Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Host

Let's be honest here:  I brought this on myself.  Nobody was going to see this movie.  Is anybody particularly surprised that "The Host" sucks elephantiasis balls?  No, they aren't.  We all knew that any movie proudly produced by Stephenie Meyer based off a novel she wrote was going to be terrible.  But you know, I'm just a glutton for punishment.  There is something seriously wrong with me, as a person, some terrible masochistic drive to self-destruction, because I keep seeing these "Twilight"-ish movies.  (Mainly because angry reviews are a lot of fun to write, but it doesn't really excuse my self-flagellation.)  Shockingly, "Beautiful Creatures" was actually a fun campy movie, mainly because the director only barely followed the book.  Well, "The Host" is a faithful goddamn adaptation, of a book I am certain is completely awful.  But even as bad as the book must be, there is no way it can be worse than this movie... Oh My God.

I don't even want to imagine what kinds of bribes, manipulations, and downright intimidation had to be used to get director Andrew Niccol and star Saoirse Ronan of "The Lovely Bones" and "Hanna" fame to be involved in this movie.  I guess this Stephenie Meyer teen fantasy garbage is just one terrible merry-go-round, and at some point every poor bastard in Hollywood is going to get involved.  Andrew Niccol now has made a movie that is even dumber than "In Time", which is shocking since once upon a time he used to make smart SciFi dramas like "Gattaca" and "The Truman Show".  Those days are clearly past, since not only did he direct this thing, he wrote it.  So the terrible crushing hideous failure of a gimmick that kills - make that piteously slaughters - this movie, can all be blamed on Andrew Niccol.  I can't say he had full intellectual control, since he was briefly fired as director before coming back, probably with his balls nicely sealed up in a envelope controlled entirely by Stephenie Meyer, but his name is still on the final product, so he still deserves all the blame for this ridiculous clown of a movie.

At some point over the years, the Twilight brand of vampire nonsense has numbed me, so I always forget how bad the original "Twilight" was when compared to its hilarious sequels.  But honestly, its hard to imagine a movie quite as bad as "the Host", which even has the bad taste to steal the title of a perfectly serviceable Korean giant monster movie!  The gimmick here is that Saoirse Ronan is playing both an alien parasitic organism similar to "The Puppetmasters" or "Invasions of the Body Snatchers" and the human psyche inside that body fighting for independence.  This could have been done well, and there was a chance "The Host" could have been a decent movie, Andrew Niccol still is a talented director.  But no, they express this gimmick in the worst possible way, which simply destroys any positive emotional reaction you could ever have thanks to a movie.  This is a true trainwreck, and I dare not imagine a movie in 2013 that could be worse than this.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

The first G.I. Joe movie, "Rise of Cobra", was simply a mistaken movie.  I like the original director, Stephen Sommers, even at his worst - and the first G.I. Joe was definitely his worst - he still makes well-intentioned fun action movies.  But "Rise of Cobra" was just so terribly over-produced and ridiculous, it was simply offensive to look at.  I know G.I. Joe was a cartoon, but it was an 80s cartoon, it was about all-American action saving the world.  It wasn't an armada of silly cartoon submarines having a Star Wars-esque space battle at the North Pole, that's going too far.  Stephen Sommers brought something unique to the franchise, but his movie was mistakenly made, and starred horribly annoying people.

I am completely surprised that "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" actually turned out to be a good movie.  First of all, spoilers, but this is really a huge part of the saving grace of this movie for me.  CHANNING TATUM GETS HIS ASS EXPLODED FIFTEEN MINUTES IN AND HE'S DEAD.  DEAD.  DEAD.  DEAD FOR THE REST OF THE MOVIE.  Okay, Channing Tatum, I have nothing against you as a person, I just don't like seeing you in movies.  You're not somebody I want to see.  Lots of people like you, that's fine, I guess, you're allowed to like Channing Tatum, but I can't stand this guy.  He's a good stripper, I suppose.  But if I'm going to have a brainless roller coaster Blockbuster action movie I want it to be starring somebody with actual personality and charisma... like the Rock.  And thank you, Rock, thank you.

"G.I. Joe: Retaliation" is a far smaller movie than "Rise of Cobra" and more grounded one.  Its still completely action fantasy, but it at least feels like a traditional action movie without endless CG models and ridiculous cartoony effects.  Most of the time, its plain old shooting, or plain old katana sword fights, or the occasional bubbly parade of explosions.  This movie feels like the very definition of redundant action fluff, but its still fun.  There are compelling people in this movie, thanks to writing out the entire sorry excuse for a cast "Rise of Cobra" had.  And the fight scenes are very exciting and memorable stuff.  This is a good movie.  Not a piece of art, but a piece of fun.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 20 - The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

We've covered a lot of movies so far on All-Out Giant Monster Attack, but for the most part they've all comprised a single genre of science fiction horror.  They all share the same general concept of "what would happen to ud if a giant creature more powerful than any human power were to break into our reality?"  But "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" is a very different kind of film, this is a classic fantasy adventure, taking place in the a magical and exotic chapter of history:  the Islamic Golden Age as envisioned by the "One Thousand and One Nights".  With its setting in the land of pure imagination, "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" marks a moment of artistic maturity for our dear Ray Harryhausen, now moving beyond mere horror to create a film rich with his distinctive animated style.  With this movie, Harryhausen found the genre he was made to create, and would spend the rest of his career creating fantastic adventures that has inspired every aspect of modern special effects.

"The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" is first film to be advertised featuring a new stop-motion technique called "Dynamation".  Dynamation wasn't actually a new style, Ray Harryhausen had been using it since "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms", but it certainly made for a catchy phrase for trailers.  Essentially, it wasn't anything particularly new, it was still the same classic stop-motion effects from Willis O'Brien, but the method of combining that animation with the live action footage was slightly easier and cheaper.  Actually explaining the details of Dynamation is pointless since its extremely technical, basically it was a marketing tool that sounded cool in trailers.  However, the marketing was correct in that "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" was a major new plateau for stop-motion animation, being the first Harryhausen film to be made in color.  And the first film since "King Kong" to feature an entire world full of giant monsters which our human-sized protagonists must explore.

Interestingly, "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" is actually a very-well respected classic fantasy film amongst film critics and would be absolutely beloved amongst the next generation special effects artists who would create films like "Star Wars", "Jurassic Park", and "Indiana Jones".  The movie starred Kerwin Matthews and Kathryn Grant as Sinbad and the Princess, respectively, but the most popular character by far was actually Ray Harryhausen's cyclops.  Despite being directed by Nathan H. Juran, a mainstay of cheap Z-movies like "Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman", the film actually had a very large budget of six-hundred thousand dollars.  And for that reason, the effects, budget, and quality are all considerably higher than the usual American giant monster productions.  You may not have heard of this movie, but trust me, its a beloved classic of the fantasy film genre.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

BioShock Infinite

"BioShock Infinite" is easily the most-anticipated video game of 2013 - at least for this blog writer, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this.  And because it holds such great esteem to me, I made sure to purchase it on midnight Tuesday morning, and then had the entire game completed about twenty hours later - with breaks included for lunch, dinner, and sleeping.  That way I could avoid the horrific scourge of our digital superhighway:  spoilers.  These days, when I have to deal with Kingdom Hearts games coming out in Japan like six months before America, everything I read, play, watch, or think about can be spoiled immediately and permanently, killing the surprise and tension.  So at $65 bucks, "BioShock Infinite" is the most I've ever spent on a game, and it also represents the fastest I've ever beat a game first run*.  Luckily, it has as much to do with the first two "BioShock" games as "Final Fantasy XIII" has to do with "VII", so you don't need to play those to enjoy it.

As "BioShock Infinite" boasts proudly in the trailers and on the box, its already "the winner of eighty awards" before it was released.  I mean, obviously every single one of those awards are "best of show" thing and various other prizes for trailers, but it really does show how much hype is flooding around this title.  At some point it became the shining glorious hope for all first-person shooters, and perhaps gaming itself.  For the most part, I think it deserves that allure, because the art design for this game, particularly the world concept is unrivaled in its brilliance and beauty.  That combined with a promise of a very experimental mind-bending plotline with interdimensional travel, robot birds, and the horrors of American-brand fascism make for a compelling subject which alone is worth the price of playing the game.

However, I will say right now that anybody looking to discover a game that raises the bar on "games as art" or expands the medium into a whole new frontier will be disappointed.  Because its a First-Person Shooter, and at the end of the day, that's all it is.  Its very-well polished and has a very characterization and world building details that blow most titles out of the water, but it doesn't really expand the genre, I feel.  After the twelve hour game is over, I was left with this strange dissatisfaction, because I had finished the main campaign, and really that's all there was to enjoy.  Plus there are a few niggling gameplay and plot issues I think should be discussed.  "BioShock Infinite" on any scale, is going to be discussed for awhile, I think, not least of which because of its ending, which is sure to be controversial.  And I'm glad to be here at the beginning of the discourse.

Friday, March 22, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 19 - Half Human

I now own this movie.  I own this horrible movie.

"Half Human" is actually the English title of a movie called "Ju Jin Yuki Otoko" (translated as "Abominable Snowman") made in 1955 by Ishiro Honda, featuring what I thought was Toho's second attempt at a major kaiju monster.  It actually isn't really a kaiju movie in the traditional sense, but I'll get to that in a minute.  The reason I'm reviewing this one so far out of historical sequence is because "Half Human" is the single most difficult Japanese monster movie to find these days*, being available only on the Black Market from very sketchy websites.  Which is how I got my copy.  The problem is that "Half Human" features some very racist depictions of the Ainu people of northern Japan**, showing them as inbred savages that hulk around like zombies who may or may not be mating with the Abominable Snowman that they worship as a God.  For that reason, out of political correctness, Toho has basically buried this movie, preferring to pretend it doesn't exist and never gave it an official release on home video.

Which is why my copy appears to have been captured off a television showing from decades ago, with subtitles added later.  The quality was terrible, the picture had a strange blur at the top, and I think parts of the frame have been cut off.  Really the main reason why I decided to see this movie was to join an elite group of super nerds, probably only about two dozen total who have seen "Half Human".  I'm not joking, there cannot be more than thirty humans outside of Japan who have seen the original "Half Human" in its non-edited form.  Lots of westerners have seen this movie though in a 1959 American release, which was chopped to bits in an editing process very similar to the American "Godzilla: King of the Monsters", where B-movie mainstay, John Carradine was added between the Japanese footage.  As it turns out, that version of the movie is just as impossible to find as the Japanese.  And since I had to choose between which bootleg I would order, I went with the original.

Well, I can't say anything about the John Carradine version, but I cannot imagine its worse than the movie I saw.  For all the work I did combing the Internet far and wide to find any copy of this movie for this blog, its all wasted because unfortunately, "Half Human" is a terrible movie.  This is very shocking to me, since the reviews I read actually ranked it as one of the better Ishiro Honda films, with the only complaint being that it was too long.  You're damn right its too fucking long!  "Half Human" has all the pacing of a Bert I. Gordon movie, its like watching "Beginning of the End" but without the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew cracking jokes to get you through it.  Actually no, this is like a Colman Francis movie - yeah, I went there.  This is one of the most boring movies I've ever seen.  I waited four weeks for delivery for this?  Worse, now I have to write a negative review, and come off as an asshole.  I'm sorry, but "Half Human" barely even counts as a giant monster movie, it takes forever to get going, and is so painfully slow that you fade out and lose track of the plot.  This is the worst kind of movie - boring.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 18 - Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

Arguably, this the greatest poster for any movie ever.  Personally I prefer the poster for "The Forbidden Planet", but that's me.  Its got everything, a luscious damsel, people screaming, cars getting smashed, well-tanned thighs, what couldn't you love?  Well, I guess you could have a slight complaint in that this scene never actually happens in the movie.

"Attack of the 50 Foot Woman" is probably best-remembered for its fantastic poster art (I actually want this picture hanging up on my wall someday), but its also one of the best-remembered American giant monster movies of its time.  Rather than having a giant creature steal off with a busty heroine, let's make the busty heroine a giant monster!  Its brilliant.  This movie is probably best-remembered for its pretty blatant exploitation undertones, with a woman turning into a giant, ripping right out of her clothing, and then going on a rampage of revenge, appealing directly to people with a giantism fetish.  For that reason, despite being made on a puny eighty-eight thousand dollar budget by some of the most Z-grade of Hollywood producers, "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman" has inspired dozens of pop culture references, a remake, and no less than two softcore porn homages.  So clearly, I couldn't avoid reviewing this one.

In 1957, a movie called "The Amazing Colossal Man" was made by Mr. Bert. I. Gordon, of "The Beginning of the End" infamy - whose "unique" directing style was enough to persuade me not to watch that film.  "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman" was directly inspired by B.I.G. and even came out in time to rival "Colossal Man"'s sequel, "The War of the Colossal Beast".  They even hired "Colossal Man"'s screenwriter, Mark Hannah, to pen this one.  "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman" was produced by the Woolner Brothers, a pair of drive-in movie owners who had eventually grown into film producers, and were even partners of Roger Corman.  The Woolner Bros. were responsible for the kind of films you'd expect, "Hercules Conquers Atlantis", "Castle of Blood", and "Hillbillies in a Haunted House", the sort of bottom of the barrel sludge that nobody today remembers, and "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman" was by far their highest release.  Directing is Nathan H. Juran whose work we previously met in "20 Million Miles to Earth".  This resulted in a very usual giant monster movie which is primarily focused on characters and drama, which ultimately leads to the monster's rampage.  I'd rank "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman" well above most of the movies we've covered here, its actually a pretty solid movie.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Jack the Giant Slayer

I was bored this afternoon, so I went out to see a movie.  More or less nothing interesting was playing, and I had already seen the big shows, leaving nothing but this.  When I set down in my seat, the trailers flew by, a few food puns from "Cloud With a Chance of Meatballs 2", pure awesome kaiju adventure from "Pacific Rim", and what appears to be a "FernGully" remake in "Epic", the movie started.  And, honestly, I could not for the life of me remember what I was at that theater seeing, and then when the movie revealed itself to be "Jack the Giant Slayer", I felt this overwhelming feeling of dread.  Just what the heck was I doing here?  I spent eleven bucks for this?

Much to my surprise, "Jack the Giant Slayer" turned out to be a largely entertaining movie.  Its basically a pure formula fantasy movie, hitting every step of the Joseph Campbell Hero's Journey to the letter.  This isn't a movie that's going to re-invent how movies are made, but its pretty fun, solid movie experience.  "Jack the Giant Slayer"'s title, though, makes little sense, as its pretty clearly an adaptation of "Jack and the Beanstalk" - and I presume the title was changed in order to make the film seem more like a hardcore action film and not a kid's fantasy adventure.  Unfortunately, "Jack the Giant Slayer" is exactly the latter, the kind of movie that every children should grow up with and play hundreds of times in their VHS or DVD player.  The story here is remarkably classic, to the point that most critics have dismissed "Jack the Giant Slayer" as being merely cliched.  You have the farm boy dreaming of more in his life, the villains attacking, the rebellious princess, the colorful supporting characters, its all things you've seen before - but none of them are bad things, and the movie adds up to something rather entertaining.

Of course, "Jack the Giant Slayer" falls into this weird new trend in Hollywood where old fairy tales are being given huge Blockbuster recreations as these massive action adventure movies, similar to last year's "Snow White and the Huntsman" and the coming "Maleficent".  "Jack the Giant Slayer" seemed like a truly ill-conceived idea to me, and I guess it was, since right now studio execs are crossing their fingers to just break even on this flop.  No joke, right now just about every fairy tale has been optioned for a Blockbuster make-over, and God only knows how many we'll actually receive.  "Jack the Giant Slayer" really is the best we can hope from with this fad, a pleasant simple movie that exists merely to please its viewers, be they children or bored college students on a Tuesday afternoon.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dead Man Down

Because this is probably the biggest disappointment of the year so far, I'll make this quick (for me).  "Dead Man Down" had a completely fantastic trailer, probably one of the best trailers I've ever seen.  The visuals, the camera angles, the violence, the music, dear god the music - a fantastic cover of "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" - all promised a dark, tortured, crime thriller full of twists, turns, and brutal character twists.  Basically I walked in looking for a second "Drive"*, and instead got... a pretty forgettable thriller.  And one that sadly isn't nearly half as dramatic, creative, or even clever as it thinks it is. And "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" never gets played.

"Dead Man Down" wants to be a bleak crime thriller about characters facing a choice between redemption and revenge, burning down ghosts of the past or trying to create a future.  I love the scars on Noomi Rapace, symbolizing her own loss and pain that she has to struggle to overcome - plus they look awesome.  However after dealing with these tough choices for their characters to decided between, it just ends in a big stupid action shoot-out where it ends up "oh, you can have your cake and eat it too!"  For roughly 90% of "Dead Man Down", the movie takes place in some kind of serious reality, and it ends on a note of action schlock that belongs only in a Stallone movie.  Clearly this was leading up to some sort of tragic conclusion, and "Dead Man Down" skips out to give us a bad Hollywood Ending.  The movie is well-shot, there are some great performances here and there - I love Terrence Howard and I know some day Hollywood will give him something great to work with.  But the movie never "pops".  For some reason we begin in medias res, so the first half hour is spent trying to figure out what the characters are doing and why, which would be find if it turned out to actually be an interesting plot.

Okay, "Dead Man Down" is not a "bad" movie.  But I have to say that sentence with a long inflection on the word "bad", since it isn't purely awful and unwatchable and up until the ending I would have ranked it as a decent though flawed crime thriller.  Unfortunately, upon further retrospect, this is hardly much better than a cheap straight-to-DVD thriller.  They release about sixty of these things every day on Redbox, each one as forgettable as the last.  Our hero's plan is so elaborate that he might as well be the Riddler**.  And Noomi Rapace's character spends most of the most representing a choice between life, or revenge and destruction, but then in the last five minutes becomes nothing but a damsel in distress.  They probably wrote it as one of those fast food thrillers, and then somehow an above-average director took it over and tried to turn it into "Drive".  Well, I can't say its pretensions hurt the production, the movie at least has the shine of a filmmaker who was really going all-out to make something special, but there wasn't going to be anything great here.  Though whoever made that trailer - you are great at your job.  I want to see that guy make a movie!

* "Drive 2" actually is kinda coming with a movie called "The Place Beyond the Pines", which features a bankrobbing, motorcycle-driving, frosted-blond Ryan Gosling.  That looks great too, by the way.

** The entire movie's plotline depends on mobsters forgetting what a guy whose daughter they accidentally shot, whose wife they murdered to keep from testifying, and who they think they killed - only two years ago - looks like, and then letting him in as their closest associate.

Let's Play Final Fantasy VIII Trailer

We just finished our "Final Fantasy VI" Let's Play, and now there is a vacuum in my soul.  An LP vacuum.  So after, more or less botching the LP of "Mystic Quest", I figured I had to LP something else.  Preferably something I had not played before.  Sadly, the only mainline Final Fantasy game that fit that bill was "Final Fantasy XIII", and I don't think I'm ready for that yet.  So instead, we're doing "Final Fantasy VIII".

"Final Fantasy VIII" is not a good game.  In fact, I'd sometimes wonder if its a game at all.  But what is, is great LP material since all of us at the Final Fantasy Wiki generally dislike it, or at least very strongly dislike certain characters.  I hope the next months of LP material will be just as insane as this video:

First videos will begin posting on Saturday.  I promise this isn't going to be a twenty-hour long bashfest of FFVIII, I'm giving this game a full chance to surprise me by begin decent.  And I'm going to try not to break the game and play it completely fairly, though that is rather difficult when its so easy to be overpowered in FFVIII.  I dunno.  Much love and fun will be shared if you come and watch, BLUEHIGHWIND's Final Fantasy VIII LET'S PLAY!!!  DUNDUNDUNDUNDUN!!!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 17 - The Giant Claw

"The Giant Claw" is a 1957 giant monster movie, best known for having one of the silliest-looking monsters of all time.  That I believe is rather unfair.  Honestly, "The Giant Claw" is a pretty good giant monster movie, admittedly featuring a giant buzzard.  The movie is ridiculous, obviously, its about a giant bird, and indeed a giant vulture.  In fact, its not merely a giant vulture, its a giant alien vulture that shoots out an antimatter shield, making it impervious to both radar and physical attacks.  Yeah, the effects are cheesy and awful, but that's really part of the charm, since the script is corny to all Hell too.

I should note, "The Giant Claw", is not an American rip-off of "Rodan", which came out in Japan in 1956, as "Rodan" would still not arrive in US until a bit later, and I rather doubt that Columbia Pictures was that interested in kaiju films just yet.  This movie was directed by Fred F. Sears, who previously worked with one, Ray Harryhausen on "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers".  "The Giant Claw" was originally intended to feature Ray Harryhausen's work but unfortunately there was no budget.  So instead of classic stop-motion, Columbia decided instead on hiring a Mexican puppeteer company, and really, the effects speak for themselves.  "The Giant Claw" has, without a doubt, the worst miniatures ever used in a movie, with everything from exploding planes to the little army men in parachutes to crumbling skyscrapers looking hysterically awful.  The monster itself doesn't look that bad, to me, its a silly concept but its executed rather well, but everything else is a true crapfest.  Our stars are Jeff Morrow, a Columbia actor-slave and the wonderfully hot Mara Corday, who we last saw running from a giant arachnid in "Tarantula".

The plot of "The Giant Claw" is pure step-by-step Fifties SciFi formula, again mainly featuring scientists and generals in a gray laboratory discussing how to defeat the creature.  Mara Corday is the token female, supposedly a scientist herself but never once comes up with any particularly brilliant ideas, that's all Jeff Morrow's work.  The vulture shows up a few times, attacks a few dudes, and then flies away, until finally the scientists figure out how to beat him:  with particle physics.  But before that conclusion, "The Giant Claw" offers a speedy plot with plenty of ridiculous lines, lots of fun terrible special effects, and one of the more original giant monsters of the period.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful

I really wasn't expecting this to be decent.  Obviously "The Wizard of Oz" is a movie so classic to beyond all critical analysis, it is a movie that defines the magic and wonder that is movie-making, so making a prequel some eighty years after the fact is going to be troublesome to say the least.  And its made all the more troublesome because Disney doesn't own the rights to the MGM 1939 original, meaning that they can't use any of the music, have to tip-toe around the most iconic imagery - for example, no Ruby Slippers, and can't call this an "official" prequel.  Frank M. Baum's "Wizard of Oz" series has now long-been in the public domain, so anybody could make a new book, movie, or Tony-winning Broadway musical based in that universe, but you have to be very careful with MGM's lawyers.  Also, if we recall Disney's latest fantasy resurrection, the hideous "Alice in Wonderland", "Oz the Great and Marketable" really didn't have much going for it.

And yet, I'd say for the most part this is a decent fantasy movie.  I mean, I'd still much rather be watching a film version of "Wicked" and rocking out to "Defying Gravity" on the big screen, and if I have to be nerdy about film trivia, the massively bizarre 1985 "Return to Oz" is a way better movie*, but "Oz the Great and Powerful" is still a great movie for children and pretty good for adults too, I'd say.  There are some things that go horrifically wrong with this movie, and I won't go into that until after the page break for fear of spoilers, but I'm going to say the concept is solid, the imagery is pretty and properly fantastic, and the cast is mainly endearing and fascinating.  Sam Raimi is directing, and he's largely given up his "Evil Dead" horror roots in order to conjure something bright and colorful for the children, creating a world that is clearly unreal, but in a way that works with the fantasy setting we're trying to create here.  Unfortunately there's no musical numbers, most of the iconic Oz cast is missing in action, and it never feels quite like it melds with the Thirties original, but its still a decent ride, if nothing game-changing.

The concept here is to show the origins of the Wizard, explaining how this obvious con man managed to take over this fantasy kingdom and why the Witch didn't just squash him years ago.  The Thirties original never really worried too much about the further logic of its story, it was just there to be a fun adventure with song and joy for the audience, but that still means there are odd gaps in the tale.  And the way this movie explain it is that the Wizard is indeed a crook and a fraud, but its those powers that yet him con his way into defeating true evil powers.  Its about about a character letting go of his own selfishness and helping people out, its kinda charming, and could have been something really great.  Unfortunately, some things really don't work.  And I'm talking the Wicked Witch here.  The actress playing the Witch is so baaad, its beyond measure.  I'm here, right now, unable to name a worse performance in any movie.  So expect a 90% decent movie, and cover your goddamn eyes when that Witch comes on screen, because this is acting and make-up and casting so horrible as to become the thing of nightmares.

Friday, March 8, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 16 - The Blob (1958)

1958's "The Blob" is a bit different than most of the American giant monster movies I've been dealing with lately.  It was still a low budget independently-made film that only paid its leading actors a few thousand dollars for their participation, but it has something those others don't:  a widescreen aspect ratio and color!

"The Blob" features easily the most famous American monster of the 1950s, an alien hump of red matter that creeps and leaps and glides and slides across the floor, right through the door, all around the wall.  Nobody has heard of "Attack of the Crab Creatures", and even less have any idea what "Beginning of the End" is, but "The Blob" is an icon.  Its also out of the most original monsters that have come out of a cheap independent B-movie, a formless mass that simply devours people.  Its difficult to say what the Blob is, what's its after, or even if its actually alive, all it does is crawl around on the ground, absorbing flesh into more red goo.  This is probably the most primordially frightening monster concept we've had here.  Giant spiders are just animals, Godzilla has personality, but the Blob has no personality, its a faceless visceral fear that just keeps growing larger using the bodies of your family and friends.  And it makes no sound.  None.  There is nothing to it except the mindless instinct to devour living beings.  No wonder why this is one of the best American horror films of the Fifties.

Curiously, though, "The Blob" did not have a considerably-larger budget than "Beginning of the End".  It was directed by Irvin Yeaworth, whose main body of work consisted of mainly educational shorts and motivational films, the kind of mindless nonsense that tortured millions of bored American high schoolers and endlessly tickled "Mystery Science Theater 3000".  However, somehow, he managed to make a movie in color and widescreen, with decent special effects, a pretty well-known leading man in Steve McQueen, and still ten thousand dollars under-budget.  Yeaworth even managed to film convincing night scenes - which is good since this entire movie takes place during the course of a single night, rather than just using a dim blue filter over what is clearly midday light like most films of this period.  So generally, I'm pretty impressed with the production values here, and what's a fairly solidly written and directed movie.  "The Blob" is a really good, nicely cheesy, but still somewhat frightening horror movie, which should not be missed.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 15 - Beginning of the End

Wow, that poster is colorful, exciting, frightening, and eye-catching.  The movie "Beginning of the End" is not any of those things.  I have to review this one quickly, or else its going to rapidly disappear from my brain.

Bert I. Gordon is one of the most prolific giant monster movie directors of the 1950s and 1960s, which is fitting considering that his initials add up to "B.I.G".  Unfortunately, the Notorious B.I.G. is not a good director, in fact, in the Fifties, he probably ranked amongst the worst directors of his time, not an easy feat considering how many terrible B-movie SciFi and horror films were flooding the market.  "Beginning of the End", to be fair, is easily B.I.G.'s worst movie, though his other credits aren't exactly glorious.  He's made "Earth vs. The Spider", "The Amazing Colossal Man", "Village of the Giants", all which are effectively unwatchable without the boys at Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffing them.  Most of his movies are plodding and practically pace-less, they're almost surreal in how crushingly boring they can be.

Gordon's special effects never grew beyond a minimal level of sophistication, B.I.G. simply filmed real-life animals or insects and rear-projected them with normal-sized human actors to appear massive.  This method of splicing often failed for even Ray Harryhausen, with deep dark lines and layers bleeding through each other.  B.I.G. managed to get it to fail nearly every time.  "Beginning of the End" is notorious within the already pretty cheesy quality of Fifties B-movies for having laughably awful special effects.  This is a film about giant locusts attacking Chicago.  B.I.G. didn't have the budget to build props or miniatures like a Toho production, he didn't have the talent of Harryhausen to animate this creatures, and he didn't have the creativity of Roger Corman to make the most of his mediocre effects with mood, atmosphere, and wild storylines.  What do you get when you have no resources, no ideas, and no talent?  Locusts being dropped onto a flat picture of Chicago and "climbing up" buildings and often enough, the sky.

If you're going to watch "Beginning of the End", make sure its the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version.  And even then, B.I.G.'s complete inability to build tension or even move his movie along at any pace will make the seventy-six minutes of this film feel like seventy-six hours.  When even Mike, Tom, and Crow can't make your movie entertaining, you've done something that only true masters of ultimate incompetence like Colman Francis have accomplished.  This is what we call a craptastic turd, worth watching only to see what may be the worst giant monster effects ever.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

500th Post Celebration: Greatest and Worst Things I've Reviewed

500 Posts.  That's a lot.  I've been writing this blog since November 2009, my first semester of college, and now its March 2013, and I'll be graduating in two months.  We've had a long, weird journey on this blog, which I originally called "Tales From the Q?", though exactly why I'll never fully understand.  Clearly I've gone through a lot of changes since we started, back when I wasn't exactly sure what shape this blog was going to take, and in fact I'm still not sure today.  Does anybody remember that year I spent reviewing "Bleach" episodes?  What exactly was I thinking?  And I still have Politics up on my banner, even though these days political matters are just too depressing to even think about.

Lately, I think this blog has actually hit a really good place, at least for me.  I feel a bit disappointed in myself that I don't have more video game reviews, but honestly, I never quite figured out how to make those posts into more than just a rant.  My movie reviews have only been getting better, and I really love this stuff I'm doing with old movies, like the Batman Retrospective and the Giant Monster series.  Once I'm done with the giant monster stuff*, I don't think those kinds of reviews are going to stop.  Maybe once I finish this current series I'll move onto Space Opera.  At some point during my time writing this blog I became the most obsessive lovers of cinema I know, to the point that my friends now have to challenge themselves to name a movie I haven't seen, and I force people I hardly know to watch "The Blob" with me.  Yeah, I don't quite get as many readers as I would like, but I like to think that what readers I have are satisfied with the choices I make in topics, and generally aren't too annoyed with the endless typos and the sentence or two that meanders run-on for six dozen words.

So to celebrate the now-long history of Planet Blue, I'm just going to do a very quick list of all my favorite topics I've had a chance to talk about.  These would be the very best and unfortunately very worst Movies and Video Games games that I've reviewed here on this blog.  My sidebar tells me I've written 211 posts on movies and 81 posts on video games, and that's not an inconsiderable body of work for somebody who just does this as a hobby.  Writing is something I don't think I'm going to be able to stop, my fingers flow on the keyboard at the very speed my brain comes up with this narration.  Its been a great 500 posts, and here's to the day when I get to see 100:

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Summer Wars

A very sweet and lovely film that makes you feel good about young love, family, and the Internet's dominant role in all of human society.  "Summer Wars" is the kind of movie that makes you smile, even if you're trying your hardest not to.

I'm writing this review in that warm afterglow you feel after  having seen a really lovely movie that just makes you feel happy about all of humanity and your place in the species.  So maybe I might just propose my undying love for "Summer Wars", but I don't think that's a bad thing.  "Summer Wars" is a 2009 anime feature directed by Mamoru Hosoda, best known for directing parts of "Digimon: the Movie"* and the graceful piece of art known as "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time".  That latter movie remains one of my favorite Japanese animated films ever, and probably would be my go-to for favorite romance film... if only "WALL-E" had not happened.  So I had pretty high hopes for "Summer Wars" when I discovered it existed just about three hours ago, and it met all of those.  Now I'm waiting patiently for the English release of Hosoda's latest film, "Wolf Children Ame and Yuki".  If "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time" and "Summer Wars" are any indication, Hosoda is the second-best anime film director working today behind only Master Hayao Miyazaki himself.

"Summer Wars" actually has something of a similar plot to "Digimon: the Movie", in that its about an evil Artificial Intelligence conquering a very Japanese interpretation on the Internet and causing a full on "Die Hard 4" attack on Japan.  But that's really only the spice to keep you watching, that's only to supply the tension and rev up the Blockbuster excitement.  More accurately, "Summer Wars" is the story of a large-extended traditional Japanese family celebrating the ninetieth birthday of their august matriarch, Sakae, and then coming together to fight that evil AI creature.  Our main characters are two Japanese teenagers.  Natsumi wants to impress her great-grandma by having a fiancĂ©e, so she hires Kenji, a mild-mannered part-time programmer, to come to her house and pose as her boyfriend.  Awkward but still charming romantic comedy business then results.  More pressing to "Summer Wars" though, is the relationship of this huge family, which is large enough that Sakae more or less can run the defense of Japan from her living room, and may or may not be the de facto monarch of her country.  Its a mountain of generally likable characters all together for a family reunion, and this kind of idyllically connected family life is probably very rare in modern Japan, if not even non-existent.

So "Summer Wars" is part drama, part comedy, and part cutesy cyberpunk with moments of deep emotional drama and scenes of fantastic unlimited visual magic.  Its not quite the masterpiece that "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time" was in terms of romance, but this movie is still greatly entertaining and heartwarming.  This is one of the few anime films that I would actually consider recommending to all movie fans, no matter who you are**.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 14 - 20 Million Miles to Earth

"20 Million Miles to Earth" is a 1957 American alien invasion movie, though technically it isn't really so much an alien invasion so much as an alien kidnapping.  This is another one of Ray Harryhausen's giant monster films, though this one stars not a mindless aquatic aggressor like "It Came From Beneath the Sea", but instead a tragic scaly alien.  Harryhausen wanted this to become his first color feature, but lack of funds meant that it was filmed in blac and white.  DVDs today, thanks to modern restoration methods, allow you to actually watch "20 Million Miles" in the color Harryhausen dreamed of.  The idea here clearly was to emulate something similar to "King Kong" or "Mighty Joe Young" and create a more sympathetic villain, but they kept all the general tropes of American Fifites SciFi.  The humans in no way try to understand the monster they're dealing with, and come off hideously cavalier about all the carnage that occurs on screen. This is the story of a wide-eyed young man born into a strange new world with a mind full of dreams... and then is brutally murdered by the Earth creatures for no reason.

"20 Million Miles to Earth" was directed by Nathan H. Juran, a former Academy Award winner for Best Art Direction for "How Green Was My Valley", but by 1957 had descended into the B-movie territory where his career would end.  Juran would go on to direct several other Ray Harryhausen films, and 1958's "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman" - which we'll definitely have to cover on this series.  Despite his Academy credentials, I really don't see much talent out of Nathan H. Juran here, since there is very little skill on display, not surprisingly since Juran also made the crapfest known as "The Deadly Mantis".  Producing is Harryhausen's long-time collaborator, Charles H. Schneer.  William Hopper is the male lead, who is probably best known as being James Dean's father in "Rebel Without a Cause", and really not much else.  The leading female is Joan Taylor, an equally unremarkable actress.

I was honestly looking forward to "20 Million Miles to Earth" since I'm always glad to see a monster movie that gives its monster personality and sympathy.  But ultimately this movie comes terrible cruel, and not just to the monster, to all animals.  Unintentionally they made the humans very ugly characters, and monster lacks the dialog in gesture and voice that King Kong or Mighty Joe Young had, so this is basically a movie without a protagonist.  Ray Harryhausen's work is great, but the rest of the movie is awful.