Oct 212019
  October 21, 2019

LonChaneyjrThe third of the Big Three icons of classic horror (Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr.), Chaney may have come on the scene last, but he was born for it. Lon Chaney Sr. had been the lone icon of silent horror and Creighton Chaney spent much of his career chasing his father’s star, though the name change to Lon Jr. was not his idea. He was king of the Universal monster films of the 1940s, playing The Wolf Man five time, Dracula (in Son of Dracula), Frankenstein’s Monster (in The Ghost of Frankenstein), and The Mummy Kharis in three films. He died, never knowing the heights he had attained, or that new generations would know him better than his father.

He was more often a character actor. When he was the lead it was normally a B-picture. In later years, he ended up in what I call C & D-pictures, hired just for his name. His alcoholism didn’t help.

An honorable mention to Chaney’s 2nd, 3rd and 4th appearances as Larry Talbot, The Wolf Man, in the monster mashes Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945). Each is a little weaker than it’s predecessor, but the films are still fun and The Wolf Man is good in all of them.

8 — The Defiant Ones (1958) – The first of Stanley Kramer’s socially conscious message pictures. It made a strong statement on racism and had a major part in destroying the black list. It’s also shot well, but the theme overwhelms the picture, giving us speeches instead of conversations. Chaney has a small but important role as an ex-con that helps our escaping convicts.

7 — The Haunted Palace (1963) – A Lovecraft film (though marketed as Poe) starring Vincent Price as a man being possessed by his ancestor. Chaney acts as the evil man’s assistant. There’s little new here, but what’s old is quite good. (My review)

6 — Of Mice and Men (1939) – This is a good adaptation of a good novel and Chaney is…good. Certainly the film has had a noticeable effect upon pop culture (“Let me pet the rabbit George”) but it’s a bit too simple to be that interesting. If this was a list of my favorites, I’d rank The Haunted Palace and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man above it, but this is a “best” list.

5 — High Noon (1952) – It’s aged poorly, with uneven acting, slight characters. and dialog that’s hard to take seriously, but it was a metaphor for the communist witch hunt of the House Un-American Activities Committee at a time when such a metaphor was needed. Chaney plays a retired lawman and his is the best performance in the film. As with my 6th place film, it would be lower on a favorites list.

4 — My Favorite Brunette (1947) – Bob Hope teams with his Road picture co-star Dorothy Lamour in a Noir spoof that has him battling Peter Lorre and Chaney. [Also on the Bob Hope list]

3 — Spider Baby or, the Maddest Story Ever Told (1967) – This weird cult films acts as a bridge between the old dark house movies of the ‘30s & ‘40s and the degenerate family gore-fests of the ‘70s and later. It’s darkly comedic, and reasonably messed up. Chaney gives his best performance in at least 20 years.

2 — Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) – One of the top horror comedies ever made, and surprisingly, one of the better Universal Horror films, and by far their best monster mashup. It’s only the second time Bela Lugosi played Dracula on screen and it is a welcome return. Chaney is good as The Wolf Man, the plot works, and Abbott and Costello are at their best.

1 — The Wolf Man (1941) – This is the movie that created everything that has become part of the modern view of werewolves. Bela Lugosi, Claude Rains, and Evelyn Ankers are fantastic in this masterpiece while Chaney puts in the performance of his lifetime. It’s romantic, exciting, scary, and tragic. [Also on the Bela Lugosi list] (Quick review)

Sep 142019
 
two reels

In this reboot of the franchise, Hellboy (David Harbour), is a grumpy and grungy half-demon who is sent by his adopted father (Ian McShane) to battle supernatural enemies. After a series of such fights, he’s joined by psychic Alice (Sasha Lane) and hard-ass soldier Major Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim) to stop the resurrection of Nimue (Milla Jovovich). If she’s allowed to rise, she will release a plague that will kill all of mankind… Or maybe she won’t and instead join with Hellboy to cause an unrelated apocalypse… Or maybe this pig fairy will kill Hellboy… Or perhaps Baba Yaga, who set the resurrection in motion, has a plan of her own… Or maybe Daimio will kill Hellboy… Or maybe something connected to King Arthur will… Oh who cares. It’s about Hellboy hitting things.

Well… It isn’t horrible. Sure, the dialog is something out of a junior high schooler’s fan fiction (Hellboy only whines or speaks in quips), the characters are underdeveloped, the tone wavers around aimlessly, and the structure is a mess, but the end result isn’t horrible. It just isn’t very good.

I feel I need to say that as multiple reviewers immediately put Hellboy on their worst of the year list, and it doesn’t belong there. There’s some nice monster design work, primarily on some creatures that show up only briefly in the finale, but it is nice. And there’s lots of action—none of it is memorable, but it’s serviceable if you aren’t asking for much. And while it takes itself too seriously at times, it isn’t a non-stop gloom factory.

It fits nicely with other poorly thought-out genre projects like The Last Witch Hunter and Season of the Witch, which are more rightly forgotten than actively hated.

The problems are apparent with its construction, which screams “designed in editing.” We start with a wrestling death match before Hellboy is sent off to England where things end in a couple more fights. He’s then tossed in with a team which is sent to a manner house he’d passed through for a scene of horror—and that’s where the movie should have started. The previous action scenes (40 minutes worth) have nothing to do with the “story,” could have been cut without effecting the “story,” and they set a very different tone than the one of horror we are now thrust into. But that tone doesn’t stick either, as Hellboy meanders from battle to battle, shifting from light comedy to adventure fantasy and back to horror based purely on the footage they happened to have of that particular fight.

There’s no character development, but rather character exposition, as we’re told that Hellboy’s “father” was a killer who decided not to kill Hellboy and is now nicer (why? In what way?). told that Hellboy and Alice are close (in what way? When?), told that Hellboy is upset about his past (why? How?), and the list goes on. Without character, there are no stakes, and nothing propelling the “story” forward.

As for that story, well, it’s just whatever they decided to drop in: Nazi’s and Rasputin at the beginning, but then they’re gone; Giants and other fairy folk rising, but they don’t matter for long; The witch Baba Yaga’s manipulations, which seem vital, but vanish; A species-destroying plague, which also is forgotten; Arthurian legend, which after a brief mention, is not touched on until an hour and twenty minutes into the film, and becomes the main plot for a time; And Hellboy as the cause of the apocalypse, which weaves around the other threads. Choose a plot guys!

And while it is nice to looks at a film purely on its own merits, when part of a franchise, a movie must always stand with its kin; In this case, its kin are Guilermo del Toro’s Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008). Perhaps this Hellboy reboot shouldn’t be blamed for putting the final nail into the coffin of del Toro’s proposed final film in his unfinished Hellboy trilogy, but it can’t avoid comparison to the two finished films, and they are so much better. Hellboy 2019 is inferior in every way: character, story, plot, acting, dialog, art design, special effects (yes, a 2004 film runs rings around a 2019 one), makeup, editing, cinematography, music, emotion, and theme (why in the reboot was the individual standing up for an oppressed minority made to be the villain—might want to think about that). If this was the only Hellboy film, it could have been thought of as an overpriced B-movie for kids (as long as you don’t mind kids hearing “fuck” every other sentence), but next to those, I can’t see it as anything but a failure of imagination and opportunity.

I give it Two Reels, but make that a very weak Two.

 Fantasy, Reviews Tagged with:
Sep 062019
 
three reels

Foster child Billy Batson (Asher Angel) escaped from another home to search for his real mother. He’s placed in a group home with attention-seeking Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), kind Mary (Grace Fulton), hacker Eugene (Ian Chen), quiet Pedro (Jovan Armand), and loving Darla (Faithe Herman), run by Victor & Rosa Vasquez (Cooper Andrews & Marta Milans). After protecting Freddy from bullies, Billy is chased into the subway where he is magically transported to an underground lair to be tested by a Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) to determine if he is worthy to receive the power of SHAZAM. Billy rejects the demonic Seven Deadly Sins, and so is made a superhero, one who appears as an adult. But as a fourteen-year-old with no instruction, he doesn’t know what to do, and he and Freddy experiment to learn his abilities. Elsewhere in the city, Dr. Sivana, who had been found unworthy years ago, discovered how to reach the Wizard, and he took the power of the Seven Deadly Sins. He is instructed by those Sins to find and defeat this new superhero while he can.

This is a kids film. Most superhero films of recent times have been family movies aimed at everyone, while a few have been intended for an older audience. But Shazam! is purely constructed for the middle school and below set. That’s not just due to a young teen protagonist. It’s a very simple film, going exactly where even kids would expect it to go. There are no complexities. No shocks. No deeper messages than “love is good” and “family is good.” Everyone is a stereotype, the story is jammed with clichés, emotional attachments develop in a day, and nothing gets too tense for a six-year-old. I wouldn’t expect a young child to be unhappy about any of that. And he shouldn’t be. This is a good kids film. And it’s reasonably entertaining for an adult—as better kids films often are—as long as you ask very little from it.

Where Shazam! excels is in the relationships of the group home family, and in the humor. I liked all the kids (Darla is adorable) and I’m a hard sell. The children seem to genuinely like each other in a way that isn’t sickeningly sweet, and the parents are not played as fools or fanatics. I’m used to this type of parent—ones who are broadly accepting—being made fun of in film, but they are portrayed as loving and good at what they do. It’s very nice. Thoughtful? No, but it’s nice and occasionally nice is refreshing.

The jokes work by showing what we should have been seeing in most superhero films, but didn’t because it isn’t epic. Our hero tries for clever quips, but isn’t good at it (as few people are). Dramatic monologues can’t be heard, as they shouldn’t be over distances in large cities. And how do you know if you are fireproof? I laughed and I suspect eight-year-olds will be in stitches.

There’s lots of minor flaws: The structure is off a bit, the villain barely registers, the CGI is so-so, Billy is too old (12 would have worked better), and it’s too long (what’s wrong with a 90 minute movie? They don’t all have to cross 2 hours). But these are problems for a movie trying to be something more substantial. Shazam! isn’t trying to be great. If it was made perfectly it still wouldn’t be great. It wants to be a pleasant distraction for people whose brains are still developing (and nope, it isn’t trying to help that development), and in that it succeeds.

 Reviews, Superhero Tagged with:
Aug 152019
 
two reels

In a teal world, a group of “eco-terrorists” breaks into a Monarch facility, taking Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and her monster communication device, as well as her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown). Their plan is to wake the ancient monsters all over the world and let them remake the planet. Monarch, lead by Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) wants to stop them, and brings along Dr. Russell’s estranged husband, Mark (Kyle Chandler) who also happens to be an expert on the “titans.” They all set off into rain, fog, mist, shadow, and storms, where they keep running into a monster leg here, a wing there, and a head or two briefly. One thing is certain: whatever happens, it will be very, very serious.

I’d give Godzilla: King of the Monsters an extra star if they re-colored it. Or just colored it. This is essentially a B&W film, with teal taking over for white. For huge swaths of the movie, everything is blue-green. Sky? Teal. Water? Teal. Buildings? Teal. Ice? Teal. Faces? Teal. It’s a mind-boggling choice. Ghidorah, the great three-headed GOLD dragon is teal most of the time. It’s ugly and oppressive.

Oppressive is the word for the film overall. The plot is silly and half the things that happen are nonsensical, but those aren’t major problems in a giant monster movie. But the tone is deadly. This could never be a deep, thoughtful film. It’s not like Gojira (1954). By its nature, it’s a big adventure popcorn movie. And those should be fun. And this isn’t. It’s solemn and completely humorless.

There needed to be characters who weren’t either angry or grieving, but those are the only emotions in this film. Every discussion, every meeting (and there’s a lot of those), every interaction—it’s just anger or grief. And that gets old fast. I need some meat with my movie if I’m having to endure all that. But this is giant monsters shooting beams at each other and somehow feeling bullets while not being bothered by missiles. It’s not thoughtful. So why does it all have to be so grim?

It’s made worse from our lead couple, who are just awful. Mark is a terrible human being, and he’s a bright light next to Emma, who might be one of the worse humans ever born. But they aren’t terrible in a fun, charismatic way, but in a trudging way that only escapes being boring because of how annoying they are. Whatever they wanted, I wanted them to lose. The rest aren’t as bad, but none of them are interesting or engaging.

OK, so I’m talking a lot about the humans. What about the monsters? Don’t get your hopes up, because this is mainly a human film. The monsters aren’t around much. But when they are in the film…they still aren’t around much. You rarely see them. You see fog (haven’t we learned from failed superhero films that fog is not an interesting villain), and you see swirling rain, and then you’ll see a foot. Then a head will pop out, and then more fog. Then it’s time for a long shot, which is quickly obscured by debris. And then it’s a few overly close shots where it’s impossible to really see what’s going on (Michael Bay would be proud) before it’s back to darkness and fog. Just pull back the damn camera, lay off the fog overlay, and turn on a light other than teal! It’s maddening.

There are a few moments here and there that will get your blood pumping if you are a fan of giant monsters, but those are the moments that make it maddening. This could have been a fun film. It should have been better. It took some conscious decisions to screw it up. Still, for those few good moments, I say catch it on TV if you like huge radioactive lizards and over-sized moths.

Jul 232019
 
three reels

Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a mentally ill for-hire-clown attempting to become a stand-up comic. At night he cares for his elderly mother. He lives in Gotham City (no relation to any Gotham City you may have heard of) which is falling apart, with garbage in the streets, rats running rampant, and crime rising. Arthur is attacked multiple times, loses his job, his identity, and is insulted by TV personality Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). He loses what little he had, pushing him to find a new identity for himself, and to find hope in the form of homicidal mania.

In this sequel to Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy
What? It’s not a sequel?

OK, in this remake of The King of Comedy
Really? Not a remake.

One more time. In this theft of Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, combined with chunks stolen from Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, director Tod Phillips effectively conveys the grim reality of the poor in America, and the hopelessness of their lives in the present system. Phoenix is solid, believable as a man whose minor connection to sanity is being torn away. I could feel Arthur’s pain, frustration, loss, and longing. Yes, this is Taxi Driver filtered through The King of Comedy, but that’s good material. The building strain between the social classes is clearly displayed. This is a film with a message, one that is front and center at all times, but somehow didn’t feel obnoxious to me.

And the connection to the Batman world works. This is not the Joker from the comics or TV or other films. It isn’t a new interpretation. It is a different character, just as this is a different Gotham and a different Thomas and Bruce Wayne. But that connection helps to throw some light on this world. I know those other Waynes—rich, powerful, and privileged—so show me only a second of Thomas’s arrogance and lack of empathy, and I have a complete picture of who and what he is. Joker’s world, the world of this film which is not the world of the comics, becomes full and complex.

So, for a rip-off cash grab, Joker isn’t bad. It’s actually surprisingly—shockingly—good. So much of it works. There are some emotional moments that hit hard, and here and there a shot that should become iconic.

But Tod Phillips is not Martin Scorsese. Phillips is the man behind Starsky & Hutch: The Movie and the excruciatingly unfunny School For Scoundrels. He doesn’t understand how to use color in a drama ( for God’s sake, the world is not teal). He has no idea how to edit a serious film. And he didn’t get the help he needed behind the camera as he brought along his cinematographer and editor from his previous projects, so we’re talking The Hangover Part III quality. They are out of their league. Over and over I could see how a scene would work better if the camera was shifted over, the lights were brightened, or a second was trimmed. Much of the dialog needed to be punched up. And the entire climactic talk show scene needed to be rewritten and shortened—this is a visual medium; everything doesn’t have to be explained in a speech. This is a good film, that could have been a great one if it had a few better filmmakers involved. Hey, you know who they should have called? Martin Scorsese. I bet he would have done a great job.

 Reviews, Superhero Tagged with:
Jul 092019
 
four reels

After the events of End Game, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) wants a break from being a superhero, and more, the idea that he is supposed to replace Tony Stark, so he heads to Europe on a school field trip, along with best friend Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) and potential girlfriend MJ (Zendaya). But there’s no escaping his job. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) show up with Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) in tow, wanting him to join in their fight against mysterious elemental monsters that are attacking the world. The only other superhero on hand is Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), who has come from a different Earth that has already been destroyed by the elementals. Fury also hands him Tony Stark’s last gift: a pair of glasses that gives him control over a powerful world-wide surveillance and defense system, one that Peter doesn’t feel he’s ready for.

The MCU course-corrects in a big way with the best Spider-Man film to date. The action and adventure are a step up from Homecoming, the angst a touch lower, the comedy even better, and it all fits together effortlessly. Holland continues as the #1 Spider-Man, and the only one in a live-action film that’s pulled off appearing to be a teenager. Zendaya is likable and fun and has substantial chemistry with Holland, elevating the teen comedy parts of the film, though the best bits in those sections belong to Ned and his sudden relationship with queen-bee Betty Brant (Angourie Rice), one that’s both amusing and refreshing.

Things get even better when we aren’t in high school mode. It’s not just the special effects and fabulous action scenes, but Spidey mixing it up with an irritable Nick Fury, dealing with Fury’s rough looking henchman turned tour-bus driver, and having some moving moments with Mysterio. Gyllenhaal is extremely effective, taking a very comicbook-y character and making him believable. I’ve never seen him better.

This is a smarter film than a pair of recent MCU entries. Here, if something doesn’t seem right, if there’s apparent inconsistencies in the story or in the characters, there’s an underlying reason; it isn’t just a mistake. Feel free to dig deep into what things mean. You’ll be rewarded. You’ll need to wait till a post-credit scene to see if you’re right in one case. It’s smart in another way. It doesn’t try to look at the after effects of Infinity War/Endgame on a world-wide scale. Instead, we see things only through the eyes and priorities of high school students. That makes it complete, in a narrow view, without giving us hours of melodrama. Economic volatility isn’t going to mean as much as a little brother now being a class ahead.

This is a careful review as it’s a hard film to discuss without touching on some major spoilers and while you’ll figure out a few things before they happen (if you haven’t already), it’s more fun figuring it as you go along. So staying vague, Far From Home is yet another success for the MCU. Everyone is good, and I haven’t even touched on great stuff from Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) with his best appearance in the series.  It doesn’t have the heights of The Avengers or Ragnorak, but there’s never a slip, never a fault, and it’s always a lot of fun.

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Jun 232019
  June 23, 2019

GoodOmensI enjoyed the Neil-Gaiman-Terry-Pratchett-based mini-series Good Omens well enough, but I was filled the entire time with the feeling that it should be more. Crowley, the not-so-evil demon is delightful, and David Tennant’s performance even more so. The interaction between Cowley and the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) is a good time, though it’s mainly Cowley, and those two are the heart of the series.

The story is fine. It goes pretty much exactly where you’d expect it to go with the setup and the fluffy sitcom tone. With a darker, more satiric edge—with the Antichrist being truly evil and more insightful commentary—it could have been more interesting, but that’s not what they were going for. So, there are no surprises and it’s…fine. Which means it’s all up to the characters to carry the show, that and the jokes. And Crowley and Aziraphale do an excellent job. Cowley rules every scene he’s in, being both hilarious, heartwarming, and a touch scary. Aziraphale makes for a reasonable partner with some nice development moments.

The problem is we leave them. A good deal of time is spent with the four children, and with the witch and witchhunter, and with the witchhunter-sergeant and faux-psychic, and with the four horsemen, all to give us plot points that are obvious. And none of it is funny. Cowley and, to a lesser extent, Aziraphale have tons of great gags. The children have none. The two couples have none. The four horsemen have potential, but again, aren’t funny and give us nothing which isn’t obvious.

And there’s a lot of time spent with these “side” characters—hours. For the most part they aren’t terrible, although the insults of the witchhunter-sergeant do get old quickly, but they add nothing and aren’t amusing on their own. The omniscient view also puts us ahead of all of the characters, and we’re stuck waiting for them to catch up. Sticking to the more limited view of Cowley and Aziraphale would have made for a funnier, more intriguing, and fast moving show. It would have been better to be with Cowley and Aziraphale as they discover they have the wrong Antichrist and join them in their discoveries, instead of us knowing from the beginning exactly what happened.

I’m sounding more negative then the overall series deserves, but the negative stands out. You could even now trim out an hour of the side characters and effect nothing except making the show flow better. If done in production, giving us more of our demon and angel heroes, this could have been great. Instead there’s a lot of filler, and it is passably good.

May 312019
  May 31, 2019

Since I already have a page describing Godzilla’s film career, as well as reviews of each of these films (click on the titles to get to the reviews), I can just dig in. There are 33 films: 29 Japanese live-action, 1 three-part anime, and 3 American remakes. So here we go, starting with the worst:

 

#33 – Godzilla’s Revenge (1969)

An embarrassment to the six-year-olds it was intended for, there is nothing good about this cheap clip show. It is a successful argument against you ever claiming that Godzilla movies are cool. This is everything wrong with children’s entertainment splatted together into pablum.

 

#32 – Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

The ’70s were not a good time for Godzilla. The films were all childish in the worst way, the suit work was…poor, and the stories were even worse than the wrestling movies. And this is the worst of them. Godzilla is an after-thought in his own film which is really a pilot for a rip-off giant robot TV show.

 

#31 – Son of Godzilla (1967)

Yet another of he anti-bullying kids films that has a giant Muppet teaching a toad-man how to stand up for himself. The human side plot is actually the best parts. The money was gone from the franchise, so this was made on a budget and it shows. It takes place on an island because it’s a lot cheaper to have your monster walking around on the ground then to have cities to smash.

 

#30 – Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)

The second worst in the run of bad ’70s films (the others are coming soon), this one has intelligent space cockroaches (disguised as humans, of course) controlling an evil monster double-team is a plastic model of Ghidorah and a turkey with a dull spinning blade in its tummy. It looks as stupid as it sounds, and is not helped by the ever-changing appearances of the monsters, that depends on which previous film they swiped the footage from.

 

#29 – Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

The franchise closed down for nearly a decade after this. So would I. A direct sequel to Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, it continues the trend of aliens (space apes here) controlling monsters to fight Godzilla. There’s nothing good here, but it is less bad than Gigan and Megalon, and that’s some kind of victory for the ’70s.

 

#28 – Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)

The main thing this has going for it is Mechagodzilla. He’s significantly less sill than anything Godzilla had faced in the last decade. The guy in the dog costume who helps Godzilla, he’s every bit as silly. The human story doesn’t mess things up as much as usual, and the aliens controlling Mechagodzilla aren’t good, but aren’t any worse than the previous films’ aliens.

 

#27 – Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994)

The ’90s Godzilla films were a step up, except for this one. A team of first-timers to the franchise slavishly repeated recent errors while bringing back the mistakes of the past.  We’ve got the overly complicated plots of boring humans from the “Heisei” era merged with the poor FX and heroic Godzilla from the earlier “Showa” era, all tied together with a cheap ribbon.

 

#26 – Godzilla (2014)

The worst sin any film can commit is to be boring, and this American reboot is so boring. Godzilla is barely in the film. Instead the runtime is filled with exceptionally uninteresting humans doing things I didn’t care about. It goes on and on and I just wanted the damn “lead” to get squished so he’d be out of the film. So…boring. And this is a color film. Use some color! Every frame is murky teal.

 

#25 – King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

Well, it could have been fun, had they been able to make a decent ape suit, but this is one of the worst in a long line of pretty bad costumes. There’s no fun to be had with the giant monsters outside of laughing at them, and thing don’t improve with the “zany” comic relief humans who fall down a lot. But where else can you see Asians in Black-face with Afro-wigs? Is that something you want to see?

 

#24 – Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966)

Cheap was the word in the second Godzilla on an island movie. It’s also a film designed for King Kong that only uses Godzilla due to licensing problems, which explains why Godzilla suddenly has the hots for a beautiful girl. There’s also a giant lobster, which doesn’t really hurt anything. The result is OK. This is an OK film.

 

#23 – Destroy All Monsters (1968)

If only all the coolness of a giant monster rumble would be a bit less stupid and look less terrible. Well, then it would be Final Wars. There’s lots of monsters, and aliens, and there is a big battle, though most of the time is spent with those annoying humans. I saw this at the theater when I was 7, and enjoyed it, but even then I knew it was dumb as a bag of rocks and wanted better.

 

#22 – Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

This is essentially a B&W film, with teal taking over for white. But then you can’t see much of anything anyway. Pull back the camera, lay off the fog, and turn on a light other than teal! Besides the look, the tone is deadly. This is a big adventure popcorn movie. And those should be fun. But this is solemn and completely humorless. It’s not thoughtful, so why does it all have to be so grim? There’s a few moments which will get giant monster fans’ blood pumping, but that’s it.

 

#21 – Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (1965)

The first of the space opera Godzilla films that would dominate the ’70s, it’s very campy and fun. Most of our time is spent with two humans; what’s new is that one is American. Toho started sticking one American actor in their monster films to try and sell some tickets State-side. Well, Nick Adams isn’t good, but he isn’t the worst 3rd-rate actor they got for a film (see Russ Tamblyn). This means there is no undubbed version of the film as Adams was dubbed for the Japanese version and everyone else for the English one.

 

#20 – GMK: Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

After his success in revitalizing the Gamera franchise, Toho brought in Shusuke Kaneko to do the same for Godzilla.  It didn’t work. The idea is that Godzilla is no longer a radioactive dinosaur, but instead is infused with ghosts. Yeah, he’s supernatural, and to beat him, you need guardian spirits, like Ghidorah, because he’s a good guy.  I suppose this all could have worked, making some grand statement, but it doesn’t. As a serious picture (and this is that), there needed to be a focus on the suffering of some relatable humans, but none are available. All the fighting could be good in a light adventure flick, but this isn’t one of those.

 

#19 – Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000)

This reboot (yes, again) is mild fun that avoids many previous problems but never jells. The humans stand around and comment on the action, which is better than them dominating a movie when they’ve got nothing to do. Godzilla himself had never looked better, which is great as this film is all about the monster fighting. Unfortunately, the giant mosquito leaves much to be desired.

 

#18 – Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth (1992)

Godzilla vs Mothra didn’t need a loose remake, but it got one, with the addition of an evil caterpillar. Godzilla wasn’t even in the first draft but Toho figured their Mothra movie would sell more tickets with Godzilla in it, so there he is. It isn’t bad, but if you want the basic Mothra story, there are several better films to choose from.

 

#17 – Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)

This may be the stupidest Godzilla film, which really means something. Future evil-doers travel through time, bringing at least one not in on their plan, stop in present day to grab a few folks for no good reason, then travel back to WWII to stop Godzilla from being made and instead, turn 3 bad Muppet puppets into Ghidorah. Helping them is an android that either rollerskates or moves by having the film speed change. It’s all ridiculous, but kinda fun.

 

#16 – Gojira (1984)

For their first official reboot, they wanted to take Godzilla back to his serious and dangerous roots. They went for grim and they succeeded. I assume they also wanted an emotional message and top notch filmmaking as in the ’54 original. There they didn’t do so well. Well, it isn’t fun, but it also isn’t embarrassing, so that’s something.

 

#15 – Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

A new Godzilla arises, mainly around an area of Styrofoam cubes, and has his first battle with another giant monster. The second Godzilla film is very much like the American atomic monster films of the same time. And like most of those, it is enjoyable without being memorable or anything special.

 

#14 – Godzilla Anime Trilogy (2017-19)

There’s so much good here and so much to think about. Unfortunately, there’s also so much talking. And yelling. There are great ideas here, but it needed at least an hour less chatting and arguing.

 

#13 – Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)

The one Godzilla film of the ’70s worth seeing and it’s a trip. Godzilla stands up against pollution, represented by a giant glob. Why is there a love-in at the top of a mountain? Why are there inserted animations? Why do all the dancers suddenly have fish heads? This one is meant for those of you who are one toke over the line.

 

#12 – Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002)

In yet another reboot, the government builds a giant robot from the bones of the dead Godzilla from ’54 to fight this new one. While they are fighting, this is great. When not, the focus is on on the awkward and unfulfilled romance, the trials of the drab pilot, a child that blurts out pointless moral mumbojumbo, and the planning of the prime minister and science minister, and none of that is good. But hey, Godzilla is looking good.

 

#11 – Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)

The only film in the 2000s to carry continuity, we’ve still got Godzilla and Mechagodzilla battling it out. They are joined by Mothra in yet another telling of the basic Mothra story. The human characters are even worse than in the last film, but the monster fights look good, and that’s what you are here for.

 

#10 – Godzilla Resurgence [Shin Godzilla] (2016)

Well, for yet another reboot, this was odd. In the most radical redesign of the monster and its history since the “host of ghosts” version, Godzilla starts out as a string puppet who morphs into a more familiar form, but now with lasers shooting out from all over his body. It’s disco ball Godzilla. He’s also only in the film a few minutes, and could have been cut and replaced by any generic disaster. This film is about how old-school politicians are ineffective, and it is up to a re-energized and right-wing nationalistic youth to save the future.

 

#9 – Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)

Godzilla really did fight a lot of Godzilla robots. And those fights are solid and particularly good for their time. The Godzilla side of this film is really good. The human side is particularly weak.  Don’t pay too much attention until the 20 minute big battle and you’ll be happy.

 

#8 – Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)

Who’d have thought a giant rose would have been one of Godzilla’s best adversaries? She’s interesting and engaging, which are not words one generally uses for these films. There’s more humans vs humans and humans vs Godzilla than Godzilla vs plant, but the side stories are not as problematic as they often are.

 

#7 – Ghidrah, the Three Headed Monster (1964)

It’s all about Ghidrah. The rest isn’t great, but with a golden, three-headed, lightning breathing, planet-destroying dragon in the wings, nothing else matters. Toho was changing the focus from family fun to kids-only, so things got worse rapidly after this. But those films are higher on this list, and this one is a lot of fun.

 

#6 – Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995)

The end of the Heisei series (’84-’95), Toho decided to kill off Godzilla and do it in as spectacular a fashion as possible. They kept the human side-stories to a minimum and kept the focus where it needed to be: on the giant beast who was about to explode. Destroyah, the villain monster, is lacking, but that’s been true many times before.

 

#5 – Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

If you want stupid fun, this is it. Essentially a remake of 1968′s Destroyed All MonstersGodzilla: Final Wars is less a movie than it is a celebration of 50 years of Godzilla, as well as genre filmmaking in general. There’s too little Godzilla and way too much time spent with uninteresting humans, but that’s often the case in Godzilla films. This is a fun if nonsensical ride for geek fans, and an overly kinetic mess for anyone else.

 

#4 – Godzilla 2000 (1999)

Godzilla returns after a brief hiatus, in a film that offers nothing new, but does all the old stuff a little better. The effects are snazzier, the acting is less amateurish, the child is less annoying, the buildings and military vehicles are far more realistic, the monster fights are cooler, and the story…well, the story isn’t any stupider.  As a meaningless, fun Godzilla movie, this is one of the best.

 

#3 – Godzilla (1998)

Here I’ll run into trouble. This American reboot gets way more hate than it deserves, mostly for the dumb-ass reason that “That’s not my Godzilla,” a phrase I wouldn’t take seriously from a four-year-old. You know the Japanese Godzilla was once a huge collection of vengeful WWII ghosts. Is that your Godzilla? If you can’t get over the name, just call it something else. This is a fun, light monster romp, It’s not great art, but there aren’t many giant monster movies that are, and only one on this list. It’s well-made FX dinosaurs in New York. Relax and enjoy it.

 

#2 – Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964)

This is how you make a fun, family, adventure film. The humans don’t get in the way, Godzilla is still a monster and not a friend, and Mothra is a god. There’s a message, there’s combat, and it joyful. If you want the best of diakaiju without being deeply serious, this is your place.

 

#1 – Gojira (1954)

And here is were we switch from “fun” films, to genuinely brilliant filmmaking. Great acting, great score, and a powerful theme. Forget every war movie, drama, or documentary you’ve ever seen connected to the atomic bomb. Want to know what it is like having one dropped on your country? Watch this. It’s so good that the butchered American version is still a decent film and would come in 3rd on this list.

May 222019
 
2.5 reels

Giant monsters rose up all over Earth, with the final one being Godzilla, and destroyed human civilization. Two alien races arrived at the last minute to help—the highly religious Exif and the engineering-obsessed Bilusaludo—but they failed. A single spaceship escaped, with a mixed crew, looking for a new world. Twenty years later, with things looking bleak on the ship, the overly emotional and disgraced Haruo throws a tantrum, and follows that up with a plan to defeat Godzilla. As the crew can’t find a new planet, they decide to return to Earth, where 20,000 years will have passed. After arriving, they find Earth has changed wildly, and worse, Godzilla is still alive. A team, including Haruo and other humans, along with a few of each of the aliens, lands with the intension of killing Godzilla. One plan leads to the next, which leads to the next as the continuously unpleasant Haruo and company attempt to survive and destroy Godzilla. While the human’s plans are overly clear, that’s not the case for the Houtua (naturalistic descendants of humanity that live in caves and worship an egg), who have a different way of looking at things, nor for either the the Exif or the Bilusaludo, both of whom have secrets.

This is a rough one. The story, once you put it all together, is excellent. The theme is strong, the viewpoint interesting, and I suspect it will stick with me for some time. But man, is it a slog to get there. You pay for every worthwhile moment and concept with annoyance and boredom and stupidity. I can’t tell if this is brilliance as told by a clod or idiocy sculpted by a genius, though the first seems more likely. I prefer films to give without taking. This one makes you earn it.

May 222019
 
2.5 reels

Giant monsters rose up all over Earth, with the final one being Godzilla, and destroyed human civilization. Two alien races arrived at the last minute to help—the highly religious Exif and the engineering-obsessed Bilusaludo—but they failed. A single spaceship escaped, with a mixed crew, looking for a new world. Twenty years later, with things looking bleak on the ship, the overly emotional and disgraced Haruo throws a tantrum, and follows that up with a plan to defeat Godzilla. As the crew can’t find a new planet, they decide to return to Earth, where 20,000 years will have passed. After arriving, they find Earth has changed wildly, and worse, Godzilla is still alive. A team, including Haruo and other humans, along with a few of each of the aliens, lands with the intension of killing Godzilla. One plan leads to the next, which leads to the next as the continuously unpleasant Haruo and company attempt to survive and destroy Godzilla. While the human’s plans are overly clear, that’s not the case for the Houtua (naturalistic descendants of humanity that live in caves and worship an egg), who have a different way of looking at things, nor for either the the Exif or the Bilusaludo, both of whom have secrets.

This is a rough one. The story, once you put it all together, is excellent. The theme is strong, the viewpoint interesting, and I suspect it will stick with me for some time. But man, is it a slog to get there. You pay for every worthwhile moment and concept with annoyance and boredom and stupidity. I can’t tell if this is brilliance as told by a clod or idiocy sculpted by a genius, though the first seems more likely. I prefer films to give without taking. This one makes you earn it.

May 222019
 
2.5 reels

Giant monsters rose up all over Earth, with the final one being Godzilla, and destroyed human civilization. Two alien races arrived at the last minute to help—the highly religious Exif and the engineering-obsessed Bilusaludo—but they failed. A single spaceship escaped, with a mixed crew, looking for a new world. Twenty years later, with things looking bleak on the ship, the overly emotional and disgraced Haruo throws a tantrum, and follows that up with a plan to defeat Godzilla. As the crew can’t find a new planet, they decide to return to Earth, where 20,000 years will have passed. After arriving, they find Earth has changed wildly, and worse, Godzilla is still alive. A team, including Haruo and other humans, along with a few of each of the aliens, lands with the intension of killing Godzilla. One plan leads to the next, which leads to the next as the continuously unpleasant Haruo and company attempt to survive and destroy Godzilla. While the human’s plans are overly clear, that’s not the case for the Houtua (naturalistic descendants of humanity that live in caves and worship an egg), who have a different way of looking at things, nor for either the the Exif or the Bilusaludo, both of whom have secrets.

This is a rough one. The story, once you put it all together, is excellent. The theme is strong, the viewpoint interesting, and I suspect it will stick with me for some time. But man, is it a slog to get there. You pay for every worthwhile moment and concept with annoyance and boredom and stupidity. I can’t tell if this is brilliance as told by a clod or idiocy sculpted by a genius, though the first seems more likely. I prefer films to give without taking. This one makes you earn it.

So let’s start with the basics. The Trilogy is Japanese anime, made with uneven animation (it’s better with monsters and explosions than with people). The three parts are Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle, and Godzilla: The Planet Eater, and none of those are standalone films. This is one film, and that’s the way to watch it, in a 4½ hour block. Each piece is made to match the others structurally, with an hour (or more) of excessive talking before finally getting to a single blow-out fight. This makes for a plodding viewing experience.

So why all the talking? Well, Toho wanted more females to watch Godzilla films, and they figured that girls don’t like monsters fighting. Instead, girl like lots of emotional talking. They also like deep themes and character development, but mainly emo-ladened exposition. I can’t say I think much of Toho’s R&D department. So, the idea was to make a 3-part Godzilla film with as little Godzilla in it as possible, instead using space opera as the background, but also limiting the science fiction action in favor of demonstrative chatting.

So a majority of the movie(s) is unpleasant or uninteresting humans (and near-humans) talking, or more often, yelling. Most of the characters are both stupid and angry, ranting for little reason. During one monster-action scene, we keep cutting back to a band of humans, who, for ten minutes, between describing exactly what we can see, yell:

What the hell are they?!
That’s impossible!
They’re all unresponsive!
Impossible!
What?
A malfunction?!
It isn’t working here!
What?!
It’s not working!
There’s no response!
What’s going on?!
No, it can’t be!
Are you saying it’s a hallucination?!
It makes no sense!
It’s a contradiction!
Then what’s happening?!
What’s going on?!
Still nothing is showing up on the sensors!
It still shows nothing!
Etc.

It gets very tiring.

And no one is angrier and yells more than Haruo. I imagine Haruo getting up each morning and stabbing his eggs while he screams at them that they don’t understand. Unless you love toddlers kicking and screaming, he is the definition of non-entertaining.

Occasionally the characters do calm down enough to spit out exposition. There’s nothing they like to do more, beyond yelling that other people’s ideas are insane, than describing their plans, and then new plans, and then altered plans. Carrying out those plans? That only fills a few minutes. It’s talking about the plans that takes up time.

Which makes it a miracle that I’m giving this even a slight recommendation. But the story is interesting, eventually. There are rich ideas here that could have made a spectacular film, if an hour of talking had been cut. The world, with Mechagodzilla city and strange life forms is a great foundation. The politics of the ship is tense and compelling (at least in theory). And the Bilusaludo’s plans and Houtua’s actions are all solid material for a movie. But what really elevates it is the cult subplot. Everything dealing with religion works, particularly statements about humanities willingness to embrace and celebrate lies. Once the focus becomes worship, the slow pace even stops being a problem (and Haruo shuts up for minutes at a time, which really helps). It even makes some of the boring sections intriguing, and one character easier to deal with, retroactively.

The Godzilla Anime Trilogy is a movie where it is preferable to already have seen it, then to be watching it. But that means it is worth watching, with the right mindset. If you are a Godzilla fan in search of monster mayhem, you’ll be disappointed (unless you’ve gotten used to little Godzilla in your Godzilla movies). And if you don’t like Godzilla canon mangled, you’re going to be miserable.

I tried both the English dub and in Japanese with subtitles. The Japanese is better, but not significantly so, and I suspect if you are going to watch this, it will be the dubbed version on Netflix.

Apr 302019
 
2.5 reels

Following from the events in Avengers: Infinity War, half of the population of the universe is gone, and the remaining Avengers, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), and James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), as well as Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Rocket (voice: Bradley Cooper), are dealing with the results, and often, not dealing that well. That changes when Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who was thought to be dead, shows up, and offers a possible course of action to undo “the snap” and defeat Thanos. Their quest takes them through a surprising number of past movie clips before reaching a very big battle.

And so the saga of the original Avengers ends with a…  No, not with a whimper. As far from a whimper as is possible. It’s sound and fury, and hopefully we’re all literate enough to know what that signifies and who it is told by. For someone like me, who has loved the MCU—finding it one of the great movie franchises, that time after time rose high in myriad ways—it is disappointing. I wanted great, and I didn’t get it. I wanted character studies and action that followed from those characters and emotions that came naturally from the characters and the situations they were placed in, and I didn’t get any of that.

What I did get was fine acting, huge spectacle, and tons of cool fan-servicey moments. If that’s what you are looking for, than you may be satisfied. But then you might as well watch Aquaman (except for the acting). Infinity War is good…-ish. It should have been more, and in so many ways it is shocking where it fell down.

I’m staying vague in this review so as not to give away spoilers as I don’t recall a film where people were this worried about them. But the joke is, it doesn’t matter. There are no big surprises, no twists, and no shocks. Take the simplest story you could have deduced (after seeing the last few films, and if you haven’t seen those, then skip this one as it’s for fans only), and that’s what you get. The only surprise is how unsurprising it all is. But still, I’ll play nice and be vague.

So, what works? If you know the MCU, you know the answer to that. We’ve got a lot of good characters, performed skillfully, who spout decent dialog that occasionally is quite good. There are a few solid emotional moments and a few good laughs. And then there is the action, which is amazing. You want a magnificent (if confusing and sometimes silly) battle? You’ve got one of the best. And as for those fan service moments, there are a bunch, including one that is as good as anything offered by the MCU up to this point. Specifics would get into spoilers, but there are quite a few engaging or thrilling scenes. The art design is a big drop from past films and it often looks a bit drab, but the film is shot well.

But everything is tugged down by what I’ll call editing. Little of the story is given any build up. Like Infinity War, this is a movie of jumps. “Hey, we need some wild tech.” Next scene it exists. “Hey, we need to find Bob.” Next scene they’re with Bob. “Hey, we need to cross vast distances.” Next scene they have. Endgame doesn’t flow. It’s a collection of scenes stitched together. And often those scenes exist only to be cool, not because they fit. There is a marvelous girl power moment, and it is marvelous and should be in the film. But they didn’t bother filming anything leading up to it. There’s no reason for it to happen and a whole lot of reasons why it shouldn’t, but there it is, stuck in, no doubt, because the Russo brothers decided it would be cool to have the scene, but they lacked the skill to fit it into the story.

And that jerking nature also plays havoc with the wrapping-up of characters’ storylines. We don’t see shifts in those characters. One will simply say “I’m going to do this” and then does it, even if it isn’t something that character would ever have done before. They end up where they end up because the Russos (or Kevin Feige) just decided that’s where they wanted them to be, not because the story led them there. And that problem messes up previous films too. Apparently the character development which was key to multiple MCU films didn’t really happen or the characters just changed when we weren’t looking.

Sounds like some substantial problems, but there are so many more. The Avengers make odd or downright stupid choices (keeping it vague, they should have gone to pick up some relatively easily attainable supplies before setting off on their main quest; also, not bothering to wait for a few other characters is simply insane and pointless). And the way they break up into teams is just bizarre (Ok, minor, minor spoiler: wouldn’t you think you’d put one of the people who knows how to fly a spaceship with the spaceship?). Sure, these characters have made stupid decisions before, but never has the gears of the franchise been so visible behind those decisions. It took over a decade, but the mega-corporation that has been behind these films is now front and center.

We also have the power-level problem that was so prevalent in Infinity War. Everyone’s strength changes moment to moment. Sometimes a punch or stab or ray does nothing and sometimes it is devastating. Is it bad to be shot? Sometimes. Sometimes it’s no big deal, and there’s no way to tell during the battle which attacks are actually dangerous.

Then there’s the tonal shifts (for the first time in an MCU movie, some of the humor feels out of place) and awkward pauses (the writers don’t have Joss Whedon’s skill at integrating important moments into exciting ones, so instead the film grinds to a halt whenever someone has something “deep” to express). And since this is a sequel, it has the often seen sequel problem: Things that were difficult or nearly impossible before are now easy. That gets into spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that.

Even with all those flaws I can’t say to skip it. The whole may be weak, but some of the parts are excellent. So for the thrilling moments, and the humorous moments, and the emotional moments, I recommend it. Those moments aren’t as thrilling or as emotional as they should have been (and easily could have been) with proper context, but they are still exciting. And if you’re going to see it, you really want to see it on the big screen where that giant battle shines.

But as the ending of the three phases of the MCU, I wish the two part film of Infinity War/Endgame hadn’t been made. These characters deserved better.

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