Monday, December 24, 2012

GODZILLA, MOTHRA AND KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL OUT ATTACK (2001)

FINALLY.  This is the GODZILLA experience that I'd been hoping to have, the one that wouldn't yield disappointment after endless anticipation, like your first sex or your first Terence Trent D'Arby CD.  Godzilla had quite the history at this point and it really showed in the unfocused, ineffective 'Zillas of the 90s.  Like a soap opera, so many different elements had been stuffed into the Godzillaverse that it was just a bloated mess—psychics and anti-Godzilla task forces blocked out all the scenery, breaking my mind.  So two great decisions were made.  One, Godzilla continuity would be hacked to bits and basically returned to the universe of the first film.  Two, GAMERA director Shusuke Kaneko would be given the controls for this outing.  Let's get upset hospital person to explain Kaneko's vision of Godzilla:


Pretty much.  This Godzilla is not a dad, a friend to all mankind, or an emo lizard who wants to tell psychics about his feelings.  He's back to being the engine of destruction from the original film, albeit with an even more ghastly look:


White Deadite eyes over a mouthful of deadly fangs and cool new blue fire-breath.  This Godzilla would never pass a hospital without destroying it!  He's such a behemoth menace that THREE giant monsters, including the legendary Mothra and King Ghidorah, must team up to try to stave off civilization's collapse.  The creatures all look great-ish, not totally indistinguishable from real life, but certainly worlds better than the bad old angry-puppet days.  Plus this GODZILLA actually gives up human characters to care about!


Cute drunk girl reporter Yuki is our protagonista here (third great decision!), but we also have interesting minor characters like her skeezy lank-haired supervisor, assorted military folk, and an old man who passes along monster legends from the hills.  Acting is solid, effects are good, and the narrative really benefits from having Kaneko's hand at the helm.  There are no dead spaces here, the battle scenes are as long as they need to be, and plots are juggled with deftness and mastery.  Plus the movie gets in shots at previous entries, which is always a plus:


It also dishes a sick burn to the disastrous American remake, which must have really incensed Japan, as it's been dissed in at least two GODZILLA movies now (this and FINAL WARS).  


I love the angsty generic emo-rock that accompanies Zilla's appearance!  "Kashmir" was better when Puffy did it, too!  But, anyway, GODZILLA, MOTHRA AND KING GHIDORAH does everything right.  It gives you your RDA of mayhem and devastation, but doesn't skimp on the elements that made good movies good.  It's the first GODZILLA in a long time that you could arguably call a great film.  Highly recommended.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA II (1993)

Please believe that I have not cheated and jumped ahead in the Godzilla lineage.  I watched GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1955 - notable only because it's the first time Godzilla fought another monster, Anguirus, and because it has at least 20 minutes of hand puppets biting each other) and GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1974 - pretty fun, if somewhat Brady Bunch-ish/Land of the Lost-like kaiju craziness), but neither felt sufficient enough to stuff a blog post.  So...


90s GODZILLA, if memory serves, marked a turn into dark territory for a series that has allowed giant monster Godzilla to become a defender of humanity and single parent.  GODZILLA VS. MECH II isn't exactly a big cry-fest and in some ways retains the older films' charming insanities, but the production values are much higher and it's much more of a real narrative film instead of a bunch of dialogue scenes strung around big-monster battles.  If anything, this movie goes way in the other direction—not since the intrigues of Tudor England have plots been this complicated.


The UN assembles an anti-Godzilla team to construct anti-monster weapondry.  They salvage pieces of Mecha King Ghidorah from the future to make a flying battleship called Garuda and the new Mechagodzilla (this entry apparently doesn't have any connection to the first G VS. MECH).  This is all explained in voiceover as a prologue, btw.  When we get to the actual movie, giant flying dino Rodan is attacking everything and has left behind an egg.  Scientists retrieve the egg and theorize about it as shown in the image above.  It hatches into a baby Godzilla, which is the same species as Godzilla, but eats plants and such.

Just call me milk, 'cause I'll do your body good

I know, man, Ewoks, Jar-Jar, Baby Godzilla.  After I finish vomiting and scientists finish testing the baby, they determine that Godzilla has a brain in his hip, so they use baby as bait and send Mechagodzilla out to destroy Big G, but Rodan sacrifices himself and is absorbed into Godzilla's hip brain, allowing him to prevail, then take Baby G into the ocean to await the return to dominance of the dinosaurs.  WHAT.


Does this sound like an AWESOM-O pitch that got out of control?  I haven't even told you about the scene in which a bunch of students from the ESP SCHOOL show up to sing a beautiful song to Baby Godzilla.


I'm sure some would argue that things get too busy here, but I'd much prefer a GODZILLA film nine months pregnant with pure madness to cardboard characters frowning about science all day.  So this is all okay with me!  As baffling as the movie gets, it's never dull.  If you don't like monster battles (which are really well done!), you can enjoy the campy American expert's technical advice, like "Put that thing over there and then move these that way.  Yes, now Mechagodzilla is completely improved!"  Or you can awww at the theoretically cute baby Godzilla or be in awe of the BACK TO THE FUTURE-style hovercraft.  The movie has something for everyone and, while I wouldn't say it's a great film, I think it's inarguably superb junk cinema.  


Friday, December 21, 2012

GODZILLA (1954)

I'm work-free for a few days and my family is a few states away, so my Christmas options were:

A) go from house to house, sadly peeping in windows and watching intact families enjoy gifts, food, and each other's company while violin music plays until I die of hypothermia or

B) watch Godzilla movies and analyze them on my blog.

Called GOJIRA in Japan, GODZILLA was made in 1954, almost ten years after Hiroshima.  It inspired a parade of sequels which veered into terrible camp for MST3K to mock before an improbable renaissance of seriousness took hold in the darker nineties and beyond.  In a way, this was a return to the spirit of this original, as GODZILLA is far more small-scale and somber than most of its goofy kids.  Everybody knows the story: a monster, formed by radiation, arises to attack Japan.  What's surprising about this first outing is the deliberate pacing of the plot.  It really takes its time to get going.  People who, like me, are used to later Godzilla are going to be shifting uncomfortably through the many scenes of dialogue and wondering why the movie is so focused on  the scientist love triangle and also why Godzilla looks like this:


To be fair, that is probably the worst look in the film.  During the later scenes, Godzilla actually looks incredible—like a wet black mountain with teeth, laying waste to the cityscape.  


Even if you've never seen this, you've probably heard that it's an anti-nuke allegory or whatever.  Honestly, portions of it are kind of ambiguous or could at least be interpreted that way.  SPOILER: scientist Serizawa invents an "oxygen destroyer" (yeah, I know), but refuses to use it to annihilate Godzilla until his ex-gf and her new flame convince him that it's necessary to save lives.  Horrible weapon that must be used to prevent even worse destruction—sounds like the kind of arguments that (hopefully) occurred prior to the nuclear attacks on Japan, ne?  It's pretty interesting that the film goes in this direction, although I dunno how much even-handed contemplation credit you can grant it.  I'm not totally convinced that GODZILLA is the secretly-brilliant masterwork that modern critics have declared.  It's obviously got something to say about nuclear business and it's loose enough that you could convincingly argue that it would work as a terrorism allegory, but there are a lot of of flaws here, peeps.

This is what happens when you tolerate homosexuals!

Primitive design and effects aside, my objections to this are also things that I kind of enjoy.  Like having very little character development.  This decentralized approach works when we've got little vignettes in the city during Godzilla's rampage, like when a mom tells her kids that they'll be with Daddy soon.  The downside is that we have to go back to dutifully boring daughter Emiko and her dad, who is STILL angsted about Godzilla being destroyed instead of studied.  There's like seriously no movement or alteration in these characters and it's not like they're fun monster-controlling aliens from space or anything, so those scenes are a major drag.  "All the characters kind of suck" is kind of a big flaw.


Love/hate #2 is the sheer amount of time devoted to looking at tanks, transport vehicles, soldiers, etc.  1954 was the year in which Japan passed the Japan Self-Defense Forces Act, which transformed a portion of the police into the Japanese National Guard, basically.  So it's certainly weird to see how lovingly GODZILLA devotes minutes to showing battle regalia and war weapons, like after so many years of demilitarization, we can finally have tanks again!  But, then again, those minutes are not advancing the plot or leading directly to monster mayhem, so they're a bit of waste when divorced from the social climate, right?

Should you see this?  Yes.  For historic reasons and to appreciate how distant the series/concept got from its origins.  Occasional zzzzs aside, it's also a pretty smart film, doing things like recurring music motifs as a contrast to the destruction of a society.  And when one character says of a guy with one eye, "He came to see us off", lulz.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Bests

Best IMDB plot description:


and best horror movie special effect:


I am sorry for what your life has become, Linnea Quigley!

Friday, December 7, 2012

DEATH SPA (1989)

O, DEATH SPA, how many times have we passed each other on VHS racks.  I must have been tempted by that classy cover, not sure how I managed to resist.


I do love the idea of a killer spa, but "killer inanimate objects" is a pretty underwhelming subgenre, CHRISTINE aside (and I haven't even seen that in forever, so don't take my word for it).  I already got burned by DEATH BED and only occasionally enjoyed RAPE STOVE.


But it turns out that DEATH SPA isn't even about a spa killing people, really.  There is a spa and death, but there are also three possible explanations which get played out through the movie's longer-seeming 86 minutes.  Widower Mike owns the spa/gym, which is completely computerized, the IT department being Mike's bitter, dead-sister-obsessed brother-in-law.  So maybe the IT nerd guy (who spends his time "hacking"—don't worry, this strange term is explained at length) is responsible for the deaths, but maybe it's the dead sister's ghost, too.  Or maybe it's something else!  A comedy detective and his lady cop partner are here to find out, but also a parapsychologist is here to find out, too.  Plus Ken Foree is Mike's friend!  And there's a comedy fat guy and also a love object who was temporarily blinded in the Death Spa.  This movie has A LOT of plot.


Too much, really.  It plays out like a whodunit, but that kind of mystery only works if the buildup is engaging and DEATH SPA kind of isn't.  It throws a bunch of characters and plot twists at you, but the results are generally not that compelling.  At times, I thought the filmmakers were better than the tepid script, as they managed to do more with it than it probably deserved.  One of the best scenes is the very first, in which we see a girl dancing as if we're peeping through a window.  She's obviously dancing to Paula Abdul or Jody Watley or some such, but the soundtrack keeps piping this menacing classical music and it's really jarring and cool.  


My fave scenes were the interactions between Mike and Marvin, Ken Foree's character, because for once DEATH SPA feels like a movie populated by real people with real relationships.  These are really simple scenes (tossing a football in an office, etc.), but they work because they're surrounded by so much unconvincing interaction, because the script is sucks.  Plus Ken Foree looks like the happy version of Elliot Spitzer when he smiles in this.


Even the kills are kind of dull until DEATH SPA reaches its climactic party-massacre scene, which is admittedly pretty well done.  I like the surreal deaths in this one, especially the PLANKTON-esque killer fish!


Mostly, though, this one was a chore to sit through.  It's professionally-rendered, but the limitations of the script are just too much for it to succeed.  If you're a big gym/spa-horror enthusiast, though, maybe rent this after you finish AEROBICIDE and the first part of DEMONS 2.