Tuesday, February 26, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 13 - The Mysterians

Space aliens in a giant purple egg invade Japan and we fight back with satellite dishes and flying cigars.

"The Mysterians", AKA "Chikyū Bōeigun" (Earth Defense Force), is a 1957 Toho alien invasion movie directed by our old friend Ishiro Honda.  Unlike the other movies on our list, "The Mysterians" technically is not a giant monster movie, its just a movie that happens to have a giant robot creature in it - and a terrible one at that.  Ishiro Honda and his crew just wanted to make an alien war blockbuster with lots of lasers and flying weapons and aliens in colorful helmets, but they were told by producer, Tomoyuki Tanaka to include a man-in-a-suit effect in order to rub off the profits of previous Toho successes like "Godzilla" and "Rodan".  Personally I was pretty conflicted as to whether "The Mysterians" was worth including on this countdown... but then I remembered that in a few episodes I'll be covering "The Beginning of the End", so really everything is fair game.

As you would expect from all the other Toho movies we've covered, the special effects are wide in scope, showing everything from earthquakes and mudslides to airships firing laser beams while still finding room for tank battles, rockets, and a forest fire.  The music by Akira Ifukube is top-notch, the guy seems to do nothing but excellent scores.  Ifukube seems to be one of the most talented film composers of the 1950s.  However, despite those successes, "The Mysterians" also suffers from the main problems of Toho movies of this period, in that the human characters are vague and under-developed, to the point of being literally nothing but names attached to a body.  In fact this movie has some of the worst characterization I've ever seen, with two leading females who have nothing to do but stand around, do their feminine duty, and without complaint get kidnapped by the aliens.

That being said, "The Mysterians" is a pretty mixed film.  It features easily the lamest kaiju monster I've ever seen, the characters suck, the story has no pacing, and its really nothing but an action blockbuster from 1950s Japan.  However, there is still a charm to this thing.  The effects - again done by Eiji Tsuburaya - are pretty cheesy now, but are still exciting in their own cartoony way and give the impression of a high-fantasy interstellar war.  "The Mysterians" was also filmed in "TohoScope", a Japanese recreation of the Western "CinemaScope", meaning that its actually using wide modern cinematic aspect ratio.  Its no "Godzilla", its no "Rodan", but "The Mysterians" is still something special.

Academy Awards 2013 Postshow Postaganza

Hey, last night's Oscar Ceremony actually wasn't soul-crushingly terrible.  For the past few years there's been this terrible trend in Academy Awards telecasts to be really self-conscious and thus either try to hard, or feel really tense and pointless.  The Alec Baldwin-Steve Martin year was so bad that Cablevision tried to save New York from the incoming boredom by blocking all of ABC.  Anne Hathaway and James Franco comes off either as really nervous to entertain, and when their bits started failing Franco decided to get high back stage and give up, leaving poor Hathaway out of her depth in hosting.  And the attempt to revitalize the broadcast by resurrecting Billy Crystal flopped again.  I haven't seen an Oscars telecast with any sense of style, pride, or even confidence in several years now.  Which is why I'm so glad that last night's show actually worked.

Seth MacFarlane was something of a gutsy choice, but also not all that surprising really.  He's a talented singer, songwriter, comedian, and even apparently a great dancer, with a nice baritone voice and surprisingly a great sense of showmanship and a knack for performing.  Yeah, there was that self-conscious bit at the beginning showing headlines of Seth MacFarlane's inevitable declaration of being Worst Host Ever, but this is to be expected, and indeed, today there was plenty of headlines calling him exactly that.  However, I thought MacFarlane was great as a host.  His jokes were as edgy as his musical numbers were classy.  And even when he went too far into the offensive territory he remained warm and was snappy enough with his wit to keep the audience from booing.  Plus, the comedy segments actually made sense, they actually hired a competent sound mixer this time, and the show seemed to have a kind of dignity that's been lacking for years now.  Even wackiness like Captain Kirk appearing to introduce a hilarious bit about sockpuppets playing the movie "Flight" all worked well to keep the night from fading.

Now of course, MacFarlane wasn't a miracle worker.  There was still the tradition third hour doldrums when I found my laptop and was playing on Reddit rather than giving the show full attention.  The show moved at a brisk pace early on, but for a good hour did not have any major awards to give and focused too much on Governor's Dinners, Academy Museums, and very long musical numbers, eating my patience.  However, for the most part, I'd say this is what the Oscars should be in the 21st century.  And after the break, I'll discuss the night's most major moments:

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Academy Awards 2013 Preshow Pre-Extravaganza!!!

Its that weekend again!  The Academy Awards, the holiest weekend in the movie-watching calendar.  What will happen inevitably is a firestorm of cynicism, as people declare that the Oscars don't matter, they focus on an overly-narrow band of filmmaking, they're nothing but a marketing device, they aren't even entertaining to watch, blah blah blah.  I get it.  At this point, we're all very much aware of the Academy Awards' failings, most painfully the sad fact that "The Raid" was not recognized in any way because its nothing but a perfectly stupid action movie.  So we can mourn what the Oscars should be in our fantasy minds, or we could enjoy what they actually are and appreciate the dignity and respect they bring to the institution of cinema.

This year, I actually have a good feeling that these Oscars won't be quite so dull as the last pile.  Seth McFarland is a genuinely funny person and many of his creations are quite entertaining, the first few seasons of "Family Guy" are fantastic, and when that show became a pile of unwatchable gross-out humor crap, McFarland made "American Dad".  "Ted" was a very funny movie besides from a few strange "Family Guy"-esque jokes that break the movie's reality.  And if he focuses on his natural silliness, his love of musical theater, and his soulful baritone voice, Seth McFarland might be able to put on a great show.  Or if he decides to bang his shin into a Oscar statue, fall on the floor, and moan for five minutes straight in an exercise in anti-humor, then this will be the worst Academy Awards show ever.

As I like to do every year, I'm going to review the Best Picture nominees and see which ones actually deserve to win, after the break.  However, before that, I'll quickly go over the other awards real fast.  I'd really like Quvenzhané Wallis to win Best Actress, since her performance in "Beasts of the Southern Wild" is truly like nothing I've ever seen before.  My favorite male performance over the year actually would go to Michael Fassbender's fascinating and chilling role as the cyborg David in "Prometheus", but the Academy disagrees with me, so I guess Daniel-Day Lewis should win.  "Lincoln" would also get Best Supporting Actor with Tommy Lee Jones' fantastic run as Theddeus Stevens.  Supporting Actress should go to Anne Hathaway, that's a barreled fish.  Best Director I feel should actually go to "Skyfall"'s Sam Mendes, but in the real world it should either go to Spielberg or Ang Lee - also, why the heck was Ben Affleck snubbed?  Animated feature should go to "Pirates! Band of Misfits", Best Effects to "Prometheus", and Editing rightly deserves to go to "Cloud Atlas", but it got villainously overlooked, so instead I'm protesting that category and say none of those movies should win.  Finally Best Animated Short needs to go to "Paperman" for being some of the best few minutes of my entire life.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 12 - Attack of the Crab Monsters

This movie is awesome!

I knew I had to include a Roger Corman movie for All-Out Giant Monster Attack!, the man is a living legend of Hollywood.  Despite working exclusively in the realm of independent B-movie production, Roger Corman is the grandfather of a massive film tradition.  He's produced over 400 movies according to IMDB, and directed over fifty.  The list of people who have worked with Corman on his cheap horror, exploitation, and comedy films is mind-boggling with directors such as:  James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Joe Dante, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Johnathan Demme, and Robert Town all going through the Corman school.  And that's not even including actors, where we have:  Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock, David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, and Talia Shire. Chances are, if you've worked on a crappy B-movie at point during the last sixty years, you've worked on a Roger Corman movie.  Corman might just be the most prolific filmmaker in all of history, and he's still at it, still making terrible monster movies for the SciFi channel.

In the Fifties, a typical Corman production took around two weeks to film, and would cost something between ten and seventy thousand dollars, which even at the time was an incredibly low amount of money with which to make an entire feature film.  But Corman was the type to get the work done, using a crew of professionals working around the clock with multiple jobs, pumping out movies like factory products.  In a single year Corman could produce as many as nine movies.  One of his best-known movies, the 1960 original "Little Shop of Horrors" was filmed entirely in two days.  In "Attack of the Crab Monsters", the chief actors were paid six-hundred dollars per week of shooting, which for many desperate starving actors in Los Angeles at the time, was perfectly fine.  Even the star, Russell Johnson, who previously starred in the SciFi classic, "This Island Earth" and would go on to be The Professor from Gilligan's Island, was glad to have the paycheck.

"Attack of the Crab Monsters"* was born in typical Corman fashion, with him suddenly deciding one day to make a movie about giant crabs attacking.  He also demanded from his screenplay writer, Charles B. Griffith, that every scene contain suspense or action, so they wouldn't have to film any unnecessary and pricey scenes of characterization or even exposition.  And I would say, for the most part, this strategy worked, because "Attack of the Crab Monsters" is an excellent movie.  I mean, yeah, its obviously a very cheap B-movie and the characters are lousy, but the movie has a great atmosphere of unrelenting suspense.  And it has one of the most original giant monsters ever, which add to the creepy tone of the entire movie.  There is not one scene that doesn't work to continue to build the suspense the eeriness of the isolated madness that the characters have been trapped within.  "Attack of the Crab Monsters" is a perfect lesson on how to make a cheap monster movie.  This is how its done.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Beautiful Creatures

Crappy teen fiction returns!  Wasn't it just like three months ago when "Twilight 5" came out and bored America to death?  Well, apparently the craving for supernatural romance was too strong, and the rip-off franchise needed to be created immediately.  In the Fifties they at least gave us a year between "Them!" and "Tarantula", but we've modernized, now you gotta ride that preteen romance wave right now, before it breaks on the shores of sanity and decency.  Unfortunately, it appears that the Twilight craze is already over, as "Beautiful Creatures" is a pretty significant flop, probably killing all hope of a sequel.  Maybe "The Host"* will do better.

However, unlike the Twilight... Saga (rrrrrrr...), "Beautiful Creatures"' failure is not for lack of trying.  This is definitely a better-made movie in every respect then every single one of the Twilight movies.  And look at that cast!  Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, Emmy Rossum, and last year's Academy Award winner for Best Supporting Actress, Viola Davis!  How did they rope all these people into this?  More surprising to me, this actually is not a badly made movie.  In terms of "Twilight"-ness, yeah, there are still some of the worst trends and tropes from those movies.  Its got a needlessly complex and confusing supernatural plot that turns the main female into the center of the universe, there's plenty of awful voice over narration that seems to serve no purpose other than for "tell don't show", and the soundtrack is awful.  But what they wisely did not copy off the Twilight formula was the weird sexual hang-ups of the protagonists, the emotionless lack of energy between the lead actors, and the awful musical video-style montages that served no purpose other than to slow the movies down.

"Beautiful Creatures" is a movie where you actually get the sense that our star-crossed teen lovers actually like each other.  Interestingly its set using the boy's perspective, who is the Muggle this time, not the girl, and they have decent banter and flirting.  And the side characters are interesting colorful people rather than set pieces that Stephenie Meyer created to make her vapid universe seem populated and complex.  We have some very funny and campy moments where the supporting characters really ham it up, and its actually legitimately entertaining.  I mean, this isn't ever going to be fine art, but I get the sense that the movie at least has some kind of sense of humor about itself.  The romantic melodrama does overwhelm "Beautiful Creatures" in places, but there's enough motion and plot for the most part that the movie continues to be a solid experience.  Shockingly, this is the best movie I've seen from 2013 so far.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Die Hard 5

I can't call this movie "A Good Day to Die Hard".  Because no movie like this deserves the adjective "good" in its title.

Okay, before you get surprised that "Die Hard 5" sucked, let's first look at the people who made this thing.  It was written by Skip Woods, who previously brought us such masterpieces as "Hitman" and "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", one of the most rushed and pathetically lazy superhero movies I've ever seen.  And combine that level of incompetence with the directing talent of John Moore, who made "Max Payne".  Together the writer and director have been responsible for some of the worst action movies of the last decade.  Also, how many movie franchises have managed to remain entertaining by the fifth installment?  I can think of "Godzilla", and that's it.

"Die Hard" once upon a time was one of the best action movies of all time, turning Bruce Willis into the movie icon that he is today.  In basically every movie Bruce Willis made in the Nineties, he was playing John McClane, a medium-build sarcastic detective out of his element in the midsts of a huge disaster.  I love Bruce Willis, I love his action movies, I love his cop movies: "Die Hard", "Die Hard With a Vengeance"*, "The Fifth Element", "Mercury Rising", "Sin City", "Sixteen Blocks" - all great, or at least decent.  As the franchise of Die Hard moved on, the movies kept getting bigger and more ridiculous as time went on.  "Die Hard 4" was even a bit of fun, it was bloated and ridiculous, turning John McClane into an indestructible superhero.  But Bruce Willis was still a smart alack, he had his snarky lines, and the movie was generally well-made.  A lot of people whined that "Die Hard 4" bleeped out the curses, but whatever, the movie was fine.  Obviously though, that's where the franchise should have stopped, with John McClane saving all of America.  You can't top that.

And they didn't.  "Die Hard 5" is a mess.  The movie isn't an abominable trainwreck like you might expect for one getting as much bad press as it is, but its still bad.  Its depressing.  Not because the movie is poorly made - which it is - its just not fun.  Bruce Willis has to share the limelight with his idiot son with a weird face, the action scenes were preposterous, the characters go nowhere.  Even the villains suck.  Its miserable.  Its not so good its good, its not so bad its good, its simply bland.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 11 - Tarantula

My grandma loves this movie.

"Tarantula" is the giant spider movie.  The film was made in 1955 right at the crest of the giant monster craze in the United States, probably as a specific reaction to the success of Warner Bros' "Them!" from the previous year.  Amongst the heavy barrage of giant bug movies that came out in the mid-to-late Fifites, "Tarantula" actually features decent enough monster effects, at least good enough that you do not automatically burst out laughing like the ants from "Them!" or the Meganulons from "Rodan".  Amongst modern rankings of Fifties SciFi horror, "Tarantula" is remembered as being one of the best giant bug movies, second only to "Them!" in appreciation.  However, that still means it belongs to a genre in filmmaking well-known for terrible effects, cheesy stories, and notoriously awful direction.

Unfortunately I don't think there's terribly much to say about "Tarantula".  It was directed by Jack Arnold, a SciFi B-movie specialist who also made such classics as "The Thing From Outer Space" and "The Creature From the Black Lagoon", both very iconic SciFi films from this decade.  "Tarantula" is one of his more well-known creations, and would go on to inspire the rip-off Bert I. Gordon film, "Earth vs. The Spider", which I don't think needs coverage here, and the truly incompetent 1975 film, "The Giant Spider Invasion".  As compared with that atrocious disaster, "Tarantula"'s Tarantula actually doesn't look too awful.  Basically what they did was splice in a real life tarantula, and spliced it film making it appear one hundred feet tall.  For the most part, the effect actually works.  Fighting this monster is Dr. Matt Hastings, played by legendary B-movie actor, John Agar, and his love interest, Stephenie Clayton, played by Playboy centerfold, Mara Corday.

 Now as 1950s SciFi films go, "Tarantula" unfortunately sits right on the centerline of mediocrity.  The Tarantula is a very flat monster, appearing only to eat people, never getting the depth and sympathy of other creatures from the time period.  He's also not in the movie nearly enough.  For the most part, the film is about John Agar driving back and forth across generic Californian desert landscapes, and only at the end do we get a real giant monster fight.  There are some laughably bad make-up effects though, and Mara Corday is seriously sexy even in restrictive 1950s cloths, so there's some entertainment to be found.  But still, this might be the worst movie on this countdown so far.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

A lot of really stupid people thought that the world was going to end last year.  Luckily it didn't, because that means I get to play "Majora's Mask", thus finally meaning that I have played every single-player non-Phillips Zelda game, and have beaten all but two of them*.  Mayan Apocalypse or not, "The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask" is one of the best games in the series and that means a great deal when this series features such classics as "Link to the Past", "Ocarina of Time", "Twilight Princess", "Link's Awakening", and my all-time favorite video game, indeed the greatest thing ever made by humans, "Wind Waker".  "Majora's Mask" is a classic belonging right in that pantheon of glory.

Of course... "Majora's Mask" came out about thirteen years ago, so I guess I'm pretty late to the party.  By now this game has already transformed into a fountain of memes, references, and fond memories in the minds of gamers all around the world.  The game is so beloved that the intellectually-bankrupt Square Enix Co. Ltd. have decided to parrot its main design features for "Final Fantasy XIII-3"**... but that's sad news, this is a happy post!  The game we're talking about came in the year 2000 just after lots of really stupid people thought the world was going to end because the computers would take over because of a date glitch.  "Majora's Mask" was built off roughly 90% "Ocarina of Time" assets and engines, which meant that it could get made relatively quickly.  But rather than copy-pasting the graphics to make a game just like "Ocarina of Time", Nintendo had a very different kind of game in mind.

We all know the gimmick of "Majora's Mask", its a three-day long groundhog's day loop where Link is trapped in an alternate dimension trying to stop an screaming moon from crashing into country he's currently standing in.  So everything you do during the course of a single run is merely useful to collect items, because the physical things you accomplish do not carry over.  This is the kind of innovative game ideas, brilliant groundbreaking stuff, that used to be the main reason why Zelda games were made.  Now with "Skyward Sword" they're mostly about controls, which is why that game is and will continue to be inferior to the previous entries in the series.  But "Majora's Mask" is not merely an interesting twist on the Zelda formula, it also features a dark but very funny storyline.  You got aliens kidnapping cows, monkeys getting kidnapped by Deku Shrubs, Gorons freezing to death in the snow, and a kaiju battle in the middle of desert city.  All of this circulating around one of the most evil villains in series history.  "Majora's Mask" has striking imagery, perhaps the most memorable in the entire series, such as that grimacing moon ready to blow the entire world into dust.  Everything about it is pure classic.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 10 - Rodan

Rodan* is another member of the classic Godzilla pantheon of giant monsters, appearing as a reluctant ally to Godzilla in several movies, typically in battles against the arch-demon of the kaiju franchise, King Ghidorah.  He's best described as a gigantic pterosaur, ultimately looking the most bird-like of all the old Toho kaiju creatures.  However, though Rodan is best known as being one of Godzilla's friends, his origins actually stem back to his own 1956 movie, titled simply, "Rodan".  "Rodan" was the third kaiju film directed by Ishiro Honda, director of "Godzilla" and "Half-Human".  Its production saw the reunion of the key members of the Godzilla team:  Akira Ifukube wrote the soundtrack, Tomoyuki Tanaka produced, Haruo Nakajima is the guy in the monster suit, Eiji Tsuburaya is again the effects master, and they even got Akihito Hirata, who previously played the Godzilla-slaying Professor Serizawa, to be the lead scientist again.  But "Rodan" featured something that no movie on All-Out Giant Monster Attack! has had yet...  COLOR!!

Yes, glorious beautiful color would now be the standard for all Japanese giant monster movies.  Colorization methods for film exist all the way back to the beginning of the medium, with George Milies personally painting every frame of his classic movies.  The first major modern color movie (using Technicolor) was "Gone With the Wind" in 1939, and that's the film most people call "the first color movie".  However, Technicolor was an expensive and complicated process, and for independent filmmaking, it was generally outside of the range of possibilities.  And really, it wasn't until the late 1960s that color became so easy to produce and so standardized that generally every movie would be filmed that way.  Even major American releases of the mid-Sixties such as "Dr. Strangelove" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?" were still in black and white, while color was restricted to genre films like Westerns and fantasy but growing more popular all the time.  In the US, dirt poor filmmakers like Bert. I Gordon and Roger Corman simply did without color until the Seventies.  But in Japan, Toho was a major studio and their SciFi films were growing in popularity and complexity, color was an inevitable innovation.

Back on topic, "Rodan" is actually an impressive kaiju film.  Its effects range from impressive to hilariously awful, the human characters are pretty tertiary, existing really only to watch the events unfold.  Rodan doesn't show up until rather late in the movie, until then the main villain is a group of terrible-looking giant bugs, possibly inspired by the American movie, "Them!"  But when "Rodan" finally gets going, it gets going well, featuring some awesome dogfights and scenes of destruction.  And it ends with what is easily the most shocking and sad ending of any kaiju film I've ever seen.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Infomercial Voiceover:  Are you sick of "The Fast and the Furious" series?  Did you think the first one was merely mediocre?  Did you think that "2 Fast 2 Furious" was already pointless?  Did you want to cry yourself to sleep upon seeing the trailer for "Fast and Furious 6" during the Superbowl?  Are you sick of Hollywood's pathetic pandering to the same old thing year after year after year?  Well, no longer do you have to jump off the Empire State Building to escape the cycle of monotony!  Thanks to new "Redline"!  Yes, "Redline", a 2009 anime movie that proves that car movies do not need to be endlessly generic and forgettable, or star Paul Walker.  Thanks to "Redline", your cinematic automobile experience will be vibrant, colorful, and exciting, keeping you on the edge of your seat for hours of fun.  "Redline"!  From the people who brought you "Dead Leaves"*, "Afro Samurai", and OxiClean.

List of these real-life people we ambushed at a county fair to shill our product for us!

Lonely Grandma:  "Redline"... is... fabulous.  I used to wake up every night with bloodstains in my mattress.  Now with "Redline", I don't need to have that surgery.

Fat Middled Aged Guy:  My... ah... wife l-left me, my kids hated me, my dog ran off with my cat and got married in Vegas, my life was falling apart.  Then I got "Redline" and... the pain doesn't hurt so bad!  Its "Redline"-tacular!

Little Kid:  You're stupid.  Why can't we have a normal review instead of this gimmicky weird stuff?  And why do you keep doing those old stupid monster movie posts?

Joseph Stalin:  Life has improved comrades!  Life has become joyous!  All thanks to "Redline"!  The capitalists squirm in their silken sheets while we, the socialist future, rise up to smoother them!  Ours is a just cause; victory will be ours!

Voiceover:  And now we go to our studio host, Mr. Blue Highwind with the review!  (Canned Applause)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

BlueHighwind Plays Five Minutes of FFVIII

I figure I should make a post about something that isn't a Kaiju movie every so often:

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 9 - Godzilla Raids Again

One year after Godzilla destroyed Tokyo in "Godzilla", he's back, raiding again, in "Godzilla Raids Again".  Only one year after the smash success of "Gojira", Toho quickly moved forward with their sequel.  They were in such a hurry to get "Godzilla 2" made that they overlooked the fact that Ishiro Honda, director of the original Godzilla, was busy directing a different Kaiju film, "Ju Jin Yuki Otoko" (Monster Snowman), though that film is better known in the West under the title, "Half Human"*.  Instead the directing job when to Motoyoshi Oda, a fellow of Honda's, but obviously a far less talented filmmaker who would never make a kaiju film again.  Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was back, and so was special effects master, Eiji Tsuburaya.  But composer Akira Ifukube was replaced by Masaru Sato, who created a far inferior score that lacked even the classic Godzilla theme.

Ultimately, it was seemingly predestined that "Godzilla Raids Again" (or "Godzilla's Counterattack" as its Japanese title reads), was destined to fall under the sequel curse.  Except for a single cameo from Takashi Shimura as Dr. Yamane, the original human cast was gone.  The principle creative talent behind "Godzilla" was missing, but Toho needed some kind of follow-up to capitalize on the blockbuster that was the kaiju genre.  Heck, even Godzilla's choice of target city, Osaka, feels inferior, its like if the aliens from "Independence Day", after blowing up New York, decided to attack Philadelphia next.  The grim disastrous tone of the original was not kept, instead Godzilla was merely a giant monster wrecking the city, not a living natural curse brought to the world because of the sin of the atomic age.  The human characters are mostly kitschy and entirely irrelevant, existing only to eat time, even by the second movie its obvious the real star has become the monsters.  Its a very confused movie, sitting on the crossroads between the serious horror of "Gojira" and the unembarrassed children's fair that the rest of Godzilla's Showa series was going to become.

There are some inspired ideas between "Godzilla Raids Again" though.  This is the first film where Godzilla fights with another monster, this one being the giant Ankylosaurus, Anguirus, one of the most popular giant monsters in the Toho line-up.  Anguirus as the series would go on would become Godzilla's best friend, teaming up him against a number of weird alien invasions, though Anguirus was usually the guy to get beaten up.  This time he's Godzilla's first enemy, and thus "Godzilla Raids Again" is notable as being the first Kaiju film marketed around the idea of a giant monster brawl.  Eventually those kinds of movies would be the main attraction of the entire Japanese giant monster industry.  Even with "Godzilla Raids Again"'s faults, which were obvious even in 1955 that Toho wouldn't make another Godzilla movie until the Sixties, its got that monster melee, which makes the whole thing feel worthwhile.

Friday, February 8, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 8 - It Came from Beneath the Sea

"It Came from Beneath the Sea" is a surprisingly well-made movie for a 1950s science B-movie mostly about scientists in a laboratory.  I'd actually rank this one as being, in terms of the human players and speed in which the plot moves, the best movie I've seen since "Mighty Joe Young" on All-Out Giant Monster Attack.  It compelling characters who do things other than simply stand around and battle the creature or discuss its powers from the sterile safety of a military office.  There's actually interpersonal conflicts, a watchable love story, and a female character who can accomplish something other than being the pretty sidekick of an elderly science nerd such as the lone female characters from "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" and "Them!".  And there's a spice and variety in the locations, dialog, and character relations that the previous American horror movies simply do not share.

Essentially "It Came from Beneath the Sea" is a film where a giant octopus attacks the Golden Gate Bridge.  Its origins come from right after "20,000 Fathoms" when stop-motion Archmage, Ray Harryhausen, was recruited by Colombia Pictures specifically to create a giant monster movie for them.  This was Ray Harryhausen's first time working with a producer by the name of Charles H. Schneer, who would become his long-time collaborator on ten movies for the next twenty-five years.  Harryhausen and Schneer would go on to create giant monster movies such as "20,000 Miles to Earth" and "The Valley of Gwangi", but also fantasy adventures like "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" and "Clash of the Titans", and even a SciFi fantasy film set in the Victorian era, "First Men in the Moon".

"It Came From Beneath the Sea", however, was pretty clearly designed with the sole purpose of being a rip-off of "20,000 Fathoms", only featuring a giant mollusk instead of a dinosaur.  The climax of both films are nearly identical, only with frightened crowds running from mile-long octopus tentacles instead of a rampaging rhedasaurus.  The monster in this version is considerably less emotive and interesting than the dinosaur, but the human characters are fascinating and sympathetic people.  Even though its not very expressive, how many movies can you honestly say feature a gargantuan cephalopod tearing its way through San Francisco's wharfs?  Or where nuclear submarines do undersea battle with a squishy beast several miles long?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Bullet to the Head

How can you say no to a title like that?  "Bullet to the Head"!  BOOM!  HEADSHOT!  In fact, they should have called it "BOOM! Headshot!"  Make that:  "BOOM! Headshot, Motherfucker!"  But "Bullet to the Head" is perfectly fine.  What kind of movie is this?  Oh, the kind of movie where people get shot... in the head.  Do they live?  Probably not.  They got shot... IN THE HEAD.  What part of this is hard to understand?  BANG!  BANG!  DEAD.  ¿Comprende?

"Bullet to the Head" is exactly what the titles tells you its going to be, and not a thing more.  Its not innovative, its not inspiring, its offers no pointed dialog on the nature of modern masculinity in a globalizing mass culture, it doesn't offer any solutions for the deficit, and it offers no practical life advise of any kind.  I imagine women will hate it, old folks will get disturbed by it, teens will want somebody younger in the lead role - probably somebody truly awful like Channing Tatum, young kids might enjoy it but their parents won't let them watch it, but as for you dudes, here you go, "Bullet to the Head".  Its Eighties action schlock, completely by the numbers and without anything new to say about anything.  Even among action schlock, its purely in the middle range, falling in the heap next to thousands of other movies from across time and space, offering little to separate itself from all those others.  And that's why I recommend it.

"The Expendables" has finally sparked off a series of imitations, taking its ancient stars and putting them back into their own movies.  I hated both "Expendables" movies, simply because they weren't very good.  They were directed so poorly that I wondered if Sylvester Stallone could even physically move anymore, and whether or not these actors should have retired around the time of "Demolition Man".  Arnold Schwarzenegger got his chance with "The Last Stand", which I skipped due to it looking terrible but mostly because Johnny Knoxville was there as the annoying sidekick.  Well, that movie bombed, so let's see how "Bullet to the Head" is doing... Oh, it got thrashed by the Superbowl and "Warm Bodies"*.  That's a shame.  Well, there's still "The Tomb", a film where Stallone and Schwarzenegger will team up to kill people, maybe that will sell.  Until then, if you have the time and are hoping for something incredibly but wonderfully stupid, something that will not challenge you, yet something that will not disappoint, there's "Bullet to the Head".

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Stand Up Guys

This one is for all you old guys out there.

"Stand Up Guys" is the new movie starring Chistopher Walken, Al Pacino, and Alan Arkin, as the otherwise sublime poster garishly points out with labels on its silhouettes.  Its a movie with a pretty basic premise, mostly about a few old men enjoying a final fling before the inevitability of mortality takes them all.  Worn faces smiley remorsefully for the days when their skin was smooth, their eyes bright, and they starred in the greatest movies of the 1970s.  I figured it would be slow and reflective, even with the fact that it stars a group of defeated and retired mobsters.  Maybe something a little more intelligent, a little bit about life and friendship.  Just friends trying to figure it all out and get one last night together before a tragic deadline strikes the next morning.

Well, it was all that.  But it also had Al Pacino rushed into a hospital with a steel hard-on after fucking a Russian prostitute four times thanks to the rush of a fistful of Viagra.

Unfortunately, "Stand Up Guys" is a very mixed movie.  Overall, I'd say it was watchable and enjoyable, but it could have been far better if it wasn't so desperate to please everybody by pandering down.  This is an Old Dude movie, we don't need toilet humor, and yet there it is.  Most of the jokes come from Al Pacino snorting prescription medication, or breaking some other law, basically turning this into "The Hangover Part 67: We're Too Old For This Shit".  Its the sentimental portions that drive the movie for me, not the wacky antics.  Eventually the movie gets to the point that it seems to break all logic and reality, and not just in the insane stunts that Pacino and Walken pull.  After a deeply emotional and rather touching send-off of an ending, they felt the need to throw in a truly awful ending.  Maybe they wanted to be uplifting, maybe they just didn't want to make people sad, but instead they blew it, turning the movie into a comic book.  Worse, even though there's an incoming time limit, a classic technique of screenwriters to create tension, "Stand Up Guys" seems to flop around without a great deal of energy, and somehow never really gets going.

Luckily, "Stand Up Guys" does still feature some of the best actors of all time together, and what good moments it has are still worth it.  I'm glad to see Al Pacino in a movie that isn't "Jack and Jill".  Just the strength alone of Al Pacino working against Christopher Walken would be enough for a good movie.  You could have shoved these guys into a bustop and just had them shoot the breeze for an hour and a half, and it would have been great entertainment... and maybe "Stand Up Guys" would have been better if did exactly that.

Monday, February 4, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 7 - Them!

Make me a sergeant and charge the booze!

"Them!" is easily one of the best remembered SciFi B-movies from the 1950s, in many ways iconic of its time.  You got giant monsters in the desert, scientists in gray suits and gray offices working with the military to stop the threat, a no-nonsense leading man, and cheesy special effects, its everything you'd expect.  It has a splashy though grammatically-confusing title:  "Them!" - it just grabs you, doesn't it?  They even included an exclamation mark just to make the point clear.  The premise is as silly as they get, fitting of the ridiculous effects, but somehow every actor plays their part with deathly seriousness, nobody is winking at the camera as they scream at slow-moving clunky animatronics.  Film would not develop a sense of irony until the Sixties or Seventies.

The plot of "Them!" is succinctly described in just two words:  Giant Ants.  I imagine the movie began with those words in the mind of a screenwriter or producer, and it has endured through the ages because of the magnetic yet hilarious power of that concept.  This was the first giant monster movie to take something that should be very small and instead make it monster-sized, but it would definitely not be the last.  In fact, giant arthropods became one of the most popular villains of American SciFi movies in this period, with such films as "Tarantula!", "Attack of the Crab Creatures", "Beginning of the End" (locusts), "The Deadly Mantis", "The Black Scorpion", "Earth vs. the Spider", "Monster from Green Hell" (ants again), and finally, in Japan, "Mothra"*.  And they've been making giant bugs movies ever since, in my own lifetime there's been "Mimic", "Spiders", "Eight-Legged Freaks", and the SciFi channel's greatest idea for a movie ever, "Mongolian Death Worm".

Now as a movie, "Them!" actually isn't that bad.  The first half hour is actually rather inspired and very tense, legitimately scary.  Unfortunately, that's built on a mysterious lonely atmosphere that is ruthlessly abandoned for a more generic "scientists and military guys in a room" plotline.  It also hurts the movie greatly when the monsters turn out to be a huge silly ant prop.  But luckily the movie is speedy in its plot, it turns into something of a war movie against giant ants, and then it ends with soldiers fighting ants with flamethrowers, and who can complain about that?