his volcanic prison. This leads to a bad-ass sequence of Godzilla walking out of the volcano with fiery explosions all around him set to his theme music that is always a joy to see.

The Japanese defense force deploys their latest weapon, the Super-X2, to fight Godzilla. While this thing is no bigger than a jet plane it does have a reflecting mirror that can send Godzilla's atomic ray back at him. This is a long and drawn-out fight between the two, with Godzilla getting trounced by his own atomic ray and taking a pounding from the Super-X2, though eventually the mirror cannot take Godzilla's ray any more and starts to melt, causing it to retreat.

Just as Godzilla heads towards a nuclear plant to recharge, his course changes when he hears Biollante's cries and heads straight for her. This leads to the first confrontation between the two monsters in a lake that feels wholly unique from any monster fight in the Godzilla series. Biollante attacks Godzilla with her tendrils by constricting him, dragging him underwater, spraying acid in his face, while the main portion of Biollante remains immobile and helpless. It is oddly enjoyable to watch Godzilla fight off hordes of tentacles and tendrils, especially when the special effects work here is top-notch, showing off how badly the two monsters are damaging each other.

Unfortunately for Biollante, one blast of Godzilla's atomic breath to her main hub is enough to basically kill her...but not before she transforms into her next stage and then turns into pixie dust and goes up into space...so I'm not entirely sure who won that fight.

Anyway, Godzilla heads back into the sea after his fight with Biollante and the defense force uses Miki again to locate him. They figure he's heading towards the closest nuclear plant in Tsuruga to they send in everything they have to fight him off before he gets to the mainland. The government also shuts down all airplane activity in Japan to keep SSS9 from getting out of the country with the Godzilla cells.

But it seems that Godzilla faked out the entire defense force when he appears in a completely different area of Japan than they expected, still heading towards a nuclear plant. I love the image of a computer screen showing hundreds if not thousands of ships and troops gathered in one bay, only for the camera to pan to the left and show that Godzilla is actually miles away.

This leads to one of the only cool scenes that involves Miki Saegusa. It turns out she is the only one who can do anything to combat Godzilla at the moment, so she goes out onto an ocean platform, actually gets Godzilla's attention and has a psychic battle with him. Godzilla literally stops his rampage to stare down this little girl and have a battle of the minds with her. I honestly don't know if Miki is insane or stupid (probably stupid), but if she had more scenes like this throughout the Heisei series I wouldn't have a problem with her being in every film.

Of course, Miki having a psychic battle with Godzilla goes about as well as you think it would, and she collapses after a couple second of attacking him. She is successful in redirecting his attack though, as he now heads towards Osaka instead of Tsuruga. Again, hard to say who wins that fight but I'll at least give Miki some points for standing up to Godzilla.

This gives the defense force another chance to fight off Godzilla, especially now that the scientists have finished making the ANEB. All they have to do is get it inside of Godzilla's system and that should kill him. This leads to Godzilla's attack on Osaka, which is bolstered for me because of Akira Ifukube's music. Though he didn't compose the music for this movie, Koichi Sugiyama and Yuki Saito do their best to update Ifukube's music to make it feel just as grand as it did back in the 1950s and 1960s.


The defense force deploys the Super-X2 again, even though the mirror still isn't working properly. They keep Godzilla distracted long enough for some ground troops with rocket launchers carrying the ANEB to get in position, though it does lead to the Super-X2 getting destroyed when they try to use the mirror and it fails. Luckily, the troops are successful at injecting several canisters of ANEB into Godzilla, with one being fired directly into his mouth. Afterwards, Godzilla heads into the mountains, undeterred from the ANEB.

At this point, our heroes successfully get the remaining Godzilla cells back from the Saradian people and return them back to the Japanese labs for safe keeping.

The defense force is perplexed why the ANEB hasn't had any effect on Godzilla, even after several hours of being administered. They eventually come to the conclusion that Godzilla's body temperature is so low that it has no affect on him. Their solution to this problem is they need to raise Godzilla's body temperature. How? With the artificial lightning generators they've been developing, of course!

So in case you've been keeping score, so far we've had international assassins, terrorist attacks, scientists playing God by creating abominations of nature, souls being trapped inside of plants, psychics, bacteria that eats radiation, giant plant monsters being turned into fairy dust, and now weather-machines. And yet this movie still takes itself rather seriously. The strange thing though is that it works...most of the time.

Anyway, this leads to another great sequence where the military finally gets an all-out strike against Godzilla. Their attack is one of the more well-coordinated assaults by the military, using masers and tanks to keep Godzilla in the area of the lightning generators and having an entire grid of platforms ready for Godzilla to step on. I especially like that it is filmed in the rain, since we don't see too many monster sequences with weather effects in this series. Not to mention, the music is once again an old Ifukube soundtrack and it is wonderfully triumphant.

In the middle of the attack, pixie dust starts raining from the sky and Biollante reemerges from the ground to attack Godzilla in her new evolved form. This stage of Biollante is massive, with a huge mouth that has hundreds of sharp teeth while still having dozens of tendrils and tentacles. The two monsters fight again in another well-shot sequence, with Biollante using a wide range of attacks on Godzilla while also fighting off his attacks. This scene takes advantage of Biollante's size and variety at every opportunity, especially when the tendrils wrap around Godzilla and pierce his hand at one point.

The only problem with the fight is that it comes to an abrupt halt when the ANEB finally starts to kick in and Godzilla nearly passes out. He leaves in the middle of his fight with Biollante to retreat to the ocean before collapsing. It makes sense in terms of the story to finally have that stuff kick in, but this is the third fight in the movie that ends with no real victor.

With the day supposedly saved, we get some final parting words from Dr. Shiragami, who is being congratulated that the ANEB worked. As Biollante returns to space, he sees the image of his daughter in Biollante's pixie dust, which leads to him giving a speech about how terrible man is for creating monsters like Godzilla and Biollante and that he believes he can lead a life of peace now...right before he gets shot and killed by SSS9.

A chase scene ensues that leads to one of the other scientists getting in a fight with SSS9, who is killed by one of the lightning generator plates. As the scientist returns to his girlfriend, they're shocked to see Godzilla rise out of the ocean. They figure that the cold ocean water must have lowered his body temperature again so the ANEB stopped working. But Godzilla's had a rough day, so he's fine with returning to the ocean and calling this whole thing off.

"Godzilla vs. Biollante" is a enjoyable monster film, despite having far more silly or stupid moments than I remember. It took what "The Return of Godzilla" started and made it feel like the world was interested in Godzilla instead of only Japan, with the introduction of Saradian and Bio-Major, while also upping their military presence. There was a lot of great shots that showed the skies filled with defense force helicopters or several battleships in the ocean and that added to grand scale of this movie. It is also one of the better looking Godzilla films, especially with Godzilla's attack on Osaka and the battles between the titular monsters.

My problem with the movie is its story. There was a huge focus on Bio-Major and Saradia, but after a while their desires became muddy and unfocused. It made sense when they were only after the Godzilla cells, each wanting it for their own needs, but neither of them had any reason to want the ANEB once it was created. This made a lot of scenes with the assassins and political pieces feel unnecessary as soon as Godzilla arrives.

There was also my problem with Dr. Shiragami's constant flip-flopping on the benefits of science and gene-splicing. I want to say the overall message of "Godzilla vs. Biollante" is that all science is bad and gives scientists too much power...except that not all science is bad in this movie. It is because of discoveries like the ANEB and the lightning generators that humanity wins the day. Without any of that, everyone would have died to Godzilla. It would be better to say that scientists must be restrained by a higher moral and ethical code, but Shiragami doesn't seem to learn that. As a result, this makes most of the scenes with Dr. Shiragami feel odd when he tries to preach about how terrible science is.

But overall, despite a few hiccups in the story, this is a solid movie. Even with the many silly things that happen, "Godzilla vs. Biollante" takes itself just seriously enough that you feel the weight and gravitas of each decision towards stopping Godzilla. The monster fights are unique and have some of the best cinematography of any Godzilla film. It is a worthy successor to "The Return of Godzilla" and one of the better Heisei films.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Number 16 - "Godzilla" (2014)

This is one of the few reviews in my Godzilla-thon that is difficult to talk about, because I have already written a full review of this movie on my blog. In fact, in the case of the 2014 "Godzilla" I practically wrote three reviews of that movie already, analyzing it from nearly every perspective I could think. But I guess there is another point-of-view I could look at the other American Godzilla film from, and that's from a distant perspective.

It has now been over three years since "Godzilla" was released. Fans have had time to analyze the movie in detail, Toho has already released another Godzilla film since then and is planning a new trilogy of animated Godzilla films, and a huge Monsterverse has been launched with "Godzilla" acting as the first movie in that series.

So, rather than retreading the same ground I already covered in my previous reviews of this movie, I'll use this review to answer one question - How does "Godzilla" hold up?

To give a brief plot description, the film mostly follows the Brody family, in particular the father Joe (Bryan Cranston) and his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Joe was the supervisor of a nuclear facility in Japan until some unexplained tremors caused the plant to be destroyed, along with his wife. Joe has spent nearly the last twenty years researching the cause of those tremors and comes to the conclusion that it was not an accident and that there are bigger players and powers at work here. Ford is a bomb defuse expert in the American military, who has just returned from active duty to spend time with his family in San Francisco. But when Joe needs Ford's help in Japan, Ford reluctantly agrees to help him discover what exactly happened to the nuclear plant all those years ago.

What they find is a hibernating monster, codenamed M.U.T.O. (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) that feeds off nuclear energy like a parasite and can shut down all electronics with an EMP. As the monster escapes, Joe is killed and Ford is recruited by the mysterious organization Monarch to help track down the creature. One of the scientists, Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) tells Ford about a force that would hunt down and kill the Muto, an ancient creature that is at the top of the food chain - Godzilla.

The general consensus for "Godzilla" seems to be that while Godzilla is on screen, the movie is amazing. But the problem is that Godzilla is on screen for all of eight minutes.

Do I agree with that consensus? Yes and no.

I do agree that when Godzilla is being shown, the film is at its absolute best, especially when it demonstrates Godzilla's size and scope like when he tosses around battleships like they were leaves on the water or creates a tsunami when he comes out of the ocean.

One of my favorite little bits is when the Muto is in the middle of destroying the airport and everyone is screaming their heads off, but all of a sudden Godzilla's foot steps into frame and everything goes silent. The screams stop, the explosions are silenced - everyone is in awe of the monster that just appeared out of no where. This creature deserves our attention and they give Godzilla one of the best entrances of any monster I have ever seen.

But at the same time, it is disappointing that we only get to see so much of Godzilla. One of the biggest problems I have with the movie follows that great entrance. You have the first confrontation between Godzilla and the Muto ready to go and show a huge monster brawl through Honolulu, and yet you cut away from it the moment Godzilla roars at the Muto. We don't get to see any of the ensuing fight, just the aftermath.

There are moments where I wish we got to see more of the monsters doing their thing, instead of just the destruction they leave behind. But I do get what the movie was going for. This movie gets much better when you look at it as a thriller instead of a monster movie, where the monsters aren't there to be action pieces, but instead as the biggest possible threat to our characters.

Think of Godzilla like the shark in "Jaws" - We don't get to see very much of either of them, so both movies do their best to work with their limitations by building up the suspense around them. We witness their ferocity, size, and power without actually ever seeing them. So by the time they both play an active part in the movie, we already have an idea what they are capable of and know to fear them. Each second they're out in the ocean, getting closer and closer to pouncing somewhere and doing god-knows what to a bunch of unsuspecting people. They're not really monsters, as much as they are time bombs building the tension up every moment they're not on screen.

In this case, the limited screen time for Godzilla works the films' advantage. Instead of showing the monsters wrecking havoc on the world, we see it through the individuals' point of view. We see the millions of people without power or homes in Honolulu, or the thousands of people stuck on the Golden Gate Bridge.

One of the best shots of the whole movie is a tracking shot of a field filled with cars stuck on a highway trying to get out of town, only to reveal a crashed airplane in the middle of the field. We see emergency crews trying to get to the airplane, but there's so much traffic that it seems impossible to get there. We see cars going off on the grass to get away from the other vehicles. Each car tells a different story about how people react to these fantastic yet dangerous situations.

Even when following single people there are some tense and heart-pounding scenes here. The one where Ford is trapped on the wooden bridge with a flaming train behind him and a pregnant monster in front is filmed and paced perfectly. Or the halo jump from high above downtown San Francisco with the creepy "2001: A Space Odyssey" music playing, as they descend right on top of the monsters. When this movie wants to be suspenseful, it excels at it.

But the biggest compliment I can give this movie is also one of its greatest weaknesses. All of those tense and thrilling sequences mean very little if you don't care about the safety and well-being of the characters involved. Would the opening sequence of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" be as exciting or suspenseful if we didn't know anything about Indiana Jones? Or if Harrison Ford's acting wasn't as compelling or emotional? No, then we would feel nothing when Indy was chased by that giant boulder.

And here lies the main problem with "Godzilla" - outside of Bryan Cranston's performance, the acting sucks. Everyone always has these emotionless blank faces to all the other-worldly things going on like they just got out of bed and don't care about anything until they get their coffee. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is especially bland, because he's around during nearly every monster sequence and always has this neutral facial expression that drives me crazy. He's been so desensitized to all this that he cannot emote properly. I understand that he's a solider who has seen combat and violence, but if you're being out-acted by a computer image then something is wrong here.

Bryan Cranston is the only actor in this movie that seems to give a damn, since he takes an active role in searching a government concealed mystery and will not stop until he gets the answers he came for. He is a man driven by grief, sadness, and regret, and will not settle until he finds the truth. Cranston's acting reflects this, especially when he starts yelling about what Monarch is covering up at the nuclear plant. I cared about his fight to find out what rightfully deserved and had been denied for nearly 20 years.

Which is why it's all the more confusing when they kill him off halfway through the movie. The only interesting character in the whole film, and he's dead before Godzilla even shows up. He doesn't even get enough time to react to news that a monster was the cause of the plant's destruction, just an accidental death in the middle of the opening rampage from the Muto. And then we get stuck is his boring-as-dirt son.

Why couldn't it have been the other way around, where Ford died in the initial attack and then we follow Joe around for the rest of the movie? That would have made this movie amazing. If we weren't being entertained by the presence of monsters or the destruction and carnage they bring, we'd be getting a powerful performance from Bryan Cranston, especially in the second half when he'd be grief-stricken from losing his son.

Anyway, it is difficult for me to say that I hate this movie when there are so many amazingly tense and suspenseful moments throughout, but I see why people would leave the theater feeling disappointed. Personally, I don't think the problem is there weren't enough scenes with Godzilla. I think there was just enough of Godzilla to keep his sense of scale and awe throughout the entire film. I think the problem is that there wasn't enough good acting to keep the human scenes as interesting as the monster scenes.

The reason "Jaws" works from start to finish is because the acting from its leads compliments to thriller-atmosphere and makes you want to see if our heroes will make it out alive. While "Godzilla" is like "Jaws" in many respects, the difference between the two is the compelling acting that doesn't deliver when it needed to. It doesn't provide the emotional punch and impact that it deserved when you see Godzilla and the Mutos battling in downtown San Francisco. Those scenes come and go and I feel next to nothing about them. It isn't until Godzilla finally busts out his atomic breath and starts being a badass that things get interesting again.

So does "Godzilla" hold up? The monster scenes absolutely hold up still, showcasing some brilliant camera work and pacing, and most of the scenes with Bryan Cranston are good due to his acting. Everything else in the movie is pretty forgettable because you don't give a damn about any other characters. This makes "Godzilla" a tough yet satisfying experience for me.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Movie Review - "Blade Runner 2049" (2017)

***Possible Spoilers Ahead***

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 announced 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 subservient 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