Oblivion: Well Played Tom Cruise, Well Played #Oblivion #TomCruise

Oblivion Movie Poster

Oblivion Movie Poster

Oblivion Movie Poster

Oblivion

Director: Joseph Kosinski
Writers: Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt and Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Tom Cruise, Andrea Riseborough, Morgan Freeman and Olga Kurylenko

Seriously, I’m about to decide that any movie Tom Cruise is in is worth watching at least once. I don’t know if he’s insane or not. I’m not qualified to make that kind of assessment. All I know is that if he is, he’s living proof that there is a fine line between insanity and genius because that man can act. He also either has a genius agent, or he can really pick movies.

I’ve read a lot of science fiction. In fact some of my favorite novels and short stories are from the golden age of science fiction. So I figured out what both of the major plot twists were in Oblivion long before they were revealed. That being said, Oblivion was so well done that I thoroughly enjoyed it anyway.

I don’t want to give away too many spoilers because Oblivion is really a movie that’s best when the surprises are surprising. It’s well written though, well acted. Everything was fully believable. The clues make sense and are subtle so the viewer isn’t beaten over the head with them. Like the best science fiction, it treats the audience like they are intelligent. Few things make me dislike a movie more than being treated like an idiot and I appreciate that Oblivion did not fall into that trap.

The CGI is spectacular and like everything about this movie, subtle. Everything hangs together and makes sense. We are spoiled, these days, by the quality and prevalence of CGI. In science fiction movies it seems that CGI is often used gratuitiously in an attempt to foist an ‘epic’ sense upon a story that really isn’t epic. Oblivion doesn’t fall into that trap either. It’s breathtaking but not over the top. The panoramic scenery doesn’t get in the way of the story. Now that could be due to the strength of Tom Cruise’s acting but I think it is more due to the good sense of the editors in showing restraint.

Oblivion explores questions of who we are and what makes us who we are. It tackles the hard questions and perhaps raises a mirror to our cynicism (or at least my cynicism although I’m almost positive the writers very deliberately played upon our collective cynicism). Oblivion is a very human story, as are the best of all stories but science fiction in particular explores who we are as human beings and individuals and what it means to be who we are. Unlike more poorly done films and sometimes novels, Oblivion is neither clunky, nor crass in the way it explores philosophy. Rather it does so with an ease that seems effortless when in fact it is the entire crux of the story.

That is the hallmark of a good story. It makes us think about the philosophical and global. Good stories can lead us gently to question what it means to be human. Oblivion does all of this in an intelligent and entertaining way.

And by entertaining, I mean this is an action movie too. There are gun battles, crashes, chases, even high speed chases and explosions, including a couple of nukings (I kid you not, two nuclear devices were detonated that I counted). So your thirst for excitement, gentle reader, will be well slaked. There are also two love stories, one of true love and one bittersweet. Again our humanity, the best and perhaps less than best that we are, is acted out with such skill and sensitivity that I felt for each character. I empathized with each character; every actor and actress did a fantastic job in their roles.

The final scene, my goodness the final scene was classic science fiction. There is nothing I can say about it that won’t give away too much. So no spoilers, I’m afraid. Oblivion is an excellent and thought provoking movie. I do believe I may add this to my DVD collection. K.

Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (1974) Not Bad But Not Great Either

Godzillavsmechagodzilladvdcover

GodzillavsmechagodzilladvdcoverGodzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 1974
Director: Jun Fukuda
Writers: Jun Fukuda, Masami Fukushima, Shinichi Sekizawa, Hiroyasu Yamamura

In 1974 Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla became the fourteenth installment in the Godzilla franchise. This movie had four writers and you can tell. There were easily four different plot lines woven together with varying amounts of success. There was an alien plot line woven in with a secret agent plot line mixed merrily with a legend about a royal family that involves a princess and a prophecy and a scientist whose daughter is held hostage by the aliens. Oh and the giant robot, let us not forget that.

I find it interesting that in this particular Godzilla movie there seems to be a real attempt to create a James Bond type character out of a shadowy Interpol agent. James Bond was created in 1953 by writer Ian Flemming which makes that venerable character just a year older than Godzilla who debuted in 1954.

In Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla aliens have hatched an evil plan to take over the Earth (why?) by convincing the human population that Godzilla has gone rogue and is wantonly destroying the countryside. It turns out that it’s a huge frame job as the Godzilla we see beating up on his friend Anguirus is actually a robot in disguise! That’s right, Mechagodzilla gets caught wearing a Godzilla suit.

Once the jig is up and everyone knows it’s aliens then we have the battle with Godzilla and King Cesar against Mechagodzilla and King Ghidorah. There’s a lot of plot getting in the way of the action and in this movie the special effects and make-up team get a lot of mileage out of some gorilla suit heads that are painted green. It’s a bit silly but not on the level of say Godzilla vs Gigan.

In a movie full of strange things loosely tied together perhaps the strangest in my opinion is the need for a human scientist to repair Mechagodzilla. Aliens are remote controlling their own super high tech robot Godzilla and it gets damaged by Godzilla in battle. Rather than fix it themselves they kidnap a human scientist and threaten to kill his daughter if he doesn’t affect repairs. I guess that was their excuse for getting human operatives, especially our secret agent from Interpol, into the heart of the alien command center.

After the previous few Godzilla movies Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla is a nice call back to some of the classics like Destroy All Monsters. It’s not bad but it’s not all that great either. K.

Godzilla vs. Megalon A Surprising Success

Godzilla vs. Megalon DVD cover

Godzilla vs. Megalon DVD cover

Godzilla vs. Megalon DVD cover

Godzilla vs. Megalon
Director: Jun Fukuda
Writers: Jun Fukuda, Takeshi Kimura and Shin’ichi Sekizawa

1973 brings us the next movie in the Godzilla franchise: Godzilla vs. Megalon. In every way this was superior to the previous two Godzilla movies and while it is tempting to pan it as an awful movie I think that misses the intent of this movie. In the late sixties campy movies and television shows became extremely popular in the US and Ishiro Honda began experimenting with humor in Godzilla movies. I don’t know, nor do I expect there is a correlation, just that these two things are known facts. Jun Fukuda picked up where Ishiro Honda left off and continued with the Godzilla franchise, including experimenting with humor it seems.

The movie starts out ominously enough for the viewer with questionable music and an opening scene of a young boy on some kind of carnival type watercraft out in a small, narrow bay. An earthquake occurs and the young boy and his craft almost get sucked into a whirlpool. He is rescued by the two men and, in an island nation where tsunamis are commonplace; they stay to watch all of the water get drained out of the bay. Not a promising start, gentle reader.

I’m going to attempt to pull out all of the good things about this movie with the understanding that I’m making it sound far better than it is. Just understand that the cheesiness and the campiness are very over the top in this movie.

The plot of Godzilla vs. Megalon involves such Godzilla staples as aliens, peoples from a lost civilization and war against humankind. In a somewhat thoughtful and easily overlooked twist, the attack on humanity is predicated by an attack by humanity on the other civilization. Granted an unknowing attack but still a real attack.

The testing of nuclear weapons has caused great destruction and even though governments have attempted to test where humans would not be affected, the sad truth of the matter is that fallout drifts. In Godzilla vs. Megalon it is a test of a nuclear device that destroys much of a long hidden and ancient civilization living underground.

Outraged by the unprovoked attack on their civilization the people of Seatopia (yeah our first real laugh) call upon the defender of their people, Megalon to wage terrible war on the surface dwellers. Megalon is called for both vengeance and to be a final weapon, destroying those who would attack the peaceful people of Seatopia.

Since most of their population was killed, murdered, in the blast from the nuclear bomb, they also send operatives to fetch an android being developed by a brilliant scientist and his wealthy benefactor. The same three yahoos we saw in the opening scene. The addition of a young boy to this odd couple living in their mansion is an unfortunate misstep. Not because there is anything inherently wrong with two men providing guidance or fatherly figures for a young boy but because young children do not belong in monster movies (with notable exceptions). In case you haven’t noticed, gentle reader, I feel about young children in monster movies the way most Star Wars fans feel about Jar-Jar Binks—and for the same reason.
The robot is named Jet Jaguar (yet another source of humor) and the Seatopia operatives steal his control device. A car chase scene worthy of Herbi the Love Bug ensues as the wealthy benefactor, who likes cars and drives like a racer (reminding me of no one so much as Tony Stark but 70’s Japanese version—yeah it’s as funny as it sounds). There is some brief lip service given to programming for the robot that is completely thrown out the window as the movie progresses. We go from, “I programmed him that way,” to “His survival programming must have taken over,” to “He must think his job is done;” all but admitting, “I have no idea how he’s doing that.”

This movie doesn’t even give a nod to anything that even remotely resembles the laws of physics. Megalon has wings, as a giant insect type Kaiju, but flies via jet propulsion. And then Megalon bounces, huge, goofy bounces, across the countryside. Jet Jaguar grows and shrinks at will. Somehow the Seatopia (yeah I cringe every time I type that. But what can I do? They named it.) Operatives use Jet Jaguar to guide Megalon.

Our heroes and the obnoxious kid get control of Jet Jaguar back and send him to fetch Godzilla to save Tokyo. Apparently Godzilla makes house calls these days. Jet Jaguar heads back to engage Megalon while the Seatopian big Kahuna calls on alien friends to send—Gigan!

Jet Jaguar has plenty of time to be beat up while Godzilla swims all the way from Monster Island to Japan. Megalon and Gigan are miming their plans and taunts as well as victories as they maul Jet Jaguar. Godzilla finally makes an appearance and his miming says “Game ON!” It’s pretty funny. This really kicks off the main part of the exciting final battle of the movie and it is choreographed for maximum silliness. It has to be, because otherwise it’s just mind bogglingly ridiculous.

Godzilla vs. Megalon is hysterically funny. When I viewed it for this review those watching it with me were laughing out loud during the climactic final battle of the movie. It is such an unlikely venue for humor that I was tempted to write it off as unintentionally funny but knowing the above about the time and intents of Ishiro Honda and upon considering the exaggerated pantomiming motions of the monsters I suspect this was the intent. I think this is the Godzilla movie where they got humor just right.

My advice is to pop up some popcorn, have a martini or a beer and just realize that Godzilla vs. Megalon is what it is. A somewhat funny monster movie that raises some surprisingly astute questions about our actions as a species and the responsibility we hold for damaging our world and those creatures with whom we share it. K

Godzilla vs. Gigan: Not Quite The Worst Godzilla Movie Ever

Godzilla vs. Gigan DVD cover

Godzilla vs. Gigan DVD cover

Godzilla vs. Gigan DVD cover

Godzilla vs. Gigan
Director: Jun Fukuda
Writers: Takeshi Kimura & Shin’ichi Sekizawa
Starring: Hiroshi Ishikawa

In 1972 director Jun Fukuda brought us Godzilla vs. Gigan. This is the twelfth movie in the Godzilla franchise. I sat down to watch this movie, having forgotten most of it in the time since I last watched it. Likely my brain blocked it out.

Since I had previously watched and claimed that Godzilla’s Revenge was the worst Godzilla movie ever made, I sat down for a pleasant evening watching an old Godzilla movie. Oh sure, probably a cheesy one but the worst was behind me, right? The sound track was surprisingly decent which led to a more stealthy advancement of the awful. And I say these things as a long time Godzilla fan.

Despite a comic book style intro, the movie starts off innocuously enough with a would be comic book writer and artist trying desperately to get someone to pick up and publish his work, maybe even make a cartoon of it. In this way he bumps into a girl engaged in some kind of corporate espionage. She drops a magnetic data tape and when corporate goons rush out of the skyscraper after her our would-be artist sends them in the wrong direction, protecting this unknown girl. He picks up the magnetic data tape and after meeting the corporate bigwig goes to find the girl, give her the tape and see what’s going on.

Now the above makes it sound way more suspenseful than the movie actually manages in this part of the plot. The viewer knows straight away that the corporate bigwig is evil because he looks like, and has a whisper of mannerisms of, a Japanese version of Snidely Whiplash. I kid you not.

Snidely Whiplash, I mean the corporation has bought an amusement park. This amusement park boasts a giant Godzilla tower as an exhibit. From this tower the aliens who are secretly (not really) in control of their puppet corporation plan to launch a plot to take over the world. The aliens out themselves at every opportunity in what is a surprisingly well thought out example of people (the aliens) trying to fit in to a foreign culture. The movie is so ridiculous that it would be easy to miss this little tid-bit of goodness.

The girl, her hippy friend (that was a treat), our aspiring artist and the girl’s brother, who has been locked up by the aliens, know what’s going on. They spend the rest of the movie trying to get proof to take to the authorities and foil the alien invasion plan, as well as rescue the girl’s brother. The aliens, naturally, spend their time trying to hurry up their plan before these meddling kids–I mean, the protagonists foil their plot.

The dastardly alien plan involves controlling the space monsters, Gigan and King Ghidorah. Those monsters are to destroy Godzilla and thus take over the world. On Monster Island the monsters know something strange is afoot when the aliens test their control device. Godzilla and Anguirus have a little chat about the matter. Yes, they actually talk. The sound effect is of someone scratching a vinyl record (before hip-hop DJ’s became popular) and then we hear dopy voice-overs of the conversation. To add insult to injury the dialog isn’t even that good.

Godzilla vs. Gigan was a low budget Godzilla movie and we love them for their triumph of Kaiju monster goodness over small budget effects. While I’ve only seen wires on my HDTV in two Godzilla movies, they really shouldn’t have cheated on the miniatures and used Barbies for some of the people in the buildings Gigan stomps through. You could tell that’s what they were because the figures had that Barbie out of proportion torso and when Gigan’s foot stomped through the ceiling the figures were flung out of the booths they were sitting in and the legs never moved. They remained in the “seated” position the entire time.

So Gigan and King Ghidorah are on a rampage through the countryside and surrounding cities, having been called by the aliens. Godzilla shows up because he makes house calls these days. Anguirus heads over too. Some of the Kaiju fight scenes are pretty goofy too but—Kaiju fighting is fun so I’m willing to be lenient. It was still pretty ridiculous.

Anyway Godzilla and Anguirus finally defeat Gigan and King Ghidorah whilst our brave humans defeat the aliens and destroy the system by which they are controlling their monsters. We find out they were giant cockroaches in human guise and with a giant “eewww,” are glad to see the last of them.

This movie was so awful I had to actually compare it to Godzilla’s Revenge to decide which one takes the title of Worst Godzilla Movie Ever. Godzilla vs. Gigan had a talking Godzilla, which was about as awful as the talking Minella in Godzilla’s Revenge so they’re about even there. The Japanese Hippy was pretty silly but not on the level of annoying as the “cute kid” in Godzilla’s Revenge so Godzilla’s Revenge takes that one. Godzilla vs. Gigan had some terrible comic style scenes at the very first but Godzilla’s Revenge had just awful music, far worse than a few bad comic scenes, so Godzilla’s Revenge takes that one too. Godzilla vs. Gigan was low budget but at least it had its own fight scenes. Godzilla’s Revenge used old footage from previous Godzilla movies.

Godzilla vs. Gigan was bad and low budget but Godzilla’s Revenge was a big middle finger to fans everywhere. I’m going to have to say that Godzilla vs. Gigan is only the runner up for worst Godzilla movie ever. Leaving Godzilla’s Revenge our clear winner of the title of Worst Godzilla Movie Ever. K.

The Valley of Gwangi Ray Harryhausen’s Last Dinosaur Movie

Movie Poster for The Valley of Gwangi

Movie Poster for The Valley of Gwangi

Movie Poster for The Valley of Gwangi

The Valley of Gwangi 1969
Director: Jim O’Connolly as James O’Connolly
Writers: William Bast, Julian More, Willis H. O’Brian (earlier film Gwangi uncredited)
Starring: James Franciscus, Gila Golan, Richard Carlson
Stop Motion Animation: Ray Harryhausen

**Spoilers–whoop, whoop–Spoilers***

I enjoy watching old monster movies. Not only are they fun to watch, they usually contain very little gore. They are by nature violent and yet the kind of violence one sees in an old monster movie is somehow not as terrible as the kind of violence we see today in movies, and not even horror movies but such offerings as Gangster squad or any cop movie these days. I also enjoy seeing what various cultures were like 50 or 60 years ago. The Valley of Gwangi is a cowboys vs. Dinosaurs movie. In 1969 that idea could have flown. The stop motion animation is top notch, as you would expect from Ray Harryhausen.

The Valley of Gwangi is based around the idea of a valley surrounded by high, steep mountains that protects it from the outside world. It is in this sheltered place, cut off from time it would seem, that creatures from prehistory have survived. Wait, no that’s not what The Valley of Gwangi is REALLY about. That’s just what we wish it were about. What The Valley of Gwangi is really about is a con man cowboy who walked out on his fiancee but now that she’s about to make it big with her own rodeo, he wants her to sell out and help him buy a ranch in Wyoming. Ok, maybe not that cynical—yeah, that cynical. The rigid gender roles in this movie are painful to watch and most of the movie is spent following this down on his luck cowboy with no redeeming qualities harass the girl.

You see he’s a man so when she tells Tuck to get out of her trailer so she can change he doesn’t have to because: manly! And when T.J., the woman, decides she wants to pursue her own life of adventure and see if she can’t make the rodeo work he tells her that he’s already been down that road so there’s no need for her to live her own life, she can just give everything up and become his maid.

There is a cute little Hispanic boy, Lope, who councils Tuck and T.J. both. (This is one monster movie where the child works but it’s because he’s not the main character.) Tuck gets to listen to the wisdom of a child because he is “afraid to love” and T.J. who finally sends Tuck away but then is told, “You must go after him, for he is a very proud man.” Yeah that’s the kind of guy you want to give up your independence for. Ugh. Oh well, at least it wasn’t Twilight. I mean we do get to see animated dinosaurs in The Valley of Gwangi, so there is that going for it.

Now around this riveting backstory we have a struggling rodeo and some rodeo hands that need to be paid. This is the real plot of the movie. Carlos, a decent guy who is in actually love with T.J., as opposed to Tuck who just thinks she’s his due, somehow provides a tiny prehistoric horse to draw crowds to the rodeo and hopefully lift them out of debt.

A blind gypsy woman has once before warned Carlos about taking things from that valley and of course the very first thing Tuck does once he sees the horse is go straight to a roving paleontologist from Britain and tell him all about this secret T.J. trusted him with. Because, you know, a woman trusts you and the first thing you do is tell someone with a vested interest in possessing the treasure; because: Manly! (You know, gentle reader, I had no idea I was quite so offended by the “romance” in Valley of Gwangi until I started writing this review. Honestly the movie isn’t half bad if you can get past that.)

Our scientist, eager to see where the creature came from and hoping to find out how it survived tells the Gypsies where the critter is. And so the cowboys are off on horseback chasing after the prehistoric horse to get it back for Miss T.J. Carlos, after having already saved Tuck’s life, lies and says it was he who stole the little horse and there is very little worse than being branded a horse thief in the old west.

The Gypsies release the little horse in the valley. Right behind them is the scientist and behind him is Tuck. Behind Tuck is T.J. And her posse. The Gypsies vamoose leaving everyone else to gather together and discover the valley. Lope is carried aloft by a Pterodactyl and Carlos has to save him. From there we see two or three dinosaurs, including a shockingly purple Gwangi who is some kind of Allosaur or maybe T-Rex. Shotguns serve only to annoy Gwangi. Carlos saves everyone’s life before finally getting eaten.

The cowboys take Gwangi captive to be the star attraction of the rodeo. This ends badly. This always ends badly. Gwangi goes on a rampage before finally being trapped in a huge catholic cathedral and burned to death. Surprisingly few people get eaten.

Despite the clumsy and sexist “romance” The Valley of Gwangi was a decent example of its era. In fact I found a list of movies Ray Harryhausen worked on and I might see if Netflix has them.

The Valley of Gwangi was inspired by an earlier unfilmed project Gwangi. While Ray Harryhausen would go on to do such classics as The Clash Of The Titans and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, The Valley of Gwangi would be his last work animating dinosaurs. K.

Godzilla vs. Hedorah A Good Idea Lost In A Sea Of Awful

Godzilla vs. Hedorah aka Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster

Godzilla vs. Hedorah aka Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster

Godzilla vs. Hedorah aka Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster

Godzilla vs. Hedorah
Director: Yoshimitsu Banno
Writers: Yoshimitsu Banno, Takeshi Kimura
Starring: Akira Yamauchi

1971 brings us Godzilla vs. Hedorah. There are people who consider Godzilla vs. Hedorah a.k.a. Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster to be the worst Godzilla movie made. I respectfully disagree. While there are some unbearably bad parts of Godzilla vs. Hedorah it is not unrelentingly bad from start to finish like Godzilla’s Revenge.

The opening credits give us the first clue that this movie will not be kind to Godzilla. The music is 60’s and there is an awful night club that we keep seeing. Dissatisfied with that, someone decided that horns should herald the arrival of Godzilla. Horns can be ominous but not the way they are used here. Goofy is the word that springs to mind, right after–for god’s sake make them stop.

The movie has a decent premise: A monster that thrives on industrial waste. This monster was seeded on the Earth from the distant Andromeda Galaxy. The movie opens with several scenes of terrible pollution, waste and garbage floating in the ocean. Godzilla vs. Hedorah is prescient in that it illuminates the horrible mess we are making in our oceans and atmosphere and did so in 1971. Now we need to do no more than google the great pacific garbage patch to see how well director Yoshimitsu Banno predicted the future. Hedorah also leaves behind a mass of toxic air when it flies over a group of exercising women. Beijing just made headlines around the world for having air so toxic it was over 2 dozen times levels considered dangerous to human beings. As it gets bigger, feeding on polluted waters and industrial waste, it starts dissolving people and buildings as it flies past. One might imagine that with such a great premise, the movie had a chance to be one of the classic greats of the Godzilla franchise.

Our second clue that the movie won’t be all that good is in the segues. Someone, possibly director Yoshimitsu Banno, decided that brief animated clips would be good segues in to insert in the movie. The first part of the movie has a variety of segues. Mostly animated and jarringly out of place but some of multiple television screens with different images or groups of images. I can’t help but get the feeling that the film needed a lot of padding to reach a feature length movie and these horrendous segues were it.

These segues drive the movie deeper into some kind of “wish we were at Woodstock” fantasy. There is a real effort to create a psychedelic feel to parts of the movie. And in what seems to be a reference to the Beatles, four musicians in an open field decide the world is about to end and so they start their own music festival. Did I mention Woodstock? this is just painful to watch. Thankfully these segues stop showing up when the monster fight gets started in ernest.

Which brings me to the main character, a “cute” little boy named Ken. This is actually the tip off that the movie will be bad. A kid with a high pitched voice who thinks Godzilla is a hero does not bode well for any monster movie. Ken can tell when Godzilla is going to show up and he is convinced Godzilla is going to protect him and everyone from the Hedorah. Why, oh why does there have to be a “cute” kid?

Hedorah has several stages it takes throughout the movie. It’s first stage is a larval stage that looks suspiciously like a lungfish. The animated segues compress time so that Hedorah can transform through its life cycle and hit each stage. Finally reaching a fully grown version that is bipedal, because of course animate industrial waste is bipedal; nuclear powered too don’tcha know?

Hedorah can fly, because it’s nuclear powered industrial sludge. It can ooze sludge waste that poisons all it touches. It spits globs of sticky acidic tar-like stuff that burns and maims. It also, because all of that isn’t nearly enough, has laser attacks too. Oh and let’s not forget the toxic off gassing. I say there old chap, would you mind using a bit of febreeze? You seem to have toxic farts.

Godzilla always gets his tail kicked at first. Here we see Godzilla writhing in agony in a pool of toxic Hedorah sludge (eew) while the dim-witted Hedorah looks on. Fortunately for Godzilla and the rest of Japan, Ken’s father is a scientist who has come up with a way to defeat Hedorah. Electrocution will desiccate the mineral that gives Hedorah its spark of life. Although I’m not sure how that works since putting any part of a Hedorah into polluted water reanimates it and well, the next rain could be troublesome. Also, why does electricity work when Godzilla’s nuclear blast breath weapon doesn’t? Pardon me, sir, but could you take a breath mint or something? Because your breath really is lethal.

I will say that the Hedorah suit is pretty good. It would be a difficult concept to design for: Animated pollution. Also I never once saw a wire. For the time the special effects are pretty good.

But I digress. We come to find out that strange, alien pearls are what give the mineralized smog the spark of life that is Hedorah. Godzilla uses the clever device Ken’s father had the military whip up to destroy them and that’s how Hedorah is finally defeated. First it’s weird that Godzilla’s breath can activate the device. Second, after a brief moment when the viewer is relieved that this monstrosity of a movie is finally over, a little Hedorah flies away from the ashes of the one Godzilla killed. Not only is the movie not over yet but this is when it goes completely round the bend. Because while the flying version of Hedorah is pretty ridiculous but no where near as ridiculous as Godzilla flying. OMG Godzilla flying, using his nuclear breath for propulsion and curled up around it like some kind of fetal lizard. WTF dude.

Please note that this review glosses over, and sometimes plain skips over several fairly fake looking monster fight scenes. Also Godzilla flies again because he needs to drag Hedorah’s sorry hide back to the device to finish it off.

Despite having a timely and pertinent message to share, Godzilla vs. Hedorah fails through sheer ridiculousness to make its point. Last, but not least, the Godzilla suit is not one of my favorites. In summation, Godzilla vs. Hedorah is not the worst Godzilla movie ever made but it sure gives Godzilla’s Revenge a run for its money. Also, this viewer is eternally grateful that the flying Godzilla idea seems to have been dropped after this movie. K

Godzilla’s Revenge: MST3K Bait If Ever There Was

Godzilla's Revenge DVD Cover

Godzilla's Revenge DVD Cover

Godzilla’s Revenge DVD Cover

Godzilla’s Revenge
Starring: Kenji Sahara, Machika Naka, Tomonori Yazaki
Director: Ishiro Honda
Writer: Shin’ichi Sekizawa

I’ve been reviewing all of the Godzilla movies in order at The Geek Girl Project and I’m moving the reviews over to M31 and Random-words. I’ve also been putting off Godzilla’s Revenge because it is, in my humble opinion, the worst Godzilla movie ever made. 1969’s Godzilla’s Revenge kicked off almost a decade of awful Godzilla movies. As I’ve said before: The 70’s were not kind to Godzilla. But they do get better than Godzilla’s Revenge.

So it is with a box of Swedish fish and a pint of beer (with more in a growler in the fridge) I am girding up my mental loins and pushing play on this movie. A movie I own more for completeness sake than because it’s worth watching. I make this sacrifice for you gentle reader, and it has taken me months to brace myself for this viewing.

Godzilla’s Revenge makes no bones about how awful it is. It starts off with a soundtrack that lets you know exactly what you’re in store for. This movie is about a little boy (and you know my thoughts about children in monster movies) who is bullied by other children. The name of the biggest bully is Gabera, which in another shout out to what we are in for as hapless viewers, is the name of the big monster that Godzilla must fight.

To keep things spicy there is also a robbery and whilst running from his little tormenters Ichiro finds and pockets one of the robbers’ driver’s licenses. Worry not; the soundtrack is rife with extraneous and ridiculous sounds so that we never forget we are watching a painfully bad movie.

Most of the movie is actually the vivid imagination of young Ichiro. But don’t worry if the effects aren’t enough to let you know you’re in someone’s imagination the Disney-esque music will. And that’s perhaps the most insulting thing about this affront to Godzilla fans everywhere; the whole thing is this little boy’s dream. It’s like the Dallas of Godzilla movies, only with super annoying voice dubbing.

Little Ichiro, in his imagination, with no one else around, apparently feels the need to announce the name of every monster he sees during his imaginary trip to Monster Island. He also seems to feel the need to mispronounce about half of them. Then again these voice actors aren’t the first, or perhaps that’s last to mispronounce Anguirus.

Ok I said that it being a dream was the most insulting part but I stand corrected. The most insulting part of this movie is the way young Godzilla was voiced as if he was auditioning to be Goofy. Yes Disney’s Goofy. And since this movie is goofy I guess it stands to reason.

So the real plot is the giant, possibly full grown, Gabera who looks like he might be Gamera’s cross-dressing brother and has the cry of a strangling rooster (actually that could be what his cry is) bullying the little Minella and how big daddy Godzilla tells him to pretty much suck it up and punch the bully in the face. Not really a great message for young monsters or young humans. I do have to give them credit for taking on the topic of bullying almost 50 years before it became popular to do so.

Not to be outdone Minella has a misshapen head that reminds me of some of the things kindergarteners might make with clay in art class and sounds like a jackass, no really–the animal.

There’s also a lot of stock Godzilla footage in this movie. It’s a budget movie on a budget. We see a lot of footage from previous Godzilla movies. Then we get to the new footage, hooray….oh, wait…dear lord the new footage is of Godzilla teaching little Minella how to throw a punch, well ok nuclear blast breath. Again, not the best lesson an adult can teach a child.

For fun they throw in a gratuitous attack on Monster Island by the Japanese air force. I don’t know why and they fly off without ever hitting anything or explaining themselves. Maybe they were getting tired of waiting for Godzilla to head into Tokyo to knock over Tokyo Tower and wanted to give him a little reminder missiling. After all, nothing says, “I miss you,” like a missile attack.

Godzilla’s Revenge makes us long for the straightforward monster terribleness of such painful gems as Godzilla vs. Gigan or even, dare I say it, Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster.

I don’t know what the makers of this film were on but their greatest crime was not sharing with everyone who sat through this awful movie. Children and Godzilla as a fuzzy, cuddly protector do not mix. Godzilla is not cuddly. Godzilla is not a friend to children and Godzilla will not march into town to protect a kid from his tormenters.

If you’re tempted to watch it—don’t. It’s billed as a children’s movie and even kids know this is awful. To be fair Godzilla’s Revenge was filmed during the time Ichiro Honda and company were experimenting with humor and humor is a tricky thing. But this movie, and I say this as a long time Godzilla fan; is just awful. K.

Daimajin Strikes Again But Probably Shouldn’t Have

Diamajin DVD Cover
Diamajin DVD Cover

Diamajin DVD Cover

After watching the first two Daimajin movies I was looking forward to getting back to the set and watching the third one. I enjoy old movies and especially old monster movies. The first two movies of the Daimajin trilogy have a sense of folk tale set in feudal Japan about them and I was anticipating a pleasant repeat in the third movie. What I discovered is that if Daimajin and Return of Daimajin are the Japanese Monster Movie version of a Disney Princess Movie then Daimajin Strikes Again is the Sponge Bob of Monster Movies.

**Spoilers**

Daimajin Strikes Again is based around the same general premise as the first two but instead of a princess offering to sacrifice herself to the god for the sake of her people, the third movie commits the greatest sin a monster movie can commit: it casts children as the main protagonists. Now in Daimajin this could have worked if it had been handled correctly since Daimajin is a god and not a true monster. Although, let it be duly noted that Daimajin is a very monster-like god.

As I’ve noted in my reviews of Godzilla and Gamera movies, children do not belong in them. Monsters are horrible. They are not friends to children. When monsters are made friends of children they become less horrible. Also there is something wrong with a child who can watch some creature slaughter countless other people and still adore the creature.

Point in case in one of the Gamera movies a single child is saved by the titanic terrapin while countless hundreds are immolated by a fireball that same turtle shoots at a Gaos and misses. How does that work? “Oh, so sorry about all those people I just burned to death, but hey look! I saved this one kid.” So while there are notable exceptions (Mothra) in general children do not work out as the main protagonists in monster movies.

Also, unless I’m mistaken, the voice actors who do children’s voices in this and the Mothra movies are the same ones that voice the ponies in My Little Pony. And I don’t know why someone decided that high pitched nasally voices were ‘child-like’ but I wish they hadn’t. The pacing of the dialog is distracting due to odd pauses and the voiced dialogue doesn’t match the subtitles at all. More about those later.

The film starts out with the very angry Daimajin on a rampage tearing up the mountainside while terrified villagers flee for their lives and pray to the angry god. Cut to some time later and a villager staggers out of the forest at the foot of the god’s mountain with a tale of some evil warlord in “Hell’s Valley” that is kidnapping the men and forcing them into slave labor. Seriously? Hell’s valley? That’s the best translation?

Anyway the villagers decide it’s too dangerous to cross the mountain of the god to save their men so four young boys decide to go themselves. This sets the stage for a long, tedious slog through the majority of the movie following these four boys. Whoever wrote the dialogue for these boys makes George Lucas look like the next William Shakespeare. To be fair that could be the fault of the translators and not the original writer. In fact I suspect that is the case.

Moving on, an old woman warns them of a hawk that scratches out the throat of anyone who crosses the god. She tries to warn them to stay off the mountain but they go anyway. We see the hawk watching the boys as they attempt to scale part of the mountain. After miraculously surviving a rock slide that should have killed all four of them I began to have serious doubts about this movie but it wasn’t until the subtitle “GASP!” appeared on screen that the movie fully transformed into full and sadly unintentional comedy.

One of the four boys dies and another’s older brother is horribly murdered by the evil overlord but by the time that happens the movie has fully become so ridiculous that it’s hard to maintain the appropriate level of gravity the subject matter should require. This movie was supposed to be a bittersweet tragedy where some are saved but at great cost. Instead it is unintentionally comedic and in the end the hawk is, as was pointed out to me amid gales of laughter, the best character. K.

Movie Review: Daimajin & Return of Daimajin

Diamajin DVD Cover
Diamajin DVD Cover

Diamajin DVD Cover

Daimajin
Return of Daimajin
Studio: Daiei Co
Producer: Masaichi Nagata
Writer: Tetsuro Toshida

So I heard about this old Japanese monster movie Daimajin at the Kaiju of Pacific Rim panel at the Rose City Comic Con. Now I have been a Godzilla fan since I can remember and I tend to enjoy giant monster movies. I like the kaiju stomping through cities and the countryside and I appreciate the relative lack of gore. I enjoy the morality stories embedded in the plots and I like the old school mad scientist vibe they have. So when one of the members of the Kaiju panel was asked what his favorite monster was that hadn’t been mentioned during the panel discussion Daimajin was his answer and I immediately took note so I could hunt it down. (Godzilla came up during the discussion. Of course he did, he’s the first Kaiju and the undisputed King of the Monsters.)

Daimajin was produced by Daiei Co in 1966, the same fine studio that gave us Gamera. While not black and white the films (there are three, all made the same year) have that feel about them and have recently been made avalable on a region 1 DVD through Mill Creek Entertainment. Although I tried to turn off the subtitles it didn’t work, which could be operator error and to be honest I enjoy reading the subtitles. In this case they were particularly entertaining as they had little to do with what the voice actors said.

****Warning MAJOR SPOILERS****

My first impression is that there was a lot, and I mean a LOT of plot getting in the way of the monster. Not that I mind a good story but I was looking for a monster movie. After thinking about it for a bit I realized that these stories seem to be patterned after, if not actual retellings of, Japanese myths, fairy tales or legends of some kind. This makes them all the more interesting if you ask me.

The first two, Daimajin and Return of Daimajin both follow a similar plot. In Daimajin an orphan taken in by a local nobel plots to attack and wipe out the nobel and his family during a holy ritual the villagers (serfs) perform each year to keep the evil spirit of the mountain trapped by the statue of a good god. Legend has it that the evil spirit was defeated by a warrior and entrapped in the mountain. An elder priestess leads the ritual and intercedes for the people with the god to keep the spirit trapped.

What follows is an ancient morality tale wherein the evil and ungrateful orphan murders the nobel and his wife while a faithful servant rescues the children, a boy and a girl. The priestess hides them on the holy mountain and for 10 years while the evil overlord’s minions hunt for them, provides them with what food and clothing they need. Meanwhile the villagers are treated brutally, forced to work without adequate food or shelter and with no concern for their health or their families.

Finally the young prince and his faithful servant are of age to free their oppressed people. First the servant is captured then the prince when he tries to rescue his friend. The priestess goes to warn the Evil Overlord that his actions are angering the god. He kills her for challenging his absolute authority and sends his minions, who betrayed their former lord for him, to destroy the statue. The climax comes when the princess is captured by the Evil Overlord’s minions and told that her brother and faithful servant are to be executed at daybreak the following day and that they are going to destroy the holy statue.

The princess tries to protect a child who came to the mountain to plead with the god to rescue his father and is taken captive by the evil minions. Once they reach the top of the mountain she tries to protect the statue but in the face of so many armed men cannot. So she falls to her knees and prays to it. All seems lost when the men begin to drive a huge spike into the statues forehead. Then the statue bleeds. Terrified the men flee only to be swallowed up by an earthquake. The girl once again falls before the statue and pleads with it to save her brother. Finally she offers to sacrificer herself to the god if only it will save her brother. She even runs to the nearby waterfall to throw herself over but is prevented by the child and then another earthquake.

The statue comes free from the mountain and marches down to the village where her brother and the faithful servant are to be executed. Since the sun is already rising Daimajin becomes a ball of lightening or magic to cross the distance in time to save the prince and his friend. He kills the evil overlord with the very spike that had been driven into his own forehead (that’s a nice touch). Then, still in a rage the giant statue god starts to head for the village where all of the poor villagers are.

The young child tries to stop it but falls right in front of it. Horrified the princess runs and throws her own body over the child to shield him. Daimajin stops, foot upraised and after a moment steps back. The princess pleads with the god to spare the people for they are innocent and as her tear strikes it’s titanic stone foot it relents, then crumbles to dust.

The Return of Daimajin is similar in that it is about a good and kindly lord verses a cruel and greedy lord who attacks the country for its riches and disrespects the people’s god. This time the statue is on an island and is destroyed by the evil invader. Once again it is a princess who has a kind and noble heart who calls the god to save her betrothed and people.

Knowing more what to expect, I found the second movie more enjoyable than the first but both are quite good. They are from 1966 so the special effects are not what we might expect from one of todays blockbusters but I saw no strings and the models were well done. I haven’t had time to watch the third one but I am looking forward to it. K.

Movies I’m Looking Forward To In 2014

Official Godzilla Poster

Official Godzilla Poster

Official Godzilla Poster

This being the start of a new year I thought it might be apropos to share some of the movies I’m looking forward to seeing in 2014.

Of course Godzilla. I am in a state of heightened anticipation for the new Godzilla movie. Legendary Pictures, which did Pacific Rim–so you know the special effects will be superlative; has teamed up with Warner Brothers to produce a new Godzilla movie. Unlike the Sony/Tristar pictures Godzilla (Notgodzilla) of 1998 this Godzilla looks like Godzilla. From what I’ve seen of the trailer and the snippets of teasers released so cleverly at the Godzilla encounter web site, it looks like director Gareth Edwards and writers Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham have returned to Godzilla’s roots.

Once again Godzilla is a force of nature, an avatar for nuclear destruction and war. Also very territorial so that Godzilla doesn’t so much save humanity as defend his turf from interlopers and invaders. Rather than a benevolent and perhaps even friendly (ugh) creature as we saw in the 70’s, Godzilla is once again a terrifying titan stomping over the Earth. Due for theatrical release on May 16, I am already counting down the days. Actually I don’t have to, Godzilla movies.com is already doing it for me. Please enjoy the trailer. It played on the big screen before The Desolation of Smaug.

In Saturn's Rings

In Saturn’s Rings

Next up is a little independent film called In Saturn’s Rings. I wrote about this previously and I’m still excited about it. Filmmaker Stephen Van Vuuren has taken in excess of 1.2 million still photographs of Saturn and our solar system as taken by NASA’s Cassini, Hubble and other space craft and is threading them together in an amazing movie about the wonders of our universe that will culminate in a flythrough of the Saturnian system. It’s spectacular to watch and the beauty is not only a testament to the wonder of our universe but also the painstaking care of the filmmaker in putting these together with innovative visual techniques he invented himself. The film is being made in 6k resolution and will be shown on massive concert screens, IMAX and dome screens.

In Saturn’s Rings has already reached it’s Kickstarter goals but they can still use donations, this is an independent film. It is set for release sometime in 2014. I’ll be keeping an eye out for it because I’m really looking forward to seeing the completed film. This is the trailer and it is breathtaking.

How To Train Your Dragon 2

How To Train Your Dragon 2

How To Train Your Dragon 2 is coming out in 2014 and I got goosebumps once again watching Toothless and Hiccup fly in the trailer.

Also:

Avengers: Age of Ultron. Oh yes. I’ll be seeing this one. Joss Whedon is once again at the helm and I’ve been a Marvel girl forever.

Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Anne Hathaway, looks like it could be a good science fiction romp. This movie involves a wormhole which space farers use to travel vast distances. With such a sparse plot overview to base anything on I’d have to give it even odds. If they play it straight it could become a classic of the genera. If they don’t trust the material or the idea and throw stuff in to make it more “exciting,” it’ll be another Sunshine or Event Horizon.

The Edge of Tomorrow, starring Tom Cruise, also looks interesting, although with a premise that could lead to confusion and ruin the impact the movie is going for. If the writers and director handle it right it could be a classic, if they don’t it’ll sink. While that is technically true of every movie, any movie where time travel or reincarnation is a major plot point carries a higher inherent risk than more straightforward, linear movies.

Guardians of The Galaxy, yeah I’ll give that one a try. It always reminded me of the Justice League a bit and I never really warmed up to it. Speaking of the Justice League. There’s Supposed to be a Justice League movie coming out. I haven’t been as impressed by the DC attempts at making their comics into movies but Batman and Superman were good and it’s about time Wonder Woman made an appearance. Maybe this time DC will treat the woman like a human being as opposed to self-propelled eye candy for men ala Catwoman. That would be a vast improvement.

X-Men Days of Future Past also is on the list. I was an X-Man fan before I became a Marvel girl and I was very disappointed with what they did in the third movie of the first attempt to build a franchise out of this team. I hope they stay true to the characters.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Transcendence are others I’ll probably check out. Ant-Man rates a solid “Meh” in my opinion. I’ve never liked the character and I actually despised him when he beat and tried to murder Wasp. I don’t think wife beaters are heroes, I don’t care how you try to spin it and I don’t care what else they do, the fact is that they are bullies and monsters.

Now most of these movies I’ll end up watching when they hit DVD or Netflix. I don’t go to many movies in the theater so it’s kind of a big deal when I do. I will see Godzilla and In Saturn’s Rings in the theater and also the Avengers: Age of Ultron.

While not likely in 2014 I keep hearing whispers of a sequel to Pacific Rim. You can rest assured if that ever becomes official I will be all over it.

Those are some of my picks for movies to see in 2014. I hope everyone of you has a year filled with hope, love and opportunity. K.