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Monday, May 22, 2017

Son of Godzilla (1967) – Review

This eighth entry in the Godzilla series took the light comedic tone of the previous films and then drove it straight into kiddietown. Son of Godzilla introduced the adorably annoying spawn of Godzilla whose slapstick antics would cement the direction the Shōwa period of Godzilla films was going and which it would not recover from until Toho would eventually reboot the franchise with The Return of Godzilla in 1984.


This would be Toho’s second island adventure story, following on the heels of Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, and was a clear cut case of the studio trying to function with increasingly lower budgets. Without the need to create massive cityscapes for the monsters to smash you can save a lot of money but then you also run into the problem of how exciting is it going to be to see Godzilla and company repeatedly stomp through dense jungle or rocky plateaus? On the plus side even though we are missing scenes of city wide destruction the kaiju Godzilla tackles in this film aren’t men in suits but rather they are intricately puppeted creations.

 

Who doesn’t love giant spiders?

Son of Godzilla deals with a group of scientist working on the presumed deserted Sollgel Island in an attempt to perfect their weather machine, one that they have hopes will end world hunger. Their experiments are interrupted when reporter Goro Maki (Akira Kubo) parachutes in to get the scoop on what these scientists are working on and why all the secrecy. Dr. Kusumi (Tadao Takashima) explains that soon the Earth will not be able to support the ever increasing population and that the only chance mankind has is to turn previously desolate land into arable farmland. He goes on to explain that the reason for the tests being done in secret is that in the wrong hands the technology could be used as a devastating weapon. And how exactly could a device that turns deserts into farmland be used for nefarious purposes you ask? Well the first experiment we see is the launching of a device that causes the temperature on the tropic island to plummet. So yeah, it’s a freezing machine. I’m no scientist but I don’t see how creating winter conditions is going to help with the crop growing problem, but to make matters worse a strange interference causes the device to malfunction which results in a radioactive storm forming over the island. Definitely a device you’d want to keep out of the hands super villains, or really any hands at all for that matter as a side-effect of this storm is that it turns the man-sized praying mantises, apparently native to this island, into massive monsters that tower over the treetops.

 

So don’t forget kids, this is what science gets you.

And what exactly was that strange interference that caused the machine to malfunction? Well it turns out that not only was this island inhabited with giant mantises but buried in the rocks was an egg that contained baby Godzilla, named Minilla, and it was the infants telepathic cries for help that caused the interference. To complicate things even more for our hapless scientists and bumbling reporter is the fact that there is also a beautiful girl living on the island by the name of Saeko Matsumiya (Beverly Maeda) whose been alone here ever since her archeologist father passed away seven years ago.

Note: After watching Mothra it has become clear that nobody bothers to survey these tropical islands properly.

 

Beautiful island girl included with every adventure.

It’s clear that Goro is enchanted with this mysterious island girl, and seriously who wouldn’t be, but between science running amok and giant monsters traipsing all over the island there isn’t much time for romance. Eventually Godzilla does show up, we saw him during the movie’s opening moments as the telepathic message from his child drew him towards the island, and the bulk of the film deals with Godzilla trying to teach his son to breathe atomic fire while also saving his little kaiju neck from the local monsters. The giant praying mantises are named Kamacuras (Gimantis in the English-dubbed version) and for some reason they really want to eat baby Godzilla, so much so that they dig through solid rock to find the egg buried there.

 

Maybe infant Godzillas are notoriously tasty.

Once they crack the egg, and the pudgy form of Minilla spills out, the Kamacuras do a piss poor job of eating the little fellow for instead of immediately chowing down they just poke at him with their long forelegs for a bit. This of course gives daddy Godzilla time to wade ashore and beat the living crap of these big bullies. The combat between Godzilla and the giant bugs is fun to watch but they are so over matched in these fights, what with Godzilla ripping off of their appendages and flaming them with his atomic breath, it’s not really much of a contest. Later Godzilla will face off against the island’s resident giant spider Kumonga (Spiga in the English-dubbed version) whose spinning web and nasty stinger gives Godzilla some problems, but it only takes the minimal aid from Minilla to end this threat.

 

If you can be defeated by this you should turn in your monster card.

The last half of the movie consists mainly of Goro, the jungle girl and the idiot scientists running around trying to stay out of the way during the monster fights, while also fighting off a fever that incapacitates a few of them but which can be of course cured by some “red water” that Saeko knows about.  Eventually they get their equipment functioning again so that they can launch another “freeze device” into the air, which then brings a nuclear winter to the island. The film ends with our “heroes” escaping the island via an arriving submarine while Godzilla and Minilla huddle under the falling snow, which really seems like a dick move in my opinion as neither Godzilla nor Minilla were a threat to the humans. In fact Saeko and Minilla had become sort of friends and so she is a bit saddened by this chilly end, but Goro informs her that, “They’re not going to die, they’ll just hibernate.”  Well I guess that's okay then.


 

Do you hear that roar? I'm pretty sure that’s a “Fuck you” from Godzilla.

Son of Godzilla is beyond goofy, the scientist subplot makes little to no sense, the jungle girl adds nothing but some nice cleavage and a pretty face to the proceedings, the monster fights are well done but once again the jungle setting limits the cool destruction we’ve come to expect in this series. The film’s comic tone is also amplified by the composer Masaru Sato’s decidedly Saturday morning cartoon score, but really it’s the silly antics of little Godzilla that makes this installment something clearly aimed at a younger audience. We are treated to what seem like endless moments of Minilla blowing atomic smoke rings, riding his dad’s tail and basically cavorting around like a halfwit. Sure he’s technically a newborn, and so I shouldn’t be making fun of how idiotic the little guy acts, but when viewed as a Godzilla fan its hard not to find him even more annoying than his cartoon analog Godzooky.

 

When this is an improvement you know you’re in trouble.

It’s clear that by this time screenwriter Shin'ichi Sekizawa had run out of ideas and so giving Godzilla a son was an attempt to add something fresh to the series, but instead it was the descent into the abyss.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Fifty Shades Darker (2017) – Review

That each installment of this series is released on Valentine’s Day has me a bit concerned with what Hollywood considers to be a "good date movie," and I’m not saying that because I believe there is something wrong with a couple getting a little kinky, au contraire as a little spice in any relationship is a good thing as long as it's consensual, but the problem I have with these movies is that they are not about consensual BDSM, they are about a manipulative bastard bullying a girl who happens to have the personal fortitude of damp cardboard.  How is that anyone's definition of romantic?


The previous film Fifty Shades of Grey ended with Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) breaking up with Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) because she freaked out when after asking him to show her how he will punish her he proceeded to spank her with a belt…a little too hard for her liking. This movie takes place three days later with Ana now working at an independent book publishing company for Editor Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), a man who could be the poster boy for sexual harassment in the workplace. We then have Anna going to an art gallery exhibit that is showing off the work of her friend José Rodriguez (Victor Rusak), a man who in the previous film was not too happy about being stuck in the Friend Zone. What’s terrible here is that much to her surprise his exhibit seems to consist solely of large photographs of Anastasia Steele herself.

 

Does this woman have any healthy relationships with any man?

Christian shows up at the gallery, buying up all the pictures of Ana because that is the kind of possessive creep he is, and browbeats her until she agrees to talk with him over dinner.  Ana makes it clear that “We are only talking and that is it.” so of course Christian almost immediately pushes her up against a brick wall and proceeds to make out with her. This is supposed to be romantic? I’d suggest a drinking game where you the viewer take a shot every time Ana wants to do something but Christian talks her out of it, but then I’d be guilty of causing multiple cases of alcohol poisoning. This is not a healthy relationship is what I’m saying. In the first film he basically stalked her until she agreed to sign a stupid “Slave Contract” and now she’s back together with him because he says he can change. Most women I would hope know that this kind of declaration is utter bullshit, but in this case being Christian is a billionaire I can understand maybe someone wanting to give it a second try, but wait, did I mention he has a stalker of his own?

 

So pretty much every one in this film is messed up in some way or another.

This is Leila (Bella Heathcote) a past submissive who has taken the train to crazy town, she stalks Ana because she wants Christian back…I guess. This crazed ex-slave pops up in the movie and is then dismissed so fast it barely leaves an impact on the film, as does Ana’s sexually harassing boss (though they do seem to be setting him up for a violent return in the sequel) who Christian heroically has fired after the jackass tried some workplace sexual assault with Ana. Why they don’t have the police called and the asshole formally charged is never explained, instead the people in the office are left with the impression he resigned. Did I mention Christian also purchased the publishing company Ana just got hired at? There are more red flags in this relationship than in all of China.

 

I guess the red flags kind of blend in with his Red Room.

And because a crazed ex-girlfriend and workplace attempted rapist isn’t enough drama we are also introduced to Christian’s ex-mistress Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger) who seduced and enslaved Christian when he was a teen, and her sole purpose in this film is to confront Ana and explain how she will “Never be the one” because she can’t give Christian what he needs. It’s a sad day when the statutory rapist is the voice of reason. But just what is Christians’ deal, why is he such damaged goods? Well throughout the film we learn that his mother was a crack addict who died when he was four and she had an abusive relationship with a man who put out cigarettes on Christians chest. Cause, you know, if you are into BDSM you must have some tragic past.

Later when Ana calls Christian a “Dominant” he corrects her stating that he is a sadist who gets off on hurting women who look like his mother. That Ana doesn’t immediately flee the country under an assumed name at this point is utter bullshit, instead she starts bugging him into bringing her to the Red Room for more bondage play. Seriously, this movie is bloody moronic and continues to perpetrate the falsity that people into BDSM all have some kind of painful history that are emotionally damaged and not that they simply enjoy things of a less than vanilla nature.

 

It can’t be just because it feels good.

Now if you are sitting down to watch this film because you find Dakota Johnson to be very attractive and would like to see what she looks like naked, than this is the film for, but if on the other hand you want to be entertained by believable characters in situations that don’t cause your eyes to constantly roll back in your head than you may want to give this one a miss.

Note: Showtime aired a series called Submission which may not have the big stars found in this movie but it certainly dealt with the BDSM lifestyle more fairly and was certainly more entertaining and erotic than this mess.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966) – Review

Would you like to see King Kong fight a giant lobster? Well this is what Toho Studio wanted but Rankin/Bass Production rejected the idea so Kong was replaced with Godzilla. They did eventually team up to give us King Kong Escapes, but that is another story.  The original idea for this film was for it to be titled Operation Robinson Crusoe and some of the elements of the Kong version do survive in the film’s final form.


Like King Kong vs Godzilla this film has a rather light and rompish adventure tone with the quick introduction of character Ryota (Tôru Watanabe) whose brother is presumed lost at sea after a South Pacific fishing boat accident, but he is told by a local psychic that his brother Yata (Tôru Ibuki) is still alive. Both the authorities and the press refuse to help him so Ryota decides to get a boat for himself and this leads him to a dance marathon where the grand prize is a beautiful yacht, you got to love this guys tenacity, but unfortunately the contest is already in its third day so he cannot enter. While he's there he does run into (Chôtarô Tôgin) and Nita (Hideo Sunazuka), two college guys who had entered the dance contest, but having since dropped out they are now free to take Ryota to the shore to see some boats. They bring the young idiot aboard a beautiful sailboat that turns out to be occupied by Yoshimura (Akira Takarada) who accuses them of trespassing, breaking and entering, and attempted burglary but for some reason allows them to spend the night.

 

"I get the top bunk."

Come morning Yoshimura wakes up to discover his rifle has been disassembled and that while they were asleep Ryota had set sail, and because Ryota is the only one who knows how to sail the two boys and Yoshimura are basically shanghaied for this crazy rescue mission. An extra wrinkle is thrown in as we quickly learn that the boat does not actually belong to Yoshimura but that he is a professional thief on the lamb after stealing 4 million yen from a trading company. Why he would sneak aboard a boat that not only he couldn’t sail but then go to sleep when the real owner could show up at any time is a complete mystery. This is not the best getaway plan ever, made even more bizarre by him then inviting three complete strangers to crash overnight. Now the Godzilla films as a whole have never been heavy on logic but the opening set-up to Ebirah, Horror of the Deep is so nuts it makes the alien’s plan in Invasion of Astro-Monster seem downright sensible by comparison, and we haven’t even got to the giant monster parts.

 

Did anyone order the lobster?

After sailing around the South Pacific for several days our heroes sail into a nasty storm but the dangerous elements are the least of the worries as they are soon attacked by a giant claw that sends them all into the sea. With their boat wrecked the four men are washed ashore on a nearby island only discover it is the home of an evil paramilitary organization called Red Bamboo and whose secret base manufactures heavy water to be used in the manufacturing of nuclear weapons. These vile terrorists have also enslaved many residents from neighboring Infant Island, home of the guardian monster Mothra, to force them to manufacture a repellent that keeps the giant lobster Ebirah at bay while their boats are transporting supplies to and from the island. Ryota and company soon cross paths with these terrorists but with the aid of escaped slave Dayo (Kumi Mizuno) they manage to elude the villains. And where do our heroes manage to hide? Why a cave that just so happens to harbor a sleeping Godzilla. The reason for him sleeping in a cave when underwater is his usual habitat is probably a left over element from when Kong was the star of the picture, as is the fact that they awaken the beast with lightning. And of course the first thing he does when he awakens is to get into a fight with Ebirah.

 

These fights are kind of like morning calisthenics for monsters.

Godzilla and Ebirah toss rocks back and forth at each other, which is a tactic giant monsters use a lot in these movies, until one of those rocks careens into one of Red Bamboo’s guard towers. The fight is left off as a draw because the big brawl at the end is still to come, so the two monster part ways and we spend more time with our human friends as they try to escape Devil’s Island. We occasionally cut back to Infant Island where the twin fairies (now being played by twins Pair Bambi Yuko and Yoko Okada) who are trying to wake up Mothra so that she can go and rescue her enslaved people. It may just be me but I call that shitty guardianship if you are caught napping while your followers are being enslaved.

 

The natives perform the “Wake the Fuck Up” dance.

Ebirah, Horror of the Deep is probably one of the lesser known of the Godzilla films, and due to the rather lame lobster villain and lack of extravagant scenes of mass destruction that isn’t surprising, but I kind of liked the crazy James Bondesque adventures of our heroes matching wits with a knock-off SPECTRE, while also dealing with giant monsters. I particularly loved it the moment when running from some Red Bamboo soldiers Ryota gets his foot caught in the cables of an observation balloon which then carries him to Infant Island where he finds his brother alive and well. It's all just so wonderfully goofy.

Even the titanic battles between the kaiju are given added flavor with 60s Go-Go music, right up until the point Godzilla rips Ebirah’s claws off and waves them at him in the most cruel taunt in film history. What’s not to love? Beautiful Dayo and the four goofballs running up and down the corridors of the Red Bamboo base even drifted out of Bond parody into Scooby Doo territory at times, if they’d had a Great Dane with them this movie could have been called Mystery of Monster Island.

 

“I would have gotten away with it to, if it wasn’t for you meddling kids.”

Poor declawed Ebirah never became one of the iconic Godzilla villains, even having to share screen time with a giant condor and Mothra in this film, but silly lobstrosties aside this movie does move at a lightning pace and is over before you know it. The weirdest moment, and that’s saying something in this film, is when Mothra shows up at the last minute to provide airlift rescue for the escaped slaves and our heroes. Godzilla randomly attacks her for no apparent reason, they certainly seemed to be on a friendly basis in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, and then he watches sadly as she flies off back to Infant Island. After everyone escapes Godzilla then jumps off the island just as the place explodes, the nuclear stockpile finally detonating, and if made today I’d like to believe he’d have been running in slow motion as the place blew up behind him. It certainly wouldn’t have seemed out of place, and even back in the day the producers knew just how goofy their project was; just take a look at the Japanese trailer which has “Can-Can” music during the fights and gives the monsters subtitled dialog.


The biggest cheat to fans would be the promoting this film as Godzilla/Mothra movie as for 90% of the movie Mothra is asleep and only shows up for a ten second tussle with Godzilla when the movie is practically over. Whether Kong appearing in this film instead of Godzilla would have made the story make more sense is probably up for debate but the resulting film by director Jun Fukuda is delightfully nuts as it continues the franchise’s direction into light comedy.

 

Mothra will return in Destroy All Monsters.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Lost in Space: The Challenge (1966) – Review

Kurt Russell is no stranger to science fiction, long before taking the role of Peter Quill’s father in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 he’d appeared in such sci-fi offerings as Solider, Stargate and John Carpenter’s The Thing but his first foray into the genre was way back 1966 as a guest star in the Irwin Allen television show Lost in Space. The episode was called "The Challenge" and featured young Kurt Russell as the warrior Quano who decided to test his medal against Will Robinson.


The episode opens with Will Robinson (Billy Mumy) and Doctor Smith (Jonathan Harris) sleeping outside the Jupiter 2 in the hopes that their elaborate alarm system would entrap a mysterious invader who lurked somewhere in the shadows. This is one of those weird character inconsistencies when it comes to the cowardly Doctor Smith as we get no reason as to why he’d agree to rough it outside their perfectly safe spaceship when there is a possibly dangerous intruder about, but even stranger is that the Jupiter 2 had already been established as having force fields so such an alarm systems doesn’t seem to be all that needed in the first place. Regardless of its necessity it does alert Will, who has to kick Doctor Smith to wake up, that there is in fact an intruder about.

 

“Danger Will Robinson its Kurt Russell.”

After this “menacing” intruder tosses as spear at Will and Doctor Smith, which of course misses wildly, he is introduced as Quano (Kurt Russell) and soon the whole Robinson family has to deal with this rather obnoxious visitor. “I am called Quano, I am twelve years old, I am very brave and strong, would you like to fight and see who is the better man?” This challenge was addressed to Will and is basicly crux to this episode's plot; Quano is from an alien world ruled by a warrior class with strength and courage being weighed above all else, and at a certain age a young warrior must seek out an opponent to prove he is the best. I’m not sure what kind of warrior race would consider beating up little Billy Mumy as worthy proof of badassery but who am I to judge alien cultures.

Note: At the time of shooting of this episode Billy Mummy had just turned twelve and Kurt Russell was actually turning fifteen in a couple of weeks.  So yeah, totally fair fight.

It’s also made clear that Quano is from a rather sexist planet as when Penny Robinson (Angela Cartwright) questions him he responds, “I do not speak to weak and worthless girls.” This series is a major product of the 60s so the battle of the sexes was bound to make an appearance it’s just unfortunate that the script doesn’t have the women doing anything other than poor coffee, make breakfast and worrying about the menfolk. Wouldn’t it have been cool if Penny was the one to end up defeating Quano?

 

“Honey, I know you could totally kick his ass.”

 When Will announces he is off to hunt rocks Quano offers to join him on the hunt, totally dissing Penny and refusing her wish to accompany them, but the little alien shit isn’t really interested in rock collecting and he tells Will that he is on this planet to be tested by his father, to prove he is worthy of becoming the ruler someday.  When Will doesn’t seem interested in entering a strange cave to do battle with an unknown enemy Quano calls him out, “I suspected from the first that you were a coward.” This of course results in the easily goaded Will into agreeing to go with him and the two head into the cave where they soon encounter a horrific creature from the studios used prop department.

 

The Fly meets the Creeping Terror.

Courage and stupidity go and in hand and Quano soon trips over a rock and knocks himself unconscious, Will valiantly stays by his fallen “friend's” side and the pair only survive because Quano’s father The Ruler (Michael Ansara) arrives and chases the creature off with a couple of shots from his blaster. The Ruler berates his son for doing something so foolish and praises Will for his bravery, and thus the tension mounts between the two kids and Quano eventually offers his “Challenge” to Will. At first John Robinson (Guy Williams) refuses to have his son compete in some kind of intergalactic pissing contest, “Will doesn’t have to prove himself to anyone,” but when Quano then calls Will’s dad a coward the kid jumps the alien boy and takes him down (despite Kurt Russell considerably outweighing Billy Mumy).

 

“And don’t forget to grab his lunch money, son.”

Maureen Robinson (June Lockhart) demands that her husband call off the fight but John refuses as this would hurt their sons pride as it would imply that he doesn’t have faith in him, stating that “I don’t care how primitive or civilized a man is he welcomes a challenge, why it’s part of his nature to test his intelligence as well as his strength. Without these things we’d be living in caves and eating out of stone bowls.” This stirring argument clearly trumps a mother's concern for her son and she agrees to let Will fight, but there is more at stake than just Will’s pride which we learn when Doctor Smith and the Robot (Bob May) overhear Quano and his father talking and discover that if Quano loses the two of them must kill the victor and all witnesses, “It is our law, no one must be superior to you.” In this conversation it’s also implied that Quano has lost on other planets and that The Ruler has had to dispatch people in the past, and kind of making thing Quano must kind of suck at the whole "Challenge "thing, but regardless this clearly upsets Doctor Smith who goes into immediate self-preservation mode.

 

“Nice ray gun you’ve got there, did you get it on sale?”

The Ruler catches Doctor Smith eavesdropping and he is warned, “Whatever you heard you will keep your silence. If you tell the others anything you will be destroyed.” Smith than proceeds to do his best to ensure that Will doesn’t win the contest, but what is interesting here is that Smith is completely in the right in this instance. There is no benefit other than to Will’s ego for the young Robinson to win and if Quano loses they all die, but of course the show highlights Smiths cowardly and duplicitous nature and that he is more concerned with himself dying than he is the others. So Doctor Smith tries to exercise Will to the point of exhaustion, and later even goes to Quano to offer his services in swaying the fight his way, but has no luck on either count. Thing is Quano maybe a sexist little jerk with the ego the size of a planet but he has honor and basically tells Smith to take a hike before he kills him.

 

People tend to threaten Doctor Smith a lot on this show.

The contest goes fairly well with Will losing the first event, which was a test of physical strength and which again I'll point out it was to a guy clearly larger by a fair margin, and then they proceed to go through a battery of pretty non-life threatening events; a test of courage that has you wear a virtual reality type headset to face your greatest fear, they crush porous stones in their hands, and have cool laser target practice. During a break, and while the score is tied with only one event left, Smith tries to convince Will to throw the fight, “You’ve already covered yourself with glory Will, there’s nothing further to be proved in defeating Quano, if on the other hand he should win we could talk his father into taking us back to Earth.” Will doesn’t see it that way and states, “I’m not just trying to beat Quano for myself, it’s like I was representing every boy from Earth against every boy from another planet.” The problem with that reasoning is that not a single boy on Earth or from any other planet is going to know about this fight. It’s not like this event was broadcasting live across the universe.  So it's really Will's pride that keeps them stuck on this particular planet.

 

Way to go you selfish little twerp.

All of Smith’s attempted machinations are for naught as The Ruler pulls his son out of the match in fear that his son will lose and he can't risk Quano having another defeat (So what was with all that "We will have to kill the victor and witnesses" thing he was talking about earlier?), but the match isn’t over as The Ruler will substitute for his son and John Robinson will stand in for his. The final contest is a duel with Volta blades that are basically fencing foils that are attached to cables that channel roughly 50,000 volts through them. It’s a pretty spirited duel with Robinson does cut a tree in half with a swing, and despite The Ruler being some intergalactic warrior badass John disarms him and the contest comes to an end.

 

Apparently no one told The Ruler that Guy Williams also played Zorro.

The Ruler congratulates Robinson on his win but soon notices that his son has taken one of the spears and has run off. They quickly deduce that Quano has headed back to the cave to win back his father’s respect by defeating the monster they encountered earlier. They arrive just as the kid enters the cave and The Ruler runs to his son and informs him, “I was afraid you would be beaten, it was I who lacked courage, there is no disgrace in defeat, a man does the best he can, nothing more can be asked of him.” So the leader of an entire planet of warriors just tossed aside their people’s entire philosophy because he didn’t have faith in his son? Well I guess their planet still has sexism to fall back on. The plot wraps up with Quano turning to his father and asking, “Shall we fight the monster together, father?”

 

The episode ends with a nice father/son bonding moment.

The Robinson family quietly back out of cave to let the two have their moment together and the whole “Murder the witnesses and the victor” spiel is forgotten as The Ruler has learned the true meaning of courage. But wait a minute, wasn’t there a whole bit about Doctor Smith hoping this space faring planetary leader could take them home? You’d think after repairing the relationship between The Ruler and his son the least the two sexists pigs could do would be to give the Robinsons a ride home, but that was not to be as with any ongoing series each episode kind of had to reset back to the status quo each and every week.

 

“Relax, we’re not making art here.”

This was a fun episode in what was a fairly engaging and entertaining series but of course the real treat here is in seeing a young Kurt Russell as Quano, and sure the monsters are goofy and the sets often look threadbare at times but that also seems to be part of the charm that makes this show so watchable.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965) – Review

Don’t trust aliens. If there is any takeaway from Toho’s science fiction movies it would be that one little tidbit. In 1964’s Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster the series’ first introduced us to the outer space threat of King Ghidorah but in Invasion of Astro-Monster we get honest to goodness aliens who mean us ill will, but time and again the people of Earth fall for the old, “We are peacefully aliens who want nothing more than to help you scientifically inferior Earthlings, can we borrow your monsters?” This sixth film in the Godzilla franchise was a Japanese/American co-production with Toho Studio teaming up with United Productions of America and American producer Henry G. Saperstein and continues Godzilla’s journey toward being planetary savior opposed be being an allegory of the threat of nuclear annihilation.


As if to mirror the nature of the production the story deals with the Space Authority launching a mission that consists of Japanese astronaut Fuji (Akira Takarada) and American astronaut Glenn (Nick Adams) and who seem to be part of a program that was modeled after the Mercury space missions of the 60s. This particular mission that Fuji and Glenn find themselves on is to explore a planet that somehow has remained hidden behind Jupiter all these years, the scientific explanation of how this is possibly is that it’s a “dark planet” and gleefully ignores facts of planetary orbits which would make this planet being hidden all this time pretty much impossible. Regardless our two heroes are sent to explore this new heavenly body that has been named Planet X.

 

Sadly it's not this Planet X.

When they land their XP-1 spacecraft on Planet X Fuji is shocked to discover very human looking footprints in the planetary dust, and when he calls for Glenn to inform him of this startling find he gets no response. Glenn and the XP-1 are missing. You’ve got to admit this is a pretty gripping opening for what is to be a rather light and fun science fiction/monster romp, and none of the actors in the film treat the subject matter in any kind of campy way, it’s all dealt with rather seriously. The same unfortunately can’t be said of the kaiju (giant monsters) in this film as they tend to come off as if they are doing various Three Stooges routines.  Godzilla’s goofy victory dance is a prime example of this.



We learn that Glenn is perfectly safe and soon Fuji is brought down beneath the surface of Planet X where he meets the seemingly benevolent human-like beings called the Xiliens, it’s here that our duo learn that the people of Planet X have been forced to live underground due to the ravaging attacks by a creature they call “Monster Zero” but once seen Fuji and Glenn immediately recognize it as King Ghidorah who had just recently been repulsed from his attack on Earth by the combined might of Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra. The Xilien leader known as The Controller (Yoshio Tsuchiya) requests that the two astronauts return to Earth with an offer that consists of the Xiliens providing mankind the cure for cancer if we would be so kind as to lend them Godzilla and Rodan to fight Monster Zero. Fuji and Glenn agree to bring this offer before the World Council but the two can’t help but feel there is something fishy about the Xiliens.

 

If we ever do meet aliens from outer space I do hope they have this kind of fashion sense.

Meanwhile back on Earth Fuji’s sister Haruno (Keiko Sawai) is dating an inventor named Tetsuo (Akira Kubo) who just so happens to have invented a personal alarm device that has attracted the attention of a group of Xiliens covertly based on Earth. Under the guise of a Toy Company business woman and Xilien spy Namikawa (Kumi Muzuno) purchases the rights to the device, but in the contract Tetsuo signs it states that he won’t see a dime until the device goes into production. This lack of business smarts is one of only many reasons astronaut Fuji doesn’t want this guy marrying his sister. Of course we will later learn that the Xiliens can be crippled by certain sonic sounds and that the alarm Tetsuo invented functions on just such a wavelength, thus the goofball suitor will turn out to be a hero.

 

I’m betting Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” would have had the same effect.

The nefarious plan of the Xilien's master controller is so over complicated that if you gave it a second thought you’d realize just how dumb it was. After Fuji and Glenn present the Xilien offer to the World Council it’s quickly discovered that the Xiliens already have flying saucers stationed on Earth, hidden under the surface of the lake the Xiliens claim is where Godzilla could be found, and the Controller gives explains that if they didn’t secretly come here early, “Godzilla and Rodan may have had time to do damage to your country.” The dumb humans buy this lame-ass excuse and soon the Xiliens are using gravitational beams to lift a sleeping Godzilla out of the lake and a napping Rodan from inside a mountain. There is no explanation as to why Godzilla is apparently hibernating under this random lake, nor is one given us to how Rodan became buried inside a mountain, they are just yanked from their various slumbers and taken into space.

Note: It took Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra to defeat King Ghidorah in the last film but good ole Mothra doesn’t even get shout out in this film.  Her appearance most likely cut due to budgetary constraints.

We don’t get our first monster fight until about the fifty minute mark which considering the film’s running time is only ninety-four minutes long is a bit disappointing and another telltale sign of the film’s limited budget.  Worse is that when Godzilla and Rodan finally face off against Ghidorah on Planet X the brawl is barely a couple minutes long. Godzilla pops up from behind a rocky outcropping to fire his atomic breath as if he was a cowboy in a shootout, while Rodan flies around being basically useless, and it ends with Godzilla doing the ridiculous victory dance and King Ghidorah just flying away.

 

It’s a fun fight but not exactly nail-biting.

Fuji, Glenn and scientist Dr. Sakurai (Jun Tazaki) are given a tape with the supposed cure for cancer but they return to Earth it turns out the tape does not contain a cure at all instead it’s an ultimatum stating that Earth must surrender and become of colony of Planet X.  They key threat is that if Earth doesn’t surrender they will unleash Ghidorah and newly mind-controlled Godzilla and Rodan to destroy the planet. Have you spotted the idiocy of this plan? The Xiliens have apparently been on Earth for some time, they were aware of the locations of sleeping Godzilla and Rodan, they already had a device to control the minds of monsters, so what was the fucking point of this gaslight con job of offering the cure of cancer in exchange for Godzilla and Rodan? Aside from maybe getting Godzilla and Rodan pissed at the humans for being abandoning then on Planet X this plan makes no bloody sense.

 

“See if we come and save your sorry asses.”

So exactly what was the point of that staged fight on Planet X? They could have simply snatched the two monsters right off the bat, and then along Ghidorah and their fleet of laser toting flying saucers they could have simply demanded Earth’s surrender at the point. Instead this over complicated sting operation just allows our heroes time to discover what’s really going on and to thwart it.

 

Did I mention that Xilien spy Namikawa had fallen in love with Glenn?

Namikawa falling in love with Glen was apparently not part of the Xilien plan so she is killed by her evil compatriots, but not before she is able to slip a note to Glenn explaining how Tetsuo’s device is the key to defeating the invaders. So Glenn and Tetsuo team-up while Fuji and Dr. Sakurai work on their own device which will block the mind control beams that control Godzilla and Rodan. Now if the sight of flying saucers being hit with a sonic weapon, causing them to lose control and crash, sounds rather familiar that’s because this completely rips-off the premise as to how the aliens were defeated in Ray Harryhausen’s Earth vs the Flying Saucers. Though the added bonus of a giant monster fight does offset the theft of this idea and really it’s just another example of Toho Studios continued attempt at giving the human characters relevance in these stories.

 

When really we all came to see stuff like this.

Invasion of Astro-Monster doesn’t have the level of carnage found in the previous entry, mainly due to the film’s greatly reduced budget, and you can even play a drinking where you take a shot every time you spot footage of destruction that was lifted from the films Rodan and Mothra, but director Ishirô Honda still managed to put together another rather entertaining chapter in the Godzilla franchise.  In fact the nature of the franchise becomes very clear as the film ends not with the death of King Ghidorah but instead it has the monster flying off in defeat so that he can return to fight another day, just as he did at the end of Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster. This is in complete counterpoint to the earlier Shōwa period where each film ended with the death of the monster.  This movie ends with a now mind-control freed Godzilla and Rodan having a rather slapstick battle with King Ghidorah until Rodan picks up Godzilla and the two fly straight at the three-headed villain where the group then go crashing over the cliff to the sea below.  Our heroes witness the defeated "Monster Zero" emerge from the water and flee back to I guess Planet X, but there is no sign of either Godzilla or Rodan.  Could this be the end?

 

Ghidorah will return in Destroy All Monsters.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017) - Review

Who is Star-Lord and what is a Groot were just a couple of questions that the bulk of the movie going public were asking when James Gunn released the original Guardians of the Galaxy back in 2017, not being based characters with the public awareness of likes of say Spider-Man or Captain America, but now having made over $400 million dollars worldwide one can assume pretty much everyone knows who Star-Lord and is friends are, yet what is interesting here is that instead of making a sequel that is bigger and splashier than original film James Gunn has decided to go deeper into who these guys really are and what makes them tick. Now don’t get me wrong this sequel has action galore, and the screen practically explodes at times, but this entry has a much greater emotional heft to it than its predecessor.


This sequel opens with Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) battling an inter-dimensional monster as they have basically become galactic heroes for hire. In this instanced they were hired by a race called the Sovereign, a genetically perfected race that are grown in incubation pods, to protect valuable batteries from becoming this particular monster's lunch, and when they succeed they are paid by the leader of the Sovereign Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) with the handing over of Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) who had herself been captured by the Sovereign while trying to steal those very same batteries. All seems good until the Sovereign discover that Rocket had managed to steal a few of those batteries for himself.

At first it looks like the movie is going to tread familiar ground with our group of heroes running from a bunch of villains with the maguffin du jour in their hot little hands but then the film takes a dramatic left turn when they run into Quill’s father (Kurt Russell), who we learnt from the movie’s opening prologue was an alien who visited Earth to knock up Quill’s mom, and who then brings Quill, Gamora and Drax back to his planet…kind of. I don’t want to get into spoilers here as the relationship between Quill and his intergalactic deadbeat dad is one of the major components of the film and to reveal his origins here would not be fair but the theme of family, genetic or otherwise, is the true crux of this movie.  Not only do we learn who Quill’s father was but we find out more about Yondu (Michael Rooker) and the real reason he never delivered the young Peter Quill as he was originally hired to do.  We discover what makes Rocket tick and why he acts like an asshat most of the time and we also get a particular dark reveal as to why Nebula is the way she is.


The movie of course isn’t all about dark emotional issues and tragic backstories, as fun as that would be, it is at heart still rousing space adventure with countless laugh-out-loud moments; with Baby Groot stealing any scene he appears in and Dave Bautista’s Drax killing it in his moments with the innocent Mantis (Pom Klementieff) who is the antennae alien servant/pet of Quill’s father.

There is a lot going on in the film’s 136 minute running time, with characters splitting off into separate groups to have their own side adventures, and for the most part it all works brilliantly and the only real negative I can say towards the movie is once again Marvel seems to have provided another rather lacklustre villain in the form of the Sovereign. Whenever they show up you can only hope that  its brief so we can get back to the good stuff with Quill and his dad or Gamora and her sister, or especially the side quest with Rocket and Groot as they end up hooking up with Yondu and his mutinous crew.  Thank god the Sovereign aren't the film's main antagonist.


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 doesn’t have the fresh out of the box smell of the original film but writer/director James Gunn wisely decides to cut down on the exploring of the Marvel Universe and instead explores the characters we’ve grown to love with a result that makes this film stand above most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe sequels, with the possible exception of Captain America: Winter Soldier, and has me eagerly awaiting Vol 3.

Final Thoughts:
 
• The CGI to de-age Kurt Russell for the 1980 prologue is even better than what they did for Michael Douglas in Ant-Man.
• Dave Bautista is comic gold here and should get a shot to with his own film.
• We finally get to see Rocket Racoon finally rocket around as he did in the comics.
• The movie is littered with a plethora of cameos as well as five credit cookies.
• The soundtrack is just as good as the first film’s
• The Opening battle being played out in the background as Baby Groot Dances was pure genius.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) – Review

With the amazing success of the rather goofy King Kong vs. Godzilla it’s not surprising that the franchise would continue in that rather campy direction and if people wanted to see giant monsters duking it out then by god that’s what Toho Studios would give them. With this in mind Ishirō Honda followed up King Kong vs. Godzilla with another successful monster fight Mothra vs. Godzilla and then with the age old adage of "Go bigger or go home" he released the mother of all monsters fights the very same year, a movie that would star Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra and pit them against the three-headed outer-space menace of King Ghidorah.


If while watching Godzilla stomp through the cities of Japan, fighting various other giant monsters and military forces, and if you thought to yourself “This movie could do with some international intrigue and spy stuff” than this is the movie for you. A kaiju movie cannot be just ninety odd minutes of guys in monster suits wailing on each other, though my four year old nieces would argue this point as anytime there is a human on screen they are yelling out “Monster fights!” and asking me to fast forward to the good stuff, but not only would that get kind of exhausting Toho Studios certainly couldn’t afford it. So though this movie does contain a roster of Toho’s top monsters much of the screen time deals with a princess, who may or may not be and alien and a prophetess, being pursued by would be assassins.

 

She’s three of a kind.

The movie opens with shooting stars that interrupt a meeting of a group UFO enthusiasts who were waiting around for a message from outer space, they blame no alien responses on the nosey reporter and “unbeliever” Naoko Shindo (Yuriko Hoshi), but it’s the big meteorite that lands up in the mountains that becomes the big concern. Assistant professor Murai (Hiroshi Koizumi) is sent to investigate the asteroid and discovers it has strange gravitational properties. Meanwhile Detective Shindo (Yosuke Natsuki) is assigned by his boss Okita (Akihiko Hirata) to body guard a Princess Selina Salno of Selgina (Akiko Wakabayashi) who is to visit Japan as there is concern that an attempt may be made on her life.  That the plane carrying the princess explodes on its way to Japan seems to indicated that there may something to that concern. Seeing her escape the plane, while still midair, by some of those shooting stars is just the beginning of this craziness. Shortly after this “assassination” a strange and beautiful woman shows up proclaiming she is from Jupiter and she starts issuing prophecies about the world being on the brink of destruction, and despite the fact that she’s not wearing the royal jewels of the princess Detective Shindo is sure that this prophetess is the presumed dead princess. Her first prophecy is of a disaster that is to occur at Mount Aso, the place where Rodan met his demise.

 

Monsters are notoriously hard to kill but even harder to keep dead.

While the mysterious prophetess is running around declaring the sky is falling we get an interlude of a televised variety show called “What are they doing now?” where this week’s guest stars are the Shobijin faireis (Emi and Yumi Ito) from Infant Island, and it’s clear that despite all the destruction caused by Mothra the people of Japan clearly love the creature and her tiny envoys. I guess helping defeat Godzilla earns you lots of good will. Then just when the fairies are about to set sail back home the Prophetess shows up to state that the ship they are about to set sail on is doomed. The captain and passengers laugh off such claim and thus they all die when Godzilla shows up and flash fries them.

 

Do we think he holds a grudge against Mothra for his defeat in the last film?

Meanwhile the nefarious assassins are sent to find out if this prophetess, who looks so much like the princess they were sent to kill, is in fact the Princess Selina.  Then in a coincidence that is usually relegated to French farces it turns out the assassins are staying at the same hotel that Naoko brings the prophetess back for an interview. Lucky for our heroes the princess is saved by the twin fairies, they had taken the prophecy seriously and got off the ship, and are able to thwart this second attempt on the princesses’ life.  Later when Detective Shindo takes the princess/prophetess to a psychiatrist to find out if she’s actually from outer space, or just your garden variety nut job, the assassins make another attempt on her life but it is thwarted when the nearby Rodan and Godzilla’s take out some powerlines during there brawl. The princess was just going to undergo shock treatment while the assassins had snuck into the facility to change the power setting to “murder” but then the power goes out just in the nick of time.

 

Godzilla the literal Deus ex Machina.

Now we’re almost an hour into this ninety minute movie and we haven’t even seen the title monster yet but that is soon rectified when the meteorite Professor Murai was studying explodes and Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster bursts forth. We get the standard scenes of wanton city destruction with the added bonus of the lightning the bursts from the creatures three wobbling heads. We don’t know much about King Ghidorah except that according to the Prophetess centuries ago it destroyed Jupiter and her people were force to flee to Earth and have since bred with the Earthlings over the centuries. Now don’t ask me to explain how this genetic memory is supposed work or what that has to do with the shooting stars that rescued her from the sabotaged plane because the movie doesn’t bother to either. There’s no time for that as the big monster fight is about to unfold.

 

The magnificent King Ghidorah.

With the destruction of Earth being imminent the authorities turn to the twin fairies to ask for their help, yet even though the Shobijin agree to request Mothra’s aid they do not believe she can defeat Ghidorah alone and state that they must get assistance from both Godzilla and Rodan if there is to be any chance of success. This does bring up an interesting question, “What exactly is the relationship between the various kaiju?” It seems that if two giant monsters arrive at the same location they are honor bound to fight, doesn't matter if they have a past grievance or not. When Godzilla wades ashore, after destroying that ocean liner, he soon spots Rodan and the two start fighting despite never having met before. Is it some ingrained animosity these monsters have towards their fellow kaiju? Yet Mothra’s plan is to ask these two giant frat boys to stop their personal bickering and team-up to fight King Ghidorah. Worse is that earlier this year the Mothra twins kicked Godzilla’s butt which is certainly more of a reason for Godzilla to want to fight Mothra rather than some three-headed interloper.

 

Then again can who can stay mad a Mothra?

It’s during this big finale that things start to get really goofy, Godzilla is no longer the terrifying force of nature he once was as he’s now more like Ralph Kramden to Rodan’s Ed Norton and Mothra is the stand in for Alice.

 

“One of these days Mothra, bang zoom right to moon!”

The entire exchange between Mothra, Godzilla and Rodan does feel more like a comedy bit you’d expect to see on an episode of The Honeymooners or maybe the Three Stooges, certainly not in a titanic struggle between legendary behemoths. Then to make things extra silly we have the two fairies showing up to translate for the monsters so that the humans can know what’s going, and it’s as ridiculous as it sounds. Here is a rough break down of the monster debate…

• Godzilla and Rodan are found volleying rocks back and forth at each other as if participating in some form of mad tennis.
• Mothra shows up and sprays Godzilla with her cocooning spray.
• Rodan laughs at the hilarity of this.
• Mothra then sprays Rodan.
• Godzilla drops to his butt for a good laugh at that.
• Mothra says, “Let’s stop fighting each other and unite against King Ghidorah.”
• Godzilla and Rodan say it’s none of their business. They don’t care.
• Godzilla says he has no reason to help humans. Humans always make trouble.
• Rodan says he agrees with that.
• Mothra says this fighting is of now use. But Godzilla and Rodan both want an apology.
• Mothra tells them the Earth doesn’t belong to just humans. It’s theirs too, so they should defend it.
• Godzilla and Rodan remain unconvinced so Mothra scurries off to fight Ghidorah alone.


The idea of a group of monsters having a philosophical debate while a couple of tine fairies provide colour commentary, as if they were translators from the Monster Island version of the United Nations, is bizarre beyond words and also kind of brilliant. Some fans decry this more comic take on Godzilla and blame it for the eventually shut down of the series in the mid-70s, but as the franchise has never been prone to having any form of consistent continuity in tone or story I consider this take on Godzilla to be as valid as any other.


These later Shōwa period entries may be goofy but their also a lot of fun, when Godzilla sees Mothra getting beaten on by King Ghidorah he rushes to the little guys aid as if to say, “Nobody picks on my little buddy.” Rodan apparently feeling left out joins in and even allows Mothra to ride on his back, giving the little guy the ability to fire his spray from the air. The fight is over-the-top in its insanity with Mothra holding on to Ghidorah’s tails while the three-headed monster zaps Godzilla in the butt with his lightning, and Rodan buffeting the space monster with a storm of rocks.  Ghidorah isn’t so much defeated as more likely he was so just embarrassed that he up and leaves.

 

“Don’t let the door hit you where Godzilla split you.”

Now director Ishirō Honda was not a particular fan of the comic turn the series took but like any working professional he did the best he could with the material on hand, working the human stories into the monster fighting while also making the interesting has always been tricky business, and the introduction of the spy element and alien themes certainly helped. In the case of Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster the amnesiac princess from Jupiter being hunted by assassins does tangentially get the humans involved beyond being mere witnesses, and though it is resolved rather abruptly (the final assassin is killed by a landslide caused by the monster fight and the princess being wounded brings back her memory) it’s still satisfying. So even though Detective Shindo manages to save the princess it’s clear that the heroes of the day are Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra.

 

But can they remain friends long enough to defeat the Astro Monster in their next film?