Wednesday, January 30, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 6 - Godzilla, The King of the Monsters!

"Godzilla, King of the Monsters!" is one of the more usual movies I've seen.  It pretty much is the same movie as "Gojira", only focuses on a White character who in any movie would at best be an extra, while the story continues to play out exactly the same.  Its like if "Star Wars" were presented from the perspective of one of the random Rebel pilots.  The guy only is acquaintances with the real heroes, he doesn't really do anything particularly heroic or even important, he's most there just to hang out with the real characters, and what you know of Luke, Leia, and Han, you know only from his second-hand knowledge.  You know, he's all for the Rebellion, and what-not, but there's really no need for him to be all that emotionally invested.  Its rare for a movie to focus on a witness to incredible events rather than somebody who actually has something to do with those events.

What happened with "Godzilla, King of the Monsters!" is that its the American release of "Gojia", coming out two years later, in 1956.  Toho in the Fifties, being a Japanese film company, had little thought to exportation of their movies, and took a very low sum of $25,000 dollars for the international rights.  It would have been impossible for them to guess that "Gojira" was going to become an international hit, as no Japanese film previously had made much of a worldwide impact.  The American company that bought the rights was an independent company called Jewell Enterprises, who decided that US audiences would never want to watch a film featuring only Japanese characters.  So they created a character named Steve Martin*, played by Hollywood actor, Raymond Burr, who is a reporter hanging around in the background of the major events of the original film.  Obviously it isn't easy to splice an entire character into a movie since they cannot interact with the other actors or sets or monsters, but "Godzilla" does not even attempt to make Steve Martin appear like he belongs in this story.

Ironically, that actually makes "Godzilla, King of the Monsters!" a surprisingly faithful adaptation, despite the addition of an entire new protagonist who steals the spotlight from the real heroes.  The story plays out exactly the same as the original, with every major scene remaining more or less intact.  Lots of scenes were cut out or shortened considerably since this version is about twenty minutes shorter than the Japanese, but the flow remains intact, its just that we see much less of the Japanese heroes.  Obviously this is the inferior version, as Raymond Burr's existence is more distracting than anything else, though they do a surprisingly decent job making it appear like he's in the same locations as the Japanese actors from 1954.  But the special effects are all intact, several of the best scenes are still intact, and actually the movie is somewhat breezier this way, if lacking the emotional punch of "Gojira".

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 5 - Gojira (Godzilla)

Godzilla is easily one of the most famous monsters in all of film history.  He is an icon of B-movies, a lumbering monster stepping through the ruins of Japanese cities as crowds of panicked dubbed-over people run in all directions from the fire breathing beast.  He's been in twenty-nine films throughout a fifty year career, and with rumors of a new 2014 American film production becoming increasingly solid, it appears the Godzilla story is long from over.  He's been the bad guy, the antihero, the protagonist, and has been mankind's greatest champion to its most terrible scourge.  Godzilla has fought monsters of all kinds and all shapes, at least a dozen invading alien races, and King Kong, going from a dark specter of nuclear annihilation to a children's movie wrestling hero, and has since stepped in every direction along the moral compass.

And along the way, Godzilla has become an international icon of Japanese filmmaking, perhaps the single most famous Japanese cultural export in the entire 20th century.  For generations of filmgoers, both children and adults, Godzilla has been a long time reliable friend of giant monster battles.  There can be no denying that Godzilla is the most important giant monster ever, and every one of his movies requires a study here on All-Out Giant Monster Attack!  Godzilla more or less created the entirety of Japanese kaiju ("strange beast") giant monster genre, inventing an entire new form of special effects and turning its production company, Toho, into the leading world master of giant monster movies.  Godzilla is the true King of the Monsters, for all of these reasons and more - I'd rank him as my favorite film character of all time time, with little hesitation.  I mean, he's the ultimate badass, he rules, discussion over.

Despite being a huge Godzilla fan*, I've actually had not seen the original 1954 Japanese "Gojira".  This is a pretty deep source of embarrassment for me since I've seen crap like "Baby Geniuses" but not the first film starring my fire breathing childhood hero?  There's a somewhat complex story behind this, because the Japanese version of the first Godzilla movie is actually very different from the version I've seen and is familiar to most Westerners.  When "Gojira" was brought to the West, it was heavily edited to give an American protagonist, turning it into a very different movie.  For that reason most film scholarship treats the Japanese and American cuts as being separate movies, which is how I'll treat them personally on this series.  To distinguish them, the Japanese cut is usually called "Gojira" while the American version is referred to by its American title, "Godzilla, King of the Monsters!".  Both versions are readily available today, and both are equally important as movies.  Obviously though, to tell the story of Godzilla, we need to start from the beginning.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 4 - The Beast from 20000 Fathoms

The splitting of the atom and the untold possibilities offered by the nuclear age seem to have caught America's imagination in a way that no scientific advancement since ever has.  With cities vanishing from the face of the Earth in an instant, science now seemed to truly offer unlimited possibilities, we humans realized that our power now really could be unlimited.  America had smote Hiroshima and Nagasaki like the Old Testiment God had smote Sodom and Gomorrah, all thanks to this fantastic new science with exotic names like "nuclear", "atomic", and "radioactive".  SciFi had been a literary and film genre for decades, but now science fiction was becoming reality*.  Mary Shelley with "Frankenstein" had imagined if human scientific exploration would push us beyond our natural boundaries into something perverse and terrible - the atom bomb was the first advancement humans have ever made that has made us stop in our tracks and wonder if we have gone too far.  As terrible and frightening as the nuclear bomb was, it was still fascinating and cool.  For pop culture science fiction, the Fifties were the atomic age.  From the Silver Age of Comics to B-movie science fiction, the new strange science that the Manhattan Project had unleashed could do anything in the minds of pulp writers, from giving a man superpowers to creating the new generation of giant monster.

"The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" is notable as being the first film of many in the 1950s which would feature giant monsters as terrible retributions accidentally created by Man overstepping into God's domain.  Nuclear power, especially in the mind's of authors ignorant to the actual science, offered an unlimited explanation for any kind of amazing fantastical story.  If you wanted a giant monster to rampage through New York, it was very simple to make that happen, simply have a nuclear explosion unlock the creature out of its frozen stasis in the Arctic.  Or more simply, just say "radiation" did it, and then you could have giant ants, giant spiders, or giant gila monsters and there you go, a movie.

This was all happening at the same time that the definition of a B-movie in Hollywood had radically changed.  Back during the time when a filmgoing experience usually meant buying a ticket for two movies and some short films, a "B-movie" was simply a cheaper film made by the Big Five studios to accompany an "A-movie", the more expensive and presumably marketable film.  The major studios of the Golden Age of Hollywood quite literally controlled everything, including the theater chains.  After the Supreme Court ruled that this was illegal, theaters became independent, and double-booking of movies began to fade away.  This also came during the rise of television, so people didn't want to spend hours and hours at the movie theater anymore when they could get motion pictures at home.  A-movies were growing longer and more sophistic and expensive in order to distinguish the quality of movies from TV shows.  B-movies then were no longer made by the major studios and instead created by low budget independent producers, and the difference in quality between "real movies" and a B-movie was never more apparent.  Since they didn't have very much money, they had to focus upon easily marketable genres that would appeal to the lowest common denominator of audiences, such as horror, action, or SciFi monster movies.  "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" was a part of that tradition, and unfortunately suffers deeply from the typical problems of a 1950s B-movie, which make "20,000 Fathoms" a mixed film at best.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Rurouni Kenshin (Live Action)

Wow, a live action adaptation of an anime that doesn't suck.

"Rurouni Kenshin" was one of the those shows from long ago back in the golden age of Toonami when a kid could be a kid, sitting down on the living room floor watching foreign shonen cartoons.  Even as a kid, I never ranked "Rurouni Kenshin" as being one of my great favorites, but I figure it holds a place in history as being a classic of the shonen action genre.  Though if you're looking for an anime starring a protagonist that refuses to kill his opponents and must suffer nine eternities in hell for this moral stand, skip "Rurouni Kenshin" and go straight to "Trigun".  "Trigun" is more mature, has a more consistent protagonist, and actually backs up its philosophizing, while "Rurouni Kenshin" really was nothing but an excuse to stage lots and lots of showy sword battles with increasingly absurd villains.

So since its adapting from an anime/manga that in my opinion was merely okay at best, and since its also turning a cartoon into live action, I didn't expect much out of this "Rurouni Kenshin" film that came out in Japan last August, and is available subtitled online in the US through piracy.  The last live action adaptation of an anime I saw was "Dragonball: Evolution", making me, through misfortune of character, the only person on Earth to have seen "Dragonball: Evolution".  And trust me, it sucked as much as you thought it did when you made the wise decision not to see it.  However, surprisingly, this live action "Rurouni Kenshin" actually does a great job capturing the style and tone of the original series and characters.  Definitely it was helped a great deal because "Rurouni Kenshin" takes place in 19th century Japan, a real time and place that Japanese filmmakers have been portraying for decades.  But importantly, the actor playing Kenshin looks like Kenshin, he doesn't look like a teenager in a cosplay outfit.  And every location looks much like it in the show.  This is a solid competent adaptation.

As a movie, however, I'd say it came out pretty positive.  I didn't love "Rurouni Kenshin" as an anime, so I didn't love it as a movie, but its a filmmaking achievement in its own way and would be a great treat to fans worldwide.  The story might be bloated in order to bring in all the important "Rurouni Kenshin" cast members, but for an adaptation of a complex anime drama like this, they did a pretty good job.  If you've never seen or heard of "Rurouni Kenshin" before, this is a competently-made samurai action film, its definitely worth your time.

Wind Waker Wii U and Other Zelda Business

Its a big Nintendo news day.  "Bayonetta 2" was discussed, we got to see the first images of Monolith Soft's new game, which looks like "Xenoblade but with Giant Robots".  But those things immediately cease to matter now that we have this:

Oh... monkey.  I guess first off we had Eiji Aonuma, the lead Zelda director since "Wind Waker", talking about what Zelda is going to be like on the Wii U.  If you recall, I hated "Skyward Sword" because the controls were only semi-functional and because the game seemed to offer nothing new other than those lackluster motion things.  Well, it appears Aonuma is proud of his "Skyward Sword" achievement, but now offers up two big changes for Zelda on the Wii U.  And these are.... "you can beat the dungeons out of sequence"* and a sinister downright villainous threat of "[forced] multiplayer".  So what he's offering is basically "a thing you could do in Zelda games up until roughly 'Ocarina of Time' but that we removed in order to increase story relevance" and "a thing I never wanted in a Zelda game to begin with".

So I guess by the time "The Legend of Zelda: Woebegone Wombat Wars" comes out on the Wii U, I'll be forced to make friends.  Damn you, NINTENDO!!!

And that was the sum total of everything Aonuma had to say.  Then he showed off the "Wind Waker" in HD.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Gangster Squad

Yup, still January.

"Gangster Squad" is a movie that has been floating around in trailers and advertisements for just about six months now.  It would have come out sometime last fall (specifically September 7th as evidenced by the poster I'm using) if not for that Colorado movie shooting, which prompted the producers to not only move their film back, but also re-edit and re-film a large portion of the film.  If you remember the first trailers, "Gangster Squad" was going to feature guys with tommy guns popping out of the screen of a theater showering bullets in all directions.  In a massive overreaction, this scene was cut, and all references to that scene were cut, and they changed the entire movie to avoid being politically incorrect.  It reminds me of how back in 2001 and 2002, they needed to airbrush the Twin Towers out of every movie that dared take place in New York.  You know, when you go out of your way to avoid something controversial like this, you're only putting more emphasis on it.  I mean, just because there were school shootings, does this mean I'm never allowed to watch "Heathers"?

So "Gangster Squad" actually was a movie torn apart in post-production, which might explain why the movie isn't all that good.  There's a chance that the original "Gangster Squad" was a movie with energy and humanity that didn't feel like a parody trying to play itself straight, but I have my doubts.  Unfortunately "Gangster Squad" is simply dull, it was a movie that I did not want to be watching almost immediately.  This was pretty unfortunate because I actually was really looking forward to "Gangster Squad".  I wasn't watching this ironically or just because I needed something to review to fill up this blog, I legitimately wanted to see an 1940s-style gangland crime movie adapted for the modern screen.  Well, the movie just doesn't work.  Quentin Tarantino can take Seventies genres like Blaxploitation and make them feel fresh and modern, Ruben Fleicher, the director of this, cannot.

"Gangster Squad" is an ensemble film featuring a half dozen Los Angeles cops breaking the law and murdering gangsters in order to save their city from an evil Chicago king pin, played by Sean Penn.  Unfortunately, none if ever seems to come together.  Sean Penn is an over-the-top comic book villain, the lead of the Gangster Squad, Josh Brolin, simply comes off as terribly flat, Ryan Gosling is trying to be authentic but is underused, Emma Stone is wasted because she's only around to look sexy, Robert Patrick seems like he wandered in from a silly Western, and there's an African American guy and a Latino guy, thrown in for no reason other than to have an African American guy and a Latino guy.  The movie feels lifeless, every character feels like he's part of an unnecessary subplot in an already mediocre crime movie.  Its silly and cartoony, but never silly and cartoony enough.  Because "Gangster Squad" is also trying to be something of a serious period piece, but its never believable.  And Rubin Fleicher has no idea how to shoot or direct like this movie is actually taking place in the Fourties, instead he just uses bland color correction to try to make it look-old timey.  There are attempts to bring some moral ambiguity to the tale, but then they just decide that Sean Penn is pure evil and that the good guys are pure good.  And because of that, its simply boring.  And you know what?  I have nothing else to say.  This is the review.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Fuck, its January.

Generally the rule is:  if it isn't an Oscar contender and it was released in January, go bowling instead.  January is the month where studios quietly dump the movies they have the least amount of faith in; the movies that are so bad that they can only hope to compete against other terrible January movies.  Yeah, sometimes something legitimately good will get released like "Drive Angry 3D" or "Haywire", but most likely we'll only get crap such as "Red Tails" or "Underworld 4" or the third remake of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre".  For once, I generally had high hopes for a couple of January releases this year, but those hopes seem to have been completely dashed.  This review and the next post (which will be a review of "Gangster Squad") are fully in the deep fathoms of January depression.

"Mama" pretty much had everything going for it as a horror movie was concerned.  It was proudly presented by Guillermo del Toro, who may not have directed a movie in awhile, but most of the movies with his name attached are generally positive.  2011's "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" wasn't a very memorable movie, but still a simple and solid scary movie, similar in style to horror stories for children.  "Mama", however... isn't a trainwreck, but its very very close to being a good movie, but still an unfortunate failure.  The concept was good, the filming was great, there were some believable performances including some good work from some very creepy children, and just about three-quarters of the way through, I thought it would break the January curse and come out as a generally good movie, but definitely not a rockstar.  Then the last act started, and... the movie collapsed all at once for me.  I can even pinpoint the exact moment, when there was a flash of a special effect so bad-looking that I burst into hysterical laughter that lasted for about ten minutes.

I hate to pin most of the failure of a movie on a really bad-looking CG ghost, but they seemed perversely proud of this creature, showing it directly in your face for the entire overblown ridiculous climax.  Some people might find this thing creepy looking, and it is a weird creature, but its obvious CG, and I haven't seen something this bad looking in a ghost movie since the little cherub spirits from the remake of "The Haunting".  I'll cover more on the special effect later in the review, but every bit of fear I had simply vanished the second I saw how silly-looking this ghost was.  Also, luckily, I don't have to pin the failure of "Mama" solely on the effects, there's also the ending.  Which is awful, and completely off-tone.  Spoilers ahead, but don't worry, you're not going to feel like you missed anything.

Friday, January 18, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 3 - Mighty Joe Young (1949)

"Mighty Joe Young" is an impressive technical marvel made all the more gorgeous when compared against the giant monster movies that came before it.  Its odd that I'd be here saying that "Mighty Joe Young" has amazing special effects when its a movie more than sixty years old with effects that today look very silly and quaint.  But the difference between "Mighty Joe Young" and "King Kong" is like night and day.  When before giant monster movies were little more than glorified jungle adventure films, "Mighty Joe Young" creates a more complex plotline, placing the giant ape as the hero and human beings as the villains.

In 1949, sixteen years had passed since the Kong creative team had made their two giant monster films.  "Mighty Joe Young" was in many ways a reunion of that team, making a movie that was an homage to their original "King Kong".  Ernest B. Schoedsack, the co-director of "King Kong" and the director of "The Son of Kong" returns as director, while his original creative partner, Merian C. Cooper is merely in a producer role.  Screenwriter Ruth Rose is back again in her old job, along with special effects master, Willis O'Brien. Under O'Brien's wing is none other than Ray Harryhausen, the wizard behind decades of stop-motion animation classics, learning from the original master himself, and eventually becoming the lead animator.  They even brought back Robert Armstrong, the actor who played Carl Denham, in almost the exact same role* as the ambitious nightclub owner, Max O'Hara.  It should be no surprise then that "Mighty Joe Young" feels like an evolution from the King Kong movies, featuring more complex effects, a more sympathetic giant ape then ever, and some of the best use of stop-motion in all of film history.

Curiously though, despite a large budget and the help of legendary Western director John Ford, "Mighty Joe Young" was a flop at the box office.  It came almost immediately at the tail end of RKO Radio Pictures' reign as one of the great studios of Hollywood.  I suppose at the time, "Mighty Joe Young" was considered to be too similar to "King Kong", which was a movie from another generation and already quaint.  But you can really see a shocking jump in quality from "The Son of Kong" to "Mighty Joe Young", and the movie's technical and emotional successes were enough to give it a long loving following.  My own mother and my uncle used to watch this movie every Thanksgiving back in the Seventies during network television marathons of classic giant monster movies.  It might have been underrated at the time, but today "Mighty Joe Young" ranks among the legends of early giant monster movies.  "King Kong" might remain the classic standard, but I'd say "Mighty Joe Young" is a movie worth looking at.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 2 - The Son of Kong

"The Son of Kong" is the direct sequel to "King Kong", made right after the success of the original film.  By every definition of the term "Son of Kong" was a cash grab, cynically capitalizing on the Kong mania that had swept America right after the explosive blockbuster that was the first giant ape movie.  The plot this time is mostly filler to eat up time in order to barely reach feature-length, there are far fewer giant monster appearances, the story is sillier and lighter, no monsters attack New York, the production is noticeably limited, and Fay Wray is nowhere to be found.  However, despite all that, "The Son of Kong" is actually a pretty sweet little movie, certainly no masterpiece like the first "King Kong", but charming in its own way.

Obviously in my journey throughout giant monster movies, there are going to be far more terrible movies to come than "The Son of Kong", including a few I'm already dreading to see.  The original "Kong" was a really impressive work, and even I was shocked by how much I enjoyed it.  "The Son of Kong" is very very different, made by the same creative team and most of the original cast to milk as much money from the Kong license before it faded out of pop culture memory.  Screenwriter Ruth Rose, one of the writers of the original, specifically thought that "King Kong" could not be topped, so instead decided to make something sillier and funnier.  And also, RKO Pictures was giving a far smaller budget, so armatures and props had to be reused, sets had to be brought back, and technically complex scenes requiring many extras had to be trimmed out.  That means very little New York, no huge parties of men running through the jungle, no massive crowds of Polynesians worshiping Kong... through there is a circus with an entire musical band made of real monkeys.

The plot has Carl Denham returning, again played by Robert Armstrong fleeing from New York in order to avoid numerous lawsuits and injunctions against him following his insanely irresponsible idea to unleash the world's largest monster onto Broadway.  While traveling with the original captain and the original Chinese cook onboard the original ship, Carl Denham runs into a new leading lady, and the drunken sailor who told him about Skull Island, now with tales about lost gold.  Back on Monster Island, Denham befriends Kong's albino son.  Together they go on a few adventures, have a adorable little report, and then the island is hit by a huge earthquake and it sinks beneath the waves just as the film's budget runs out.  "The Son of Kong" really shoots for cute, and in that respect, it mostly succeeds.  If you want to see a movie about a man and the Little Kong he loves, "The Son of Kong" is it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

This is not going to be an easy review to write.

"Zero Dark Thirty", or as most are calling it "that movie where they kill Osama", is a movie that isn't meant to entertain, and its not entertaining.  Its slow, procedural, and plodding by design, recreating the bitterly slow and extremely technical process by which American intelligence was able to hunt down supervillain Osama bin Laden.  It was a man hunt that took many years and this movie feels like an entire decade of disappointments, frustrations, and obsession.  The director of this film was Kathryn Bigalow, who previously made the Oscar darling, "The Hurt Locker", a dreary uncompromising take on the Iraq War that I actually found unwatchable*.  The point here was not to make a Hollywood adventure with love stories or huge action setpieces or comedy, but instead the actual real life of modern intelligence.  But Bigalow seems to be a bit too focused on not being entertaining, making the movie unnecessarily dark, to the point that the main protagonist is extremely flat, not a great deal happens for long stretches, and ultimately squashing whatever patriotic excitement you might have gotten from the sight of Osama's soul being shotgunned right into the Muslim version of Hell.

I feel like we keep coming back to this point over and over again on this blog, but "Zero Dark Thirty" is much too long.  The movie is so subdued and specially-designed to be slow that actually not a great deal occurs during the first hour, to the point that I think somebody could walk in an hour after the movie began and probably not miss much of anything.  There's no real character interaction, and the plot only moves as quickly as the intelligence community combs through mountains of sand to find the one grain that leads them to their target.  And then, even after the main heroine has found Osama's compound, the movie spends what feels like a half hour of political discussion.  Then finally we can finally have the taking of the fortress, as SEAL Team 6 surgically step by step overwhelms Osama's protectors.  But we have no great celebration, there's a brief moment of "yes, we did it" but it ends with the protagonist weeping in the back of a cargo jet, perhaps out of guilt for the methods used to bring about this success, but more probably because she has nothing else in her life.

Jessica Chastain's character might be the most flat and one-dimensional figure to ever lead a Best Picture nominee.  If "Zero Dark Thirty" fails in any place, its because its heroine has nothing to her.  She lives and breaths intelligence, is a completely workaholic to the point of apparently having no friends, has no hobbies, has no interests, and is asexual.  Yeah, Chastain takes no crap from her superiors and is doggedly fanatical to her ultimate goal, but why?  What is the underlying psychology driving this robotic creature to destroy Osama?  This character is the movie, and... I got nothing here.  Jeremy Renner's character in ":Hurt Locker" fell in love with the war as a traumatic reaction to the stress of battle.  We have nothing of equal sophistication here.  I'd argue that "Zero Dark Thirty" doesn't actually have characters or what characters it does have are limited as supporting roles to the vacuum that is its protagonist.  Its too desperate to appear like serious art, that it can't actually be much of a movie at all.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

AKA:  "Jennifer Lawrence's Ass: The Movie".

A few days ago they announced the 2013 Academy Awards nominees, and a certain Indie Romantic Comedy named "Silver Linings Playbook" managed to score no less than eight nominations, including all four acting categories.  Some people, as always, are upset that the Oscars were once again picking mainly Oscar-bait movies and ignoring B-movies, superhero films, and other assorted Blockbusters, like they do every year.  "Silver Linings Playbook" has already gotten some flack for being picked by the Academy for being an off-beat choice that would distinguish itself from the traditional Oscar fair, while actually being incredibly generic.  I'm not going to discuss Oscar politics, we have a post for that coming soon enough.

Instead we're going to talk about "Silver Linings Playbook".  And honestly, there isn't much to say about "Silver Linings Playbook".  Its a Romantic Comedy, and despite having a great deal of ambition for a movie in that genre, it ultimately becomes little more than a Romantic Comedy.  Rom Coms are a genre like any other, there are expectations to achieve.  Feminine people love them for how they hit their expectations, ultimately following a pre-set genre story and concluding in predictable ways.  Here I like just as generic and predictable Giant Monster movies, slashers, and space opera films.  Some people like to eat lots of ice cream and cry while watching Katherine Heigl in some shitty movie where she falls in love with Gerard Butler, and I sit down and eat cheese balls while watching Godzilla beat up Gigan in a movie just as shitty.  The difference here, is that "Silver Linings Playbook" actually had a lot of promise to be something a bit more than a Rom Com, and it wasn't.

It began as something of a very dark drama dealing with some serious mental illness problems, and perhaps even attempting to realistically tie in those psychological conflicts with family issues and maybe get a love story in on the side.  Then the movie started to drop the realism.  The plot grew less dark and more contrived, until finally with a big dance routine that somehow solves everybody's problems.  Characters stopped acting like they have been set up, and start treating what is seriously disturbed pathological and manipulative behavior into charming "oh, she really does love me" moment.  I kept expected the dark realism to shuffle back into the plot, and for the movie to make a dramatic turn back into the harsh realities it does not want to face, but it never does.  I'd say at best, "Silver Linings Playbook" has a great deal of good moments, especially Jennifer Lawrence's healthy figure in skimpy dance cloths, but unless you're looking for a date movie, you can skip this.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 1 - King Kong (1933)

I'm announcing a new series that we'll be doing here on Planet Blue for 2013.  And its called All-Out Giant Monster Attack! a historical review of all of the most famous giant monster movies of all time.  The reason why 2013 must be THE YEAR OF GIANT MONSTERS is pretty obvious:  Guillermo del Toro is making a little movie called "Pacific Rim" which will feature giant monsters fighting giant robots.  If you recall, last year I spent half the summer in the midsts of a fanboy high about "The Dark Knight Rises".  Well, "Pacific Rim" is going to be 2013's masterpiece, and to prepare ourselves, we're going to spend many many posts discussing the greatest giant monsters in film, from Godzilla to Gamera to the grandfather of them all, "King Kong".  This is the celebration of the sublime poetry that is a five story beast wrecking mankind's most hallowed temples of civilization.

There were certainly plenty of giant monster movies to be made before 1933, most notably being a silent adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Lost World" made in 1925*.  But "King Kong" is the first giant monster to create an international film icon.  King Kong as a personality has withstood the decades, remaining a pop culture star almost eighty years after his first inception.  "King Kong" has been remade twice, but has inspired dozens of rip-offs, cash-ins, and homages, including great Godzilla himself, the King of the Monsters.  When you think back to a prehistoric beast rampaging through modernity, King Kong inevitably will come to mind.  This is one of those movies whose stories everybody knows by heart, even if they've never seen it.  We know that King Kong lives on a jungle island full of dinosaurs, becomes enraptured by Fay Wray, gets captured by White adventurers, they take him back to New York, and then goes on a rampage through Broadway before climbing the Empire State Building and being shot down by fighter biplanes.  Along with other Thirties films like "Dracula", "Frankenstein", and "The Wizard of Oz", "King Kong" is pure icon, having reached such mythological status that its almost impossible to objectively review.

However, I will try.  We need to rewind ourselves back to 1933, when in the darkest days of the Great Depression, Hollywood was still innovating and expanding its film technology to new levels of believability and scope.  Film had just passed out of its Silent Era only years ago, the idea of a film with vocal dialog was as new to audiences them as the abundance of 3D is to us now.  Stop motion special effects were in their infancy, and really reached a major milestone after their usage in this film.  "King Kong" is a precursor to the modern idea of a Blockbuster, an action adventure movie with its main draw being a fantastic use of special effects.  Those effects, obviously, have not aged well, but since this is the oldest movie I've covered on Planet Blue by something like thirty years, that should not be surprising.  Shockingly, "King Kong", despite being a movie resting mainly upon its cutting edge special effects, remains today a surprisingly watchable movie.  I'd even recommend it over the more recent Peter Jackson version.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Chinese Zodiac

If you want a judgmental, fair, and objective review of "Chinese Zodiac", please stop reading right now.  I'm not the world's biggest Jackie Chan fanboy, but over the course of this year I've been getting more and more into him and martial arts movies in general after having my virginal eyes opened by the glory that was "The Raid: Redemption".  So in the last three or four months, I've seen something like ten Jackie Chan movies, a great deal of which actually weren't terribly good, but were still entertaining.  I compare them to a "Godzilla" movie, where roughly half of the proceedings are terribly dull plotline scenes, but then there's incredible action scenes that make the entire experience worthwhile.

Jackie Chan is an international superstar, easily one of the most famous actors alive today, with a massive fanbase in China and around the globe.  The only martial arts star more famous would be the legendary Bruce Lee, a sainted figure in modern martial arts.  What makes Jackie Chan such a star is his ability to stage huge intricate action scenes involving perilously dangerous stunts, all of which are performed himself.  In "Who Am I?", he ran down the side of a skyscraper, and that wasn't a special effect:  he ran down the side of a skyscraper.  But beyond his near-suicidal devotion to his craft, Jackie never makes himself an unstoppable killing machine who can take down an opponent in one punch.  He's usually outmatched by about six different opponents, and the way Jackie wins is by swinging around just about anything on hand:  umbrellas, ladders, wooden Dutch shoes.  Its nearly slapstick.  But its always fast, its always exciting, and its always inventive and a lot of fun.  The best part is that the battles are matched enough that it looks like Jackie just might overwhelmed by his opponents and fail.

If you want to watch legitimately good, fun, pulpy Jackie Chan B-movies, I'd recommend "Rumble in the Bronx", "Who Am I?", "Drunken Master", "Armour of God II:  Operation Condor", "Legend of the Drunken Master", and any of the "Police Story" movies.  If you want to watch a really bad Jackie Chan movie, just watch anything that a Western director put him in, especially the hideously bad "Rush Hour" movies, where poor Jackie looks embarrassed to have to stand next to screaming Chris Tucker* for three annoying and unwatchable films.  I'm embarrassed for him.

"Chinese Zodiac" is not one of Jackie Chan's best movies.  But it is billed as his last action film, so its something like the end of a great era.  Jackie is fifty-eight years old, he's been making movies since the early Seventies.  Obviously he can't still be hopping on red hot coals or sitting on table saws anymore.  And surprisingly, Jackie is able to pull off a couple of convincing exciting action scenes even at his late age.  But the rest of the movie is crap.  Only hardcore fans need apply for this one.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Best and Worst Films of 2012

2011 was not a good year for movies, and yet my end of the year list of "Best Of" managed to hit over ten titles I thought were worthy of being remembered.  2012 was a really great year for movies, and so this episode is going to be a lot longer.  This time I have no less than fourteen great movies to share with you that if you were a better reader, you would have seen this year.  These movies will make you a better person, they will teach divine sacred truths about life, and love, and apple pie recipes.

Of course, 2012 was not all great, so I'm just going to take out the trash right now and name all the worst movies to come out real fast:   

The Worst Movie of 2012 is, of course, "Abraham Stupid:  Vampire Stupid", for being STUPID.  It was ugly to look at, badly acted, had no pacing, had an incredibly stupid concept, had idiotic awful action scenes, and had no sense of humor about its ridiculous premise.  This is what happens you try to be clever with a joke that isn't very funny to start with and go on way way way beyond the point of anybody's interest.  I truly hate this movie, and it takes a lot to make me still angry at a B-movie six months after I saw it.

The Most Disappointing Movie of 2012 is "Beyond the Black Rainbow" for having absolutely gorgeous visuals and perfectly recreating the mood of early 80s psychological horror films, but forgot to have its characters talk or even be characters and ultimately ended up a huge utterly boring mess.

The Most Forgettable Movie of 2012 is "That Bicycle Movie Starring That Guy From 'Batman 3'" for being so utterly uninteresting in every way that I walked out three quarters of the way through, and thus was actually impossible to review.

The Most Pointless Remake of 2012 is "Total Recall" for being a rip-off of every SciFi movie ever made, along with being a meaningless dull remake of a damn good action movie that only came out twenty years ago.   

The Worst Franchise That Needs to Die of 2012 is "Paranormal Activity" for being a movies series that started out horribly boring and somehow has managed to become even more embarrassingly lazy, to the point that even the fans of this crap are tired of it.  And remember, "Paranormal Activity 4" this year was competing against a "Resident Evil 5", a "Underworld 4", and a "Step Up 4".  Truly an awful movie.

The Worst Trailer I Had to See Six Trillion Times of 2012 is the trailer for "Dark Shadows" because I saw it six trillion times and it never stopped being annoying.

And finally we have a special award this year, with a Lifetime Achievement in Shitsucking going to "The Twilight Saga" for providing endless entertaining with its terribleness for so many years.  Hopefully the next teenybopper franchise will be able to fill that void in my heart that the Sparkling Vampire Movies are leaving behind.

And now, with that out of the way, let the real countdown begin:

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Django Unchained

This is the post in which I suck Quentin Tarantino's cock.  Hey, he already made me gay by showing me all of Jamie Foxx's balls, I might as well revel in it.

I don't think there are many people alive who love movies as deeply as Quentin Tarantino.  Of course, all film directors should love the craft their in, and I'm sure with very few exceptions, nearly every film director loves movies.  But everything Tarantino does is a pastiche of 60s and 70s exploitation genres, but in such a way that you never feel like he's a hipster rubbing your face in with all the references you don't understand.  You can watch "Kill Bill" without knowing where this song came from, why Uma Thurmon is dressed in a yellow jumpsuit, or any of the other six trillion call-backs that ooze through Tarantino's entire body of work.  Every movie he makes is a love affair to the entire history of film, but even if you had never stepped foot in a movie theater before you'd be endlessly entertained by pretty much every one of his movies... except "Death Proof" because that one sucked.  If Quentin Tarantino wasn't unbelievably talented as writing, directing, and shooting his movies, he'd probably be right here where I am, sitting on the Internet writing about movies.  And he'd probably write these reviews with far more flair, love, and cleverness than I could ever dream of doing.

 "Django Unchained" is Quentin Tarantino's second historical drama.  Previously he adapted the Second World War into an war exploitation movie with "Inglourious Basterds"*, and now he's turned the terrible history of Southern Slavery into a Spaghetti Western epic with of course, the slave owners being the bad guys.  It appears that Tarantino is moving through the entire history of Politically Correct villains he can slaughter, as nobody is going to shed a tear for Nazis or Southern Slaveowners except for massive pricks.  Maybe his next movie will take place in Stalin's Russia and his heroes will murder lots of NKVD agents. Translating the real historical drama of slavery into a Spaghetti Western seems to have massively pissed off Spike Lee, a man whose chip on his shoulder has found its way up his ass, since he seems to think that belittles the "Holocaust" that befell Black Africans as they were brought to this country.  To that argument I'd say:  Spik Lee is belitting the emotional power and proud history of the Spaghetti Western, which were mostly damn good movies.  I don't think "Django Unchained" is going to teach anybody how bad slavery actually was, by now I think we understand that much.  But can we set compelling entertaining movies in the period without coming off as preachy?  Yes we can.  And Tarantino succeeded there.

I won't say "Django Unchained" is Tarantino's best, or even among the best Spaghetti Westerns.  But this was still a very good movie, and a loving tribute to the Western genre, which 2012 really needed.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

John Dies At the End

Happy New Year!  2013 has come.  And just three days into it, I've already seen one of the best movies of the year.  Or maybe it was one of the best movies of 2012...  It was released at Sundance 2012, but can only really be seen by the general populace when its released later this month.

"John Dies at the End" is based upon the novel "John Dies at the End" written by and starring David Wong, the chief editor of  As you'd expect from somebody who runs what is probably the most successful humor website on the Internet, David Wong's creation is a mixture of "Naked Lunch", "Buckaroo Banzai", and just a touch of "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World".  Its actually the movie I wish I had made, since its a silly but intensely weird adventure through SciFi and insanity.  Our most-likely mentally disturbed heroes save the world from an interdimensional alien invasion, while losing all grip on reality and communicating to the dead using a hot dog as a phone.  Its funny, its cool, and its even very frightening at a few points, because a movie this off-beat could go anywhere, and does.

How many movies have you seen that you can honestly say made you upset when they ended?  I don't mean the ending is sad and depressing (SPOILER: John actually dies at the middle and he's okay by the end), but you're deeply depressed that the movie you were watching has ended.  Your life is now a significantly worse place because the experience of "John Dies at the End" has concluded.  There shouldn't just be a sequel to "John Dies at the End", there should be fifty sequels.  They should make a movie like this every two months, or have a new episode of the "John Dies at the End Show" on Fox every Sunday in the timeslot currently held by whatever crappy show Seth McFarland is currently making.  I want more David Wong and John Cheese.  They need a comic book, a cartoon show, a radio program, a video game, and a puppet show.  When the DVD comes out, I'm going to have surgery preformed so that the disc will be grafted directly into the limbic system of my brain.  Watch this movie.