Friday, April 18, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #16: THE RETURN OF GODZILLA (1984)/GODZILLA 1985 (1985)

Welcome to KAIJU KAVALCADE, wherein the effervescent Travis Kirkland and myself will be revisiting every single Kaiju Klassik by Toho Studios starring Godzilla, most famous of all giant monsters, in the run-up to the release of Gareth Edwards’ upcoming new take on the big G-dude! Your humble servant is but a novice in all things giant monsters, whereas Travis has been a fan all of his life. This is reflected in our respective titles for the series: if you follow it on Travis’ blog Proton Media, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

TRAVIS:

A pattern to sense with Toho is how they use milestone years as opportunities to put some extra muscle behind their films. With the King of the Monsters dormant for almost a decade and his 30th anniversary coming along in 1984, they knew it was time for THE RETURN OF GODZILLA! Longtime producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was at the helm again, this time with Koji Hashimoto (a veteran assistant director from the Showa era) taking on the directing duties. But how do you bring G into a modern, more cynical box office age? By doing a clean reboot of course! Ignoring most of the silly Showa stuff, RETURN restarts the timeline as a direct sequel to the original GOJIRA. Many of the story beats feel similar to the 1954 film too: a ship disaster signals the emergence of Godzilla, nuclear panic sweeps Japan and the world, G makes his stompy way into Tokyo and is finally defeated by EXPERIMENTAL SCIENCE!

Also continuing from GOJIRA is its dark, somber tone. No more fun victory dances or drop kicks! The threat of Godzilla is treated as an actual threat of world-ending possibilities. We see soldiers and citizens run for their lives or die in the destructive path of the monster. America and the Soviet Union squabble over using nuclear weapons to destroy him, while Japan solemnly refuses such warfare after enduring the scars of the past. Even though we haven’t seen Gareth Edwards’ GODZILLA, I imagine we’ll be seeing a similar movie to what RETURN was trying to accomplish.

One of the main goals of RETURN is to make Godzilla more animalistic and less anthropomorphic. He’s not here to save the world (yet…) but is a force of nature made wrathful and lethal by the arrogance of man. His design is also refreshed to look more menacing. Of particular note are his set of sharp, almost vampiric teeth and his upper lip that can animate into a snarl. He’s wall-eyed too, so as not to give a sense of trying to read his thoughts or actions. Gotta admit though, while I appreciate that effort, it kinda gives him DERP face in many shots. His height gets changed up as well, bumping him from 50 meters to 80 meters. He grew larger for the times, yet Tokyo had grown faster in the intervening years as even the mighty King of the Monsters was now actually dwarfed by the imposing skyscrapers that the fast growing Japanese had constructed. We’re certainly in a new age of kaiju, Luca. How does it feel?

LUCA:

Isn't it strange how, from a certain period onward, movies feel more "real" to you as a viewer? The aesthetic of movies from the mid-80s on is that of the ones made during my lifetime, so there's a more immediate, visceral connection to the material. So too with THE RETURN OF GODZILLA -- I was instantly captivated by the more “modern” sounding score by Reijiro Koroku and Kazutami Hara’s cinematography. This is also the first movie in quite a while where you really get a sense of Godzilla as a huge monster. His first (partial) appearance in the aforementioned ship disaster is from the POV of a poor sailor who later describes G as “an island that rose up from the sea”. Furthermore, I also liked that G’s presence is shown to have political ramifications. Both Russia and the US are very eager to nuke Godzilla off the face of the Earth and, in the early goings before Japan has made it public that Godzilla has returned, even threaten to escalate the Cold War into a hot one after Zilla destroys a Russian nuclear sub. Poor, long-suffering Japan – the initial secrecy was to avoid mass panic and a stock market crash, but the prime minister decides to make Godzilla’s reappearance public to stop a nuclear war from happening. Noble Japan, ever taking one for the team!

Were there actually two suits made for this movie, Travis? I think G looks decidedly different in some shots (for instance when the Super X is bombarding him on the plaza near the end), though always wall-eyed and derpy. I enjoyed the movie’s change of tone, but I have to say the quality of the actual monsters did not catch up with it. In the days after STAR WARS, THE THING, or even Dino de Laurentiis’ KING KONG, you’d think Toho’s creature people would deliver something on par with those movies. It completely took me out of the movie (after a mere five minutes or so) to see our hero grapple with a monstrous mutated sea louse that had very little articulation going on and indeed seemed to just be thrown onto the actor for him to struggle with. Conversely, G himself looks completely out of place in this more naturalistic looking movie with his shiny, expressionless plastic eyes. If inscrutable is what they were going for, “fake” is unfortunately what came out. Contrasted with the dreamy playtime vibe of the Showa era, the Heisei era is off to a shaky start with a more sophisticated narrative but without the technological advancements to reflect this. It’s a shame too, because Koji does really well in selling Godzilla’s scale and his impact on the environment.

Oh, and, like Godzilla, the continuity whore in me isn’t dead yet! So this is a direct sequel to GOJIRA, huh? How the hell did he grow the meat back on his bones after Serizawa’s Oxygen Destroyer turned him into a huge skeleton at the bottom of Tokyo Bay? There’s no mention of this being another Zilla than the one from 1954. There is, in fact, some pondering on the notion that G might be indestructible (which a scientist refutes by saying he’s “just an animal”). You’d think that a weapon that put him down for thirty years might be attempted to be studied for flaws or something. I’m aware that Serizawa destroyed all his notes at the end of the original movie and it seemingly didn’t work anyway, but not even a mention? “Godzilla attacked Japan thirty years ago and we made him go away somehow but now he’s back and he’s after all of our precious nuclear reactors but we’re pretty sure he can be destroyed.” Okay mang! Zilla feeding off of nuclear reactors was also a cool new wrinkle I enjoyed, actually. All the more frustrating that so much thought went into this new iteration of Godzilla, only to have his resurgence be so casually glossed over. How did the Heisei era start off for you, Travis? Was there less nostalgic attachment to this one?

TRAVIS:

The primary Godzilla-watching years of my youth were spent with the Showa stuff, and it was only later as a teenager that I discovered the Heisei movies. RETURN was the only entry of that era to be released in theaters (retitled and repackaged as GODZILLA 1985) while the rest were sent directly to video with very limited TV airings, so finding out about these new ‘Zilla flicks for me was almost like uncovering another book in the Bible! While the Heisei films may not hold as much nostalgia, it’s still an entertaining portion of the series and was part of how I started to research Godzilla (and Japanese cinema) beyond what I was given. Perhaps that fondness makes me not nitpicky with the continuity inconsistencies between GOJIRA and RETURN. By now I was used to such disparities. It’s also that fondness that allows me to not mind the low tech Man in Suit among the high tech backdrops and miniatures. Does it especially seem unrealistic in such modern times? Probably, but to me, I can always enjoy the reality of the situation despite the realism of the visuals. I think this mindset is important when enjoying and dissecting Godzilla. No doubt it’s fake, yet it’s not hard for me to find the fantasy to be naturalistic.

BUT HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS MOVIE, TRAVIS??? It’s a nice, little restart! Without another monster foe, we’re back to the “people vs. Godzilla” motif you mentioned in our GOJIRA review, Luca. I’ll admit that the characters aren’t terribly interesting, but I did enjoy the vagrant ransacking the restaurant of fine food and then shooing away G like he was a hungry dog! The perspective of Godzilla as a worldwide threat is handled very well. The tension of the Japanese prime minister and his cabinet deliberating each decision feels like one of those war movies where most of the action takes place in control rooms. I also thought it was pretty funny how the filmmakers try to “mature up” the franchise with the horror movie opening of dead bodies and scary music. They aren’t fucking around with no JET JAGAHHHHH nonsense.

Speaking of fucking around, as an echo of GOJIRA morphing into GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS thirty years ago, New World Pictures acquired RETURN and released their own version of the beast a year later as GODZILLA 1985. As an homage to KING, Raymond Burr returns in new, US-only scenes as retired news reporter Steve Martin (referred to only as “Mr. Martin” to avoid confusion with the popular comedian/WILD AND CRAZAH GUY). And much like in KING, Burr is a spectator, never truly involved in the actions or decisions that impact the plot. He remains at the Pentagon to deliver eloquent monologues and musings on Godzilla and keep American viewers interested so they don’t have to only watch those odd Asians. Apparently, New World wanted to cut up and redub RETURN as a silly riff-raff spoof à la WHAT’S UP, TIGER LILLY, but Burr insisted that they need to preserve the seriousness of the film’s nuclear message. Props to him for still having affinity for a funny little monster flick he did decades ago! However, there’s a specific scene edit that the studio implemented that is rather politically controversial considering how heavy the Cold War hung during this time. How did you feel about the treatment of the Soviets in G’85, Luca?

LUCA:

It's funny how just by adding scenes with the Americans and giving the Americans jokes (even bad ones), the less-represented Russians feel more like villains. Hell, some dialogue tweaks in the US version made it look like those sneaky Russkies were just CHOMPIN AT THU BIT to get their nuclear rocks off with a hidden tanker in Tokyo Bay. BLACK EAGLE flashbacks in this one! I much preferred the RETURN version wherein the Americans looked just as threatening and bull-headed as the Russians, an interesting POV for a film from that period to a guy like me who was brought up on your ROCKY IVs. Let me talk about those American scenes for a second here! Boy howdy, they really didn’t try, huh? Whereas in GOJIRA they attempted to have Burr’s character interact with original characters like Emiko and Serizawa by making use of awkward cutting and blocking, G85 just has Steve summoned to the Pentagon where they sort of talk over the scenes of RETURN as they observe them on a viewscreen.

Besides the vilification of the Russians, the added American scenes in G85 could conceivably work as an alternate POV of the events of RETURN, just like KING OF THE MONSTERS and GOJIRA, but the added distance and Steve’s even greater uselessness to the proceedings make it feel like a far bigger hatchet job than KING. The generally lower quality of voice acting in the overdubbing of the Japanese actors certainly doesn’t help. Learning that they originally wanted to make it a silly comedy doesn’t surprise me one bit. Kudos to Raymond Burr for having the artistic integrity to preserve the original film’s environmental and pacifist themes. Couldn’t have been easy in a movie that features more Dr. Pepper product placement than THOR! I had a hearty laugh at the colonel popping a refreshing Dr. Pepper after G’s initial apparent defeat, only to be chastised by a stern-looking Burr. What a microcosm of that production! It’s even funnier that the colonel thought he’d really earned that cool yet energizing refreshment because he was such a diligent screen-watcher.

The Heisei era is off to a middling start, in my opinion. I liked the integration of the Cold War environment, the attempts to really put people in harm’s way (like our heroes stuck in a building with Godzilla rampaging around them) in the kaiju destruction scenes and the overall successful feeling of weight and size the Godzilla scenes have. Not too fond of the sub par puppetry in a film otherwise reaching for a greater degree of realism, some of the blander human protagonists so far, and the script ALREADY futzing with continuity even though they’ve freed themselves up to only follow the original. Perhaps adding another monster to the mix will spice things up? Join us again next week for GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #15: TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975)

Welcome to KAIJU KAVALCADE, wherein the effervescent Travis Kirkland and myself will be revisiting every single Kaiju Klassik by Toho Studios starring Godzilla, most famous of all giant monsters, in the run-up to the release of Gareth Edwards’ upcoming new take on the big G-dude! Your humble servant is but a novice in all things giant monsters, whereas Travis has been a fan all of his life. This is reflected in our respective titles for the series: if you follow it on Travis’ blog Proton Media, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

LUCA:

And so we come to it... the great battle of our age. Our age being Godzilla's Showa Era, and the great battle being that of Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla and Titanosaurus! In a striking move, TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA picks up right where GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA left off. This threw me for a loop, since, according to Toho protocol, we should be on a moon base where Anguirus got a job chewing on boulders with his extra strong jaw. But nope! An expedition of marine biologists are scouring Okinawa Bay in their submarine, looking for the space titanium remnants of MG. Disaster strikes as they are attacked by a marine dinosaur called TITANOSAURUS whose existence (and possibility for mind control) was suggested thirty years ago by Dr. Mafune. SCIENCE BROS Ichinose and Murakoshi are dispatched to find this man who has since disappeared. His mysterious daughter must disappoint them, however. Her father is dead, and she inhabits this mysterious mansion by her mysterious self. Suspicious? Indeed! It turns out that her father isn't dead AT ALL and is instead living in a secret lab under the mansion where he has perfected his Titanosaurus mind-controlling machine. Not only that, but he is evilly cackling and drinking wine with the dastardly APE MEN FROM THE THIRD PLANET OF THE BLACK HOLE DIMENSION!!!! That traitor! Their plan is to tire Godzilla out with a mind-controlled Titanosaurus so that a now-rebuilt MechaGodzilla may finish off the job.

It's interesting that it actually took Toho 15 movies and 21 years (!) before they touched upon the mad scientist trope. And who else to play him but Akihiko Hirata, who's been with us since GOJIRA as the (noble) scientist Serizawa whose Oxygen Destroyer killed the original beast? Hilariously, Hirata (a handsome middle-aged man in the previous film, released only a year before this one) is made to wear a big bushy wig, eyebrows and a moustache to play Professor Mafune. And what a treat the professor is! He cackles at least three times within the span of the first five minutes of his appearance. He has to be WRESTLED TO THE FLOOR in the flashback where he is told his Titanosaurus theories are bonkers. The tragic background regarding him and his daughter Katsura is a hilarious reveal of callousness not seen since Thomas Haden Church stumbled into a sand experiment and was brushed of with "eh probably just a bird nuke the sand already". And Mugal, leader of the ape men, is no slouch either! Favoring the B-Action movie shades where his predecessor enjoyed a nice stogey to chew on, he wallows in his superiority towards humanity and his own martial prowess ("Hahaha, do you think your bullets can stop MUGAL????").

All this, and I haven't even talked about the monsters yet! I like Titanosaurus' design, even though he must have been pretty OLD N BUSTED to the youngsters who wanted crazy mofos like Megalon and Gigan. He's just a throwback aquatic dinosaur (with hurricane-causing tail-flippers, granted)! You almost feel kinda bad for the guy, as he's repeatedly described as "gentle" were he not mind-controlled. You can also tell Ishiro Honda is back, cuz he actually manages to imbue Titanosaurus with some gravitas, something Fukuda was never much interested in. MechaGodzilla is superbly acted again, often simply standing perfectly still when not engaged in any attacks. It actually manages to make him look sorta creepy! And oh man, best Godzilla intro EVER? Takes 48 minutes for the big guy to pop up, but the silhouette of his head slowly rising in the distance from behind a skyscraper as Titanosaurus lays waste to Tokyo, followed by the signature blue flame entering the screen from the left, knocking Big T down... amazing. The whip pan back to the silhouette, a flash illuminating ole G, Ifukube's theme BURSTING out of my speakers... god-DAYUM! So uh... Travis, what did you think?

TRAVIS:

There’s a welcome feeling of old masters Honda and Ifukube returning to close out the Showa era. We’ve sung the praises of Jun Fukuda and Masaru Sato, but after all the groovy wackiness of the previous entries, it’s a nice homecoming to see TERROR handled with Honda’s traditionalist techniques. What I noticed most from his return are the widescreen establishing shots of mountains and forests, something him and friend/filmmaker colleague Akira Kurosawa seemed fond of. If one was to be more romantic about it, perhaps this kinship with nature reflected Honda’s gentle spirit. Indeed, it’s been written by Japanese cinema writers that if he didn’t pursue movies, he might’ve enjoyed a quiet life as a fisherman. I could go into more rhetoric and theorize that this was the inspiration for Titanosaurus, but I’ll back off the pedal. Going back to those wide shots, it’s very welcome to hear those scenes accompanied by Ifukube’s distant horns. Even though we’re watching rubber monsters, his music was key in delivering the majesty and power Godzilla and the kaiju possessed. Other composers could make it fun, but Ifukube made them human.

Titanosaurus is quite an active one! Much as GODZILLA VS. MEGALON felt like a disguise for The Jet Jaguar Show, the finned, aquatic dino is the true centerpiece of this film. He receives the most screen time compared to G and MechaG, and most of the plot is devoted to the humans and aliens and cyborg girl scrambling around to deal with him. This honestly is TERROR OF TITANOSAURUS instead of MECHAGODZILLA. Favorite moment: TitanO biting down and flipping G up in the air by the mouth. Tumblr, start shipping Titanozilla immediately! I’ll admit that delaying G so far into the movie probably hindered my enjoyment, but oh man that badass introduction! Almost worth it for that. I’ll also say that while all the kooky scientist and space ape business was fun, the characters felt too blank for me to engage. I don’t think anyone shed tears over Ichinose and Katsura’s doomed romance. Compared to the previous MECHAGODZILLA entry, it feels like a step down despite the assuring hands of Honda.

To put TERROR in historical context, though this would be the final Showa movie, it was never meant to be a finale sendoff as DESTROY ALL MONSTERS was designed to be. At long last, diminishing box office finally sent the King of the Monsters back into the depths to await a viable return for years. Maybe this phase of the series ran its proper course. After all, what could be a bigger foe for Godzilla than another Godzilla? What could be more imposing? An alien Godzilla? (Hmm……..) The Heisei era is just ahead, Luca, but before we depart Monsterland in a helicopter as we wave goodbye to our kaiju friends, do you have any final thoughts on TERROR, the Showa era, or how far you’ve come as a Godzilla watcher?

LUCA:

The one-two punch of GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA and TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA feels like a decent send-off for the Showa era. Not just because I enjoyed both of them, but also because it made such a nice diptych of the two disparate styles that had been dominating the Godzilla series for its twenty-one-year existence (give or take a GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN and HEDORAH, two films I quite enjoyed). Let's go out with one funky-ass Fukuda Zilla and one dramatic, epic Honda Zilla. Where Fukuda seemingly tried his hardest not to have gravitas in any of his movies for even a second, Honda does his best to make the monsters feel big and weighty. Just contrast Godzilla's entrance here to, say, the researcher descending into the stalactite-filled cave in MECHAGODZILLA. A real location and everything, but Fukuda refuses to go beyond medium shots to give us a sense of scale and awe, instead opting for a couple POV walking shots of the ceiling in close-up. Honda would have thrown in some matte painting enhanced establishing shots (had the budget allowed, of course, which wasn't always the case).

Hilariously inappropriate shit VOLUME 2: after MEGALON's Playmate continuity gaffe, TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA goes all in on being weird about boobies. At one point, the cyborg girl needs repairs and we see the alien doctors fixing the wires in her belly in a pretty standard operating setup. The robot torso is obviously rubber, with the actress' face sticking out from under a sheet. But... why did they have to make rubber boobies? They could have just... covered more of the body under that silver sheet? It seems cheaper too! "Whoops, Honda-san, I cut too big a rectangle in this silver tarp!" "Baka!! Have props whip up some boobs!" This freewheeling spirit, to me, is as much a symptom of the Showa era's "just do whatever" attitude as much as the several different pop songs we've heard in full throughout the movies.

I'll miss superhero Godzilla, as those little humanizing touches were always very charming to me. The random insertion of those two kids in TERROR where G saves them from being stepped on by Titanosaurus was a great reminder of that. "Help us Godzilla!!!" *Godzilla rushes to the rescue in SECONDS!* Shit, even Godzilla's absence for the first 50 or so minutes contributed to it. Someone just reads off a radar that Godzilla is coming. It's like "Shit, monster trouble, lemme just get my ass in gear I guess!" If anything, I feel like an asshole for being frustrated about "continuity gaffes" for so long. I learned to appreciate the Showa era as basically one long wrestling match for kids, with returning faces (Godzilla, Mothra), heels (King Ghidorah, MechaGodzilla) and jobbers (Anguirus). It's just that, well, this Summer Slam was introduced by a stark black and white monster movie laden with social commentary! What are your feelings at the end of the Showa era, Travis? A pleasant stroll down memory lane, or some HARSH TRUTHS unearthed?

TRAVIS:

It’s easy to mention the disparity between the harbinger of radioactive annihilation in GOJIRA to the drop-kicking superhero in GODZILLA VS. MEGALON, yet throughout the Showa era, important issues of the quickly evolving Japan remained present. Environmentalism, corporate greed, nationalism, space exploration, and even bullying were topics that the filmmakers were concerned enough about to include in their simple monster movies. Even the shadow of nuclear warfare never truly dissipated. Groovy teens and G united to stop terrorists from building weapons in EBIRAH, and the kid-friendly MEGALON mentions how H-bomb testing has affected Seatopia. Like many icons, Godzilla carried the weight of tragedy but stomped around care-free in the world of pop.

Before we bow out, let’s give another mention to the directors who gave us a variety of Godzillas to enjoy. Honda will always be rightfully recognized as the definitive filmmaker as he understood how to give kaiju a sense of gravitas and pathos. Without the fun romps of Fukuda though, the franchise might’ve fizzled out early from being too staid, and that silliness remains one of the prominent features of G’s legacy. Motoyoshi Oda’s GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN might seem workman-like coming after GOJIRA, yet it’s still an entertaining entry imbued with the spirit of Japan rebuilding after the war. And what else can be said about Yoshimitsu Banno’s crazy GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH? It’s not an easy task to make the most bizarre G film ever after enduring twin fairies, alien slugs, and Minilla!

Personally, it’s been wonderful to revisit the classics of my youth. The Showa era was the Silver Age for Godzilla, and these films will always be the ultimate way for me to remember and enjoy my monster friends. Now as an adult, it was fascinating to watch the Toho team shape the series alongside the growing Japan. Just like the ever-bustling country, the G flicks ambitiously barreled forward with results ranging from interesting to strange, ceaselessly entertaining no matter what. I don’t think that’s my nostalgia talking either! The concept of “a kaiju fights and destroys things” can be stretched very thin, yet over fifteen entries, it’s never felt dull. It’s probably why some of my warmest movie memories will always remain on Monster Island.

Godzilla finally laid dormant. However, 1984 soon came around, and for his 30th anniversary, Toho revived the monster into a new age of cinema. A year later, both his silver screen resurrection from Japan and a particular, newborn baby from South Korea landed in America. Was it already written in the stars that this boy fresh to the world and the US would have a fate intertwined with the King of the Monsters? We’ll explore this and more with THE RETURN OF GODZILLA!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Derp Blog Into Darkness #28: WILD HOGS (2007)

In Derp Blog Into Darkness, I take a plunge into the deep with movies I’ve never seen or (in some cases) never even heard of, with the only common thread throughout being that they were purchased by my partner in the years after the break with her religious upbringing. This gives me a wide variation in movies to explore, ranging from mainstream comfort food to more daring, “rebellious” stuff.

It’s been a while since I did a Derp Blog Into Darkness, what with Kaiju Kavalcade taking up so much of my blog time. My hand was forced, however, when last week Dissolve writer Nathan Rabin announced that the next entry in his delightful Forgotbusters column would be WILD HOGS. The intent of Derp Blog Into Darkness is for me to jump into movies I’ve never seen as blindly as possible, and having read a Forgotbusters on the movie would no doubt cloud my perceptions of it. So without further ado:

I always try to find out a few personal details surrounding the movie I’m Derp Blogging about: Was this a movie purchased for nostalgic reasons? Comfort food? A blind buy? Didn’t need to do it this time though, as my lovely fiancée was quick to point out sans prompting: “Why did I buy this movie? I only watched it the once. God…”

WILD HOGS makes many mistakes, but the principal one is giving us introductions to all four of our rambunctious porcines, complete with name title card and everything. Problem is, they’re all super well-off guys whose problems are pretty luxurious ones. Martin Lawrence took a year off to write a How To book but hasn’t managed to finish it. His horrible shrew of a wife dares to suggest he take his old plumber job back up. His daughter also looks like “an eskimo hooker” for wearing uggs and a skirt. She replies with “I’m supposed to!” which is either really weird or really cartoonishly conservative of the writer. Anyway, it made me go “Ha!” which, all things considered, is not a bad outcome for any given scene featured in the film WILD HOGS. John Travolta’s business is going south and his supermodel (implied gold digger) wife left him. We can all relate! Hilariously, Travolta’s business is vague enough that he’s a Vague Movie Big Shot guy who sits behind a desk in a tall building so you get the feeling that WILD HOGS is maybe an expensive AU fanfic of THE PUNISHER? Tim Allen’s problem is that he has to eat salads cuz of his high cholesterol. His skinny supermodel wife and cherubic movie son hilariously eat steaks with loads of gravy in front of his face all the time. Allen’s dentist job is also pretty boring. Man, I feel ya. I’ve said “hilariously” twice now but neither instance is a thing the movie finds hilarious. Ready for a third one? William H. Macy is a software developer who has trouble connecting with women because of his social awkwardness. He tries to impress a random lady in a coffeeshop with his new voice command program, but a glitch causes the program to search for “alternative sex”. I don’t know if the movie is trying to tell me that Macy is a guy with really bad ideas, or if this is its idea of the internet, but the program loudly states NOW SEARCHING FOR ALTERNATIVE SEX and brings up a bunch of pop up windows of fake porn sites who also immediately start playing sound files. The two I could make out were Sexy Grannies (“Granny is going to spank you!”) and Barnyard Love (“Moo! Moo!”). The “"Barnyard Love” pop-up window I found especially hilarious (see!) because as far as I know bestiality is illegal, and WILD HOGS suggests that a simple search for a keyword even vaguely related to it (Macy searched for “alternative sex”, not “animal sex” or anything) will bring up a page with a Playmate looking lady in farm girl clothes standing in front of a cartoon barn while farm animal .wav files start playing. Also lol old people fucking is in the same category as fucking animals.

Continuing down that lane, there’s also a gay panic running gag as John C. McGinley’s nameless gay highway patrolman character is inexplicably attracted to these saggy middle-aged dudes. Rather painfully, McGinley is actually pretty funny in a role that boils down to “get away from me mr gay man!!!”. He’s weird and enthusiastic and eager to take his clothes off. Doubly funny is Travolta’s character being super grossed out by male nudity. Speaking of weird, enthusiastic and gay, Macy’s character is the only one of the main guys who’s actually somewhat sympathetic because he’s so clueless and positive all the time. He’s also the one stuck with the Jar Jar Binks level “falling off of stuff” jokes. Mannn, you were in FARGO and MAGNOLIA, Macy! I add gay to that list of descriptors even though Macy’s character isn’t really supposed to be, but he does bear more than a little bit of Tobias Fünke DNA. AND IN FACT…

According to IMDb, WILD HOGS is not a written-by-committee movie. Only one writer, Brad Copeland, is credited, and he has six Arrested Development (!) episodes to his name. I suppose actors aren’t the only ones who can slum it, but this is really egregious. Gay jokes, slut jokes, Asian jokes. I laughed a couple times, I’ll admit, but two or three laughs in a 90 minute movie that fires them off at your average sitcom tempo ain’t exactly stellar.

The plot, what little there is of it, ends up being about the Wild Hogs being a small town’s unlikely saviors against the villainous Del Fuego motorcycle gang (featuring Ray Liotta, Kevin Durand and M.C. Gainey). A sort of unlikely MAGNIFICENT SEVEN type thing, like in A BUG’S LIFE, I suppose. The terrorized town is however not introduced until about an hour into the proceedings, and it’s a 90 minute movie. WILD HOGS is a movie that trades in the broadest of stereotypes for jokes and expects us to sympathize with rich dudes who are either bored or are upset at problems most of us would be pretty jealous of to have in our lives. If they’d skipped the whole first act with us getting to know these poor beleaguered, pampered rich men and centered more on the town, making its inhabitants a bunch of comedy misfits placing their hopes on boring suburbanites, a lot might have been salvaged. By focusing on the troubled lots of the Wild Hogs themselves, the movie starts off on the wrong foot and hops away to the valley of lost jokes to be beaten up by a tiny Asian man it thought it could take but turns out he could do kung fu.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla (1974)

Welcome to KAIJU KAVALCADE, wherein the effervescent Travis Kirkland and myself will be revisiting every single Kaiju Klassik by Toho Studios starring Godzilla, most famous of all giant monsters, in the run-up to the release of Gareth Edwards’ upcoming new take on the big G-dude! Your humble servant is but a novice in all things giant monsters, whereas Travis has been a fan all of his life. This is reflected in our respective titles for the series: if you follow it on Travis’ blog Proton Media, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

TRAVIS:

Godzilla as a superhero was prominent in the Showa era, yet a few comic book clichés eluded him for quite a while. Despite all his various foes, he had never punched a robot, neither did he encounter an evil version of himself. For G’s 20th anniversary though, Toho decided to take care of both problems, and as Superman fought Bizarro Superman, it was natural that we’d witness GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA. And wouldn’t you know it, another race of pesky aliens wants to conquer Earth using a big monster. This time around, Black Hole Planet 3 Aliens (basically ape-men in human disguise) have constructed a spiffed-up, metal version of the King of the Monsters to rain down havoc. This seems bad enough, but strange natural occurrences foretold in an ancient Azumi prophecy are suddenly appearing and heralding the apocalypse brought by Robozilla. Luckily for us, the prophecy also states that two defenders will win the day, so it’s up to a lightning-charged Godzilla and Japanese lion-dog spirit King Caesar to punch the evil robot a lot of times.

The last few G films suffered from cost cutting and tight budgets, but Toho pumped in some big bucks for the 20th anniversary. Models of cities (originally scaled back for the sake of production costs) return to be smashed. In fact one of my favorite moments is when Mechagodzilla (concealed under fake Godzilla skin) comes upon a building and gives it whooping PUNCH just because he’s a bastard. The brilliant red blood spurts also come back in giallo-like gushes, with poor Anguirus receiving the worst of it by getting a painful jaw cracking from MG. Most notable in the bigger budget is EXPLOSIONS! Boy, Toho went pyro happy and were happy to set anything aflame. Buildings blow up, secret lairs blow up, mountain tops blow up, monsters blow up… it’s not Save the Earth this time, it’s Scorch the Earth.

Luca does a better job explaining these type of things than me, so lemmie set the beat before I pass him the mic. This is quite a funky G film! Masuru Sato returns to score GvsMG, and it’s one of my favorites. His work on SON OF GODZILLA and EBIRAH was definitely more modern than the traditional Akira Ifukube music, and here he’s at his psychedelic best. The score compliments the groovy, grindhouse-like atmosphere this film has, but as I said, I’ll let Luca go on about these details. Do you think Tarantino has this movie in his library?

LUCA:

Oh my god Travis, I've been saying this ever since Fukuda and Sato jumped into this series with EBIRAH but it would not surprise me AT ALL to see some Sato music pop up in any upcoming Tarantino movies. In fact, I'm shocked we haven't had some already! Ukeleles and funky git-tars and swingin' percussion and big band -- quite a turnaround from how big G was introduced to us in 1954 with Akira Ifukube's relentless, doom-laden march! Sato's music is, of course, a perfect match for the comic book insanity of the High Showa era, all swaggering brass announcing that it's time to rummmmmble (but not to take it too seriously please). I actually wondered with this film, Travis, could the Godzilla movies have reached a place of intentional camp here? They've been aimed at children for quite a while now, obviously, but Sato's funky, light-hearted music coupled with scenes of somewhat shocking violence (the aforementioned Anguirus jaw-snap, Godzilla at the end being absolutely DRENCHED in his own blood) made me think that there was a sort of meanness, almost spite to the proceedings. Was Fukuda tired of this series? He'd been spending quite a bit of his life on it by that point, after all!

The higher budget did not go unnoticed by me! I very much appreciated it. Not only did they have two new monsters, they even made two suits for MechaGodzilla! I had no idea about this "disguise" aspect of MG, which was a pleasant surprise. Much like the title GHIDORAH not telling you that it's actually a team-up between Godzilla, Mothra and Rodan to stop the titular space dragon, GvMG doesn't tell you that MG originally starts off all Terminator-like wearing a Godzilla suit, nor that there's quite an important subplot about the magical dog-lion guardian of Okinawa King Shiiiiisaaaaa... Shiiiiiisaaaaaaa... SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIISAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!! As you may have noticed, I am always delighted when a new monster must be summoned in song. Funky Sato even added 70s ballad percussion to this centuries-old Okinawan chant of the Azumi line. Or was it perhaps... always there? In a movie that has extradimensional ape men with tape worms coming out of their faces invading the Earth with a robot Godzilla ON TOP of a race to get a magic statue back on its pedestal so a giant dog-lion can be awakened, everything is possible!

I had heard of MechaGodzilla, and having a bit of kaiju experience now, I was a bit afraid that he would just be a guy in a suit (duh) stomping around, making no effort to appear robotic whatsoever. I'm happy to be proven wrong, as the movie has MG doing shit like turn his head around 180°, fire rockets from his hands, turn those same hands 180° with the wrist as the axis, and the capability to fly bringing to mind a pear-shaped Apollo rocket. Magnetic Godzilla (yeah) trying to pull a fleeing MG back to him at the end for a final beatdown is an amazing and hilarious visual, as the expressionless robot face suddenly seems to say "NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE". Which aspect of the story did you prefer, Travis? The fantasy ancient Okinawa part or the sci-fi black hole ape men part?

TRAVIS:

I enjoyed the mixture of both actually, but allow me to tackle the ancient legend aspect for a bit. We’re fourteen entries deep into the series, yet aside from Mothra who’s worshipped as a god on Infant Island, King Caesar is truly the first kaiju tied to the mythical tales of spirits and guardians. At this point, the monsters are pretty much divided up as either large animals, mutants, or aliens. In GOJIRA, the inhabitants of Odo Island perceive Godzilla as a creature of yore, but it’s a bit surprising that it’s taken filmmakers this long to reach into Asia’s mystical past for inspiration. Fun fact: King Caesar is actually based on the lion-dog guardian “shisa” of real Okinawa culture! You’ll often find statues (big and small) placed around homes to ward off evil spirits. So if you wanna protect your house from robo-kaiju, grab a shisa.

Back to the dueling mystics/sci-fi plot! Both are fun to watch, and in fact, the entire movie feels like a banana split sundae of various things the filmmakers wanted to haphazardly throw together. The statue subplot also brings back the James Bond-type action with INTERPOL agents and ape-aliens trading fisticuffs and bullets with each other. The fights are often shot in long takes, shakey-cam style too! It’s THE BOURNE SUPREMACY of Godzilla movies! You also gotta love the leader of the ape-men always sipping a glass of wine. Oh, and the INTERPOL agent chomping his cigar! Indeed, Luca, with that and the kaiju gore, it might be puzzling to think this was directed towards kids. I think a good comparison for GvMG would be the PLANET OF THE APES series, which had plenty of adult themes and intense violence but was pulpy and creature-stuffed enough to appeal to the children. This mixing of genres seems like an effect of the bigger budget. Toho simply had the confidence to pull a lot of resources, and GvMG feels like a more complete, well-rounded product than MEGALON or GIGAN. Even the stock footage utilized is real blink-and-you’ll-miss-it (a recycled explosion here and there but no repeated action beats from previous SFX set pieces). Pair it all with Sato’s swanky score, and this is one fun G film!

LUCA:

Such educational value this series has! I'm ambiguous about spelling it "Caesar" now since "shisa" is an actual word, apparently, and spelling it "Caesar" even though they're saying the Japanese word "shisa" feels... insensitive? OH THOSE JAPS PROBABLY MEAN CAESAR I GUESS! King Sheeser (that'll do) is a pretty funny and campy monster too, with his flamboyant fur coat and fluffy tail. He doesn't really do all that much, despite having the main human plot almost fully centered around him. Certainly, Jet Jaguar had more of an instant report with Godzilla in their beatdown of Megalon and Gigan. I really feel like Godzilla took the biggest brunt of the MechaGodzilla damage here. Since we only have one Showa-era movie to go, I hope King Sheeser has a chance to redeem himself soon. Then again, he's not a Monster Island native, so he doesn't need to worry about awkward confrontations at the watering hole.

Tune in next week, true believers, as we say farewell to the kooky, kid-friendly Showa era of THU BIG G as original GOJIRA director Ishiro Honda returns for one final bow with... TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #13: GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (1973)

Welcome to KAIJU KAVALCADE, wherein the effervescent Travis Kirkland and myself will be revisiting every single Kaiju Klassik by Toho Studios starring Godzilla, most famous of all giant monsters, in the run-up to the release of Gareth Edwards’ upcoming new take on the big G-dude! Your humble servant is but a novice in all things giant monsters, whereas Travis has been a fan all of his life. This is reflected in our respective titles for the series: if you follow it on Travis’ blog Proton Media, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

(Note: Official poster right there.)

LUCA:

Just as I was getting tired of alien invaders, Toho does me a solid and switches it up for GODZILLA VS. MEGALON. Alien invaders? No no my friend, UNDERSEA INVADERS! The kingdom of Seatopia (yes, really) has had it with the surface dwellers' nuclear testing, and with good reason! A third of their people have died because of Earth's foolishness. This really pisses off the hairy-chested king of Seatopia. What's a Japanese-dubbed white guy with a bad fish-tat on his arm to do? Well, you'd send a beetlemonster with drill hands for less than that! Megalon is our movie's main villain, and he is definitely of the new school of monster design. Increasingly, Godzilla is starting to look out of place in his own movies -- especially since he has no back-up from one of his old pals. He's "just" a ridgeback dinosaur with atomic breath, going up against beetles that puke pomeGRENADES, have drills for hands, and cyclops-visored chickens. Now, I say G has no OLD friends for back-up, but he has one heck of a new one! JETTOJAGAAAAA aka Jet Jaguar, the series' first giant robot!

JJ is the creation of Sempai who lives with his little brother/nii-chan Roku in some sort of little boys' paradise. There's all sorts of cool shit in their house, and Roku rides around on a kid-sized motorcycle called BABY RIDER. Pandering to kids at maximum capacity, captain! The Seatopians want to steal Jet Jaguar so he can guide their monster Megalon around because... he is pretty dumb, I guess? And he looks it, too! Hopping around the Japanese countryside like a big derp -- get it together, Megalon!

Speaking of big derps, big G is REALLY into it this time! He's waving and posing and posturing and generally just having a good time. His big team-up brawl with Jet Jaguar against Megalon and an inexplicably summoned Gigan has all the swagger and braggadocio of a WWE Summer Slam, with Godzilla cockily pointing at his adversaries and JJ holdin' 'em down for his bro to pound on. Oh, that dropkick... yeah, Godzilla's dropkick is about as amazing as you'd imagine from those words. Travis, were you ready to rumble?

TRAVIS:

I was, Luca, cuz this was quite an enjoyable romp! Its biggest strength is that it hits the ground running from the opening scene and doesn’t let up the momentum. Right off the start the seas dissipate to uncover Seatopia, then we’re right into a burglary fight and car chase! The action never seems to stop! The biggest laugh from me occurred during the second car chase when the vehicles (and a motorcycle!) crawl down some outdoor stairways, then down a hillside, finally sliding down the side of a canyon. It reminded me of the never ending mountainside fall Andy Samberg takes in HOT ROD! We’ve discussed before the fun, light touches director Jun Fukuda brings to his Godzilla flicks, but let’s take note of how colorful they are too. Since the youth feature prominently in his films, bright fashion is always highlighted in their clothes and surroundings. Dig that swanky looking house the inventor lives in, man! Fukuda’s ‘Zilla movies could actually be good watching companions with the 60s Batman show.

And what a colorful robot Jet Jaguar is! Even though Godzilla is in the title, it’s pretty clear that this is a showcase for the shiny, new fighter. It’s almost like we’re watching a TV-movie/pilot for The Jet Jaguar Show (Guest Starring Godzilla and Gigan). Disregarding the brief Monster Island bit in the beginning, G doesn’t even show up until forty-eight minutes in! That’s because MEGALON was indeed originally planned as a vehicle for JJ. Toho ran a contest among elementary school children in 1972 to come up with new mighty monsters, and a drawing of a robot named Red Arone was the winning entry that eventually morphed into Jet Jaguar. Examining his design, JJ certainly has the look of a kid creation that just copied whatever the kid happened to be into (a few tweaks here and there and you basically have Ultraman). He’s got that android-like charm (I enjoyed his stilted yet animated arm signals), but Toho probably foresaw that he didn’t have the presence needed for a standalone movie and squeezed in Godzilla and Gigan for box office insurance. Though MEGALON would be JJ’s lone appearance, the studio must’ve seen the potential in monster/mecha pairings considering a certain Robo-zilla would be introduced in the next film…

The way the series blends in the real world and mythology is fascinating, and similar to how GHIDORAH explored the concept of ancient aliens, MEGALON uses the idea of underwater cities that were swallowed up years ago by the shifting of continents. I doubt anyone dealt with gigantic drillbugs during Pangaea days, yet bringing in a somewhat fact-based premise for flashy fantasy (the Easter Island statue heads are really intergalactic antennas!) is a nice touch. Though MEGALON is hardly the WWII metaphor GOJIRA was, it’s also interesting that the lesson of the movie is still to stop nuclear testing worldwide lest we anger nature (via radioactive dinosaurs or big beetles or whatever). The ghosts of the past continue to echo. Did I harsh your high, Luca?

LUCA:

An environmental message delivered by a man dressed like the King of Seatopia couldn't harsh anyone's high, Travis. It could only BROADEN HORIZONS... I think a lot of little boys' horizons were expanded thanks to GvM, actually, as this movie presents us with our first nudity of the series! Granted, it's only on posters in the back of a truck cabin, but these two Playmates are quite prominently displayed in the truck scenes. Even more hilariously, there's a continuity gaffe where later in the movie the two posters are replaced by different ones. So at some point they took the nude posters in the cabin of their truck used in a children's movie OFF between takes, started shooting another scene in the truck later, someone realized "Hey... didn't we have nudie posters here on our last take?" and they just couldn't find the originals so they quickly put up a couple new ones. That's friggin AMAZING.

I totally felt like this was a backdoor pilot for JETTOJAGAAAA (the Japanese pronunciation is just too funny, and always said with such GUSTO!). But that's okay since hey, 13 movies in, you expect some variation at this point. JJ is a funny, colorful character with killa movez so I don't really mind. Oh man, that terrifying rictus grin though! Who thought THAT was a good idea? I was also very partial to JJ's features growing from "collision detectors" so that he wouldn't walk into furniture to "blowing himself up to kaiju size" so he could stall the monsters while Godzilla was on his way. Take heed, Whedon, this is how useful the Vision should be in Avengers 2! And, you know, for being a guest star in a movie originally intended for someone else, I really think Godzilla comes out looking great in this. Tons of little character moments, a great team-up with JJ, and just some straight up being face to Gigan and Megalon's sniggering and giggling heels (aka wrestlin' good guy to wrestlin' bad guys). Travis, would you say that this is the essence of the Showa era? As I understand it, it doesn't get much purer than this!

TRAVIS:

I think why the Showa era resonates so well with G fans is how free-wheeling and carefree it is. Though the series certainly chased after box office trends to stay relevant, this meant we saw the King of the Monsters through the tropes of sci-fi, horror, action, comedy, teen, and kiddie films. It was a nice period of experimentation. It’ll be interesting to see how you view the upcoming Heisei and Millennium eras, Luca, since those films are pretty rigid with their tone and continuity (a reaction from producer Tomoyuki Tanaka and co. who felt that Godzilla went too astray into Looney Tunes land). Though the final Showa entries (the two MECHAGODZILLA movies) would have their wacky moments, MEGALON feels like the last, true hurrah of Goofzilla’s WRASSLING MONSTAS spirit, so savor it while you can! JET JAAGAHHHH! JET JAAAGAAAHHHHH!

Coming up next… t-t-two Godzillas?! And one’s a robot?! I guess Toho did finally run out of ideas, ‘cuz GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA also sounds like an idea a child would dream up. Prepare for a PACIFIC RIM-job!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #12: GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972)

Welcome to KAIJU KAVALCADE, wherein the effervescent Travis Kirkland and myself will be revisiting every single Kaiju Klassik by Toho Studios starring Godzilla, most famous of all giant monsters, in the run-up to the release of Gareth Edwards’ upcoming new take on the big G-dude! Your humble servant is but a novice in all things giant monsters, whereas Travis has been a fan all of his life. This is reflected in our respective titles for the series: if you follow it on Travis’ blog Proton Media, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

TRAVIS:

Years before MEN IN BLACK, GODZILLA VS. GIGAN already gave us the heads up that cockroaches were actually intergalactic parasites bent on annihilation. Coming from a dead planet similar to our world (think Earth-2) that succumbed to pollution, they’ve arrived on our world to bring peace as only movie aliens know how: destructive totalitarianism. They don’t seem too concerned about concealment however. They operate under the guise of constructing the new high profile theme park World Children’s Land, and they speak pretty openly (and sinisterly) about their plans for achieving peace. They also have taken human form by inhabiting the re-animated bodies of the recently deceased, which might especially rise suspicion from people. Maybe they figure once they call for Gigan and King Ghidorah that it’s not a big bother to hide since cities are gonna be razed to the ground anyway. Don’t worry though, folks! A young, starving manga artist, two girls who can stand up to any tough guy, and a hippie are here to save us! Go, young generation, go!

The monster scenes are quite nice yet severely hobbled. Toho goes the cheap route again, filling in the new scenes with action beats from GHIDORAH, INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER, and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. What makes it stand out even more is that all the battle scenes take place at night, while the spliced-in footage is clearly in daytime. C’mon, Toho! You couldn’t have at least dimmed that stuff a little bit for continuity sake? The new fight footage shot for GIGAN is good and fun, yet one can’t help but notice the rough state some of the costumes are in. Godzilla’s skin is supposed to look irritated due to radiation, but pieces of rubber seem to be dangling off his hide. Close ups of Anguirus’s beat up face also reveal that they probably should’ve stuck with medium shots. And don’t forget the gore! In possibly an attempt to ape the rival Gamera movies (where kaiju routinely hacked off limbs and oozed out body goo), both G and Angy are lacerated by Gigan’s torso-mounted buzz saw and gush out brilliantly red eruptions of blood from their wounds! Gigan doesn’t fuck around.

Let’s talk about the alien warrior from Nebula-M for a minute! In our review of ALL MONSTERS ATTACK, I wrote how the influence of over the top monster TV shows would influence the design of new characters in the Godzilla franchise, and Gigan might be the most stacked-up, silliest looking one. He resembles a chicken but is overloaded like a Power Rangers villain with his cycloptic red visor, blade hooks for hands and feet, his set of three wings on his back, and that aforementioned chest buzz saw. It’s like a kaiju drawn by Rob Liefeld. Is Gigan really Toho’s own Cable? I actually love his ridiculous appearance, and I also enjoy how much of an asshole he is. He’ll mercilessly beat G and Angy on the head with his hooks and taunt them with his screeching laugh. My favorite bit has to be when he tosses G into the Godzilla tower then turns to Ghidorah all “Aw bro, did you see how far I threw him? Fuckin’ riot!” Did Gigan endear himself to you, Luca?

LUCA:

The Liefeld kaiju! What a perfect way to describe Gigan! My favorite moment of his was whenever he kicked things when they were down with his big one-toed foot. "Take that, tanker that's already on fire! Take that, Godzilla who's already writhing on the floor in pain after being hit by space lasers from Godzilla Tower!" What an asshole! And of course he really fucks up G and Angy with his buzz saw belly. Gigan is like an asshole redneck wearing all denim with a bare chest, gold chain and 90s sneakers but who is actually quite adept at kicking ass so despite his ridiculous countenance he's still a force to be reckoned with. I mean come on, chicken with a Cyclops visor... King Ghidorah, a golden three-headed dragon, comes across as the model of style and restraint compared to Gigan! He's like the dignified Bolo Yeung and Gigan is, I dunno, Triple H.

Maaannnn, another alien invasion with kaiju. Just STAHP, Tomoyuki Tanaka! Yoshimitsu Banno's crazy Hedorah shit was the right way to go, man! Look, I appreciate your good will towards me by allowing funny shit like Godzilla and Anguirus talking to each other (speech balloons and all!), someone dramatically revealing themselves to the camera in a swiveling office chair and three guys chuckling at how stupid a dead teenager was, but PLEASE can we stop with the aliens? We've done aliens four times in twelve movies already, and three of those have involved completely different races trying to take over the Earth with kaiju. I'll concede that, actually going with in-movie continuity, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS hasn't happened yet. But it has to the viewer! Our eyeballs have processed DESTROY ALL MONSTERS already! And a few select parts of it twice even like Godzilla's neckstomping of Ghidorah and Anguirus' Wild Ride that were cheerfully transposed into this film. C'monnnn man!

Godzilla's surly asshole persona is upheld in this movie since all he does is boss poor Anguirus around. Sorry I snapped your neck and burned you to ashes last time we met brah but I really need you to check out this annoying high-toned kaiju frequency sound here. Oh, and be quick about it! I had called Angy the George Michael Bluth of monsters on Facebook earlier, but maybe it's more correct to say that he's the eager-to-please Hank/Dean Venture to Big G's Rusty. Some more (intentional?) pop culture references I spotted, appeared in the use of the bodies of the deceased as vessels by the aliens like in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE but seeing as it was only 1972, I don't think it may have had its reputation yet. You say MEN IN BLACK, but I actually thought of TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE's final reveal that Kim Jong-Il was actually an alien cockroach. It wouldn't surprise me to find out that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are Godzilla fans! Is GIGAN more to your liking than HEDORAH, Travis? Still a fun enough time, but definitely a step down for me!

TRAVIS:

In our last installment, I wrote that the traditional kaiju smash ups are easier for me to digest than the peculiar (but very enjoyable!) HEDORAH, yet as far as GIGAN goes, it’s pretty middle of the road for me. The monster stuff is plentiful and fun but the overuse of recycled footage dulls the excitement. Director Jun Fukuda again shines the spotlight on the youth of today as our heroes like he did in EBIRAH, yet the characters aren’t that engaging. You’d think that a manga artist as a protagonist in a Godzilla film might yield interesting developments. However, aside from thinking up ideas such as a homework monster and a nagging mom/sea creature, he’s not that distinguishable from any other bland lead. I’d rank GIGAN around the “okay” scale alongside ASTRO-MONSTER.

What helps the movie along for me is seeing Godzilla and Anguirus pair up. Though many fans will assign Mothra or Rodan as G’s de facto sidekick, I always thought Angy was the true brother in arms. PARDON ME AS I WRITE SLIGHTLY ROMANTIC ABOUT JAPANESE MONSTERS. I can see your POV, Luca, on viewing G as the selfish taskmaster to Angy akin to Michael Bluth being a controlling asshole to son George Michael (ironic since George Michael would engage in kaiju-like battle himself via jetpack in the ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT episode “Mr. F”). For me, I view them as two old buddies who’ve seen it all (they were the very first two monsters in the series after all) and are still willing to fight with a world-weary attitude. More like Riggs and Murtaugh then? Maybe G’s too old for this shit and sends hothead Angy since he’s always hot for action. Oh, and a word about the differences between the Japanese and US cuts of GIGAN… one of the oddest moments has to be when the two of them talk to each other in comic book dialogue balloons. When GIGAN was Americanized, those scenes remain, yet the balloons are excised and replaced with warped, scratched voice overs for G and Angy. Yes, folks, after seeing the King of the Monsters fly in HEDORAH, he can now talk in GIGAN. We might assume that it’s a side effect from those cassette discs the villainous cockroaches use, but whatever, it’s funny to watch.

Sorry to say, Luca, but you’re gonna have to get VERY used to alien invaders from this point on. It’s simply an easy origin point for introducing new kaiju. You might enjoy the bizarre, intergalactic ways new foes are created in the Heisei era, but I’ll leave those as surprises. We’re only three movies away from the end of the goofy Showa era, so has any other fatigue set in yet?

LUCA:

Aw man! Oh well, I signed on for this shit as a rational adult and that's how I'm gonna end it. To be completely fair, the aliens have always gotten more interesting with every new race that was introduced. I mean, body snatchin' Eggers is definitely more out there than "dudes in sunglasses". Gigan is an interesting looking and (most importantly) NEW monster, which gives GvG the edge over ASTRO MONSTER in my book. You'd think that some fatigue might have set in with the human characters, but as you point out with this installment's mangaka protagonist Gen, they keep it fairly varied. I'll tell you though, I'm glad we're done with concerned men in suits and lab coats for protagonists! There's probably a blog (or at least an amusing Tweet) to be written about how horror/sci-fi movies from a certain era could be termed the "Concerned White Men Puffing Pipes" genre.

Another positive to me is the series' first instance of an ass-kicking female character (besides Mothra). Now don't get me wrong, I don't think women should fight in order to be ass-kicking characters, but if you look at it historically, portraying fighting women is a line that was pretty edgy to cross at the time. Now, the Godzilla series had certainly had its spunky, driven female characters up to this point but GODZILLA VS GIGAN was the first one that portrayed a physically dominant woman. Granted, it's a bit of a joke reveal, as our protagonist had called her a nag before, but the important thing is that she never gets "put in her place" after that. She's revealed to be an asskicker, and that's what she is until the end of the movie. The men hide behind her and comically point to the advancing Eggers so that she may take care of them. Meanwhile, our male protag draws a big SPLASH PAGE of the heroes which they pull up in a doorway so the villains are distracted by it. A hilarious detail is that they didn't color the big drawing so the aliens were SO IMPRESSED by Gen's amazing linework that they just assumed light fluctuations on this planet worked that way. A woman using brute force and a man using pretty drawing skills -- I like this positive inversion of traditional gender roles! Keep going, Toho!

Join us next time as Godzilla battles another new guy in GODZILLA VS. MEGALON! That kinda sounds like a shark monster to me, which is definitely something we haven't seen yet. JAWSOME!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #11: GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH (1971)

Welcome to KAIJU KAVALCADE, wherein the effervescent Travis Kirkland and myself will be revisiting every single Kaiju Klassik by Toho Studios starring Godzilla, most famous of all giant monsters, in the run-up to the release of Gareth Edwards’ upcoming new take on the big G-dude! Your humble servant is but a novice in all things giant monsters, whereas Travis has been a fan all of his life. This is reflected in our respective titles for the series: if you follow it on Travis’ blog Proton Media, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

LUCA:

What a weird and angry film GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH is! Musical interludes aren't new to Toho's monster series (especially in films featuring Mothra), but animated segments certainly are, not to mention essay recitations! The latter is supplied by our lil' human protagonist Ken-chan; like Ichiro in the last movie, Ken-Chan's a big Godzilla fanboy. Unlike Ichiro, he has a good relationship with his dad, a marine biologist who has been studying strange new tadpole-like life forms in Fuji Bay. He finds they are related to a new monster that had been attacking oil tankers, which lil' Ken dubs Hedorah (sorta like Sludge-o). Hedorah is definitely a new sort of monster, with his many shapes and sizes, powers and weapons. He's like a big ole JRPG boss fight!

Another feature Hedorah shares with a JRPG villain: massive damaggggge! The film constantly has news anchors tell us how many people died in last night's monster fight and I definitely think we're in six figures by the end! Godzilla picking up Hedorah by the tail is kaiju fitin’ fun times... until the gunk that flies off the smog monster flies into a gambling den and chokes a couple of innocent bystanders the fuck to death! Holy shit! Making Hedorah, a space bacteria growing ever larger as he feeds off pollution, the first bad kaiju in ages to exact such an explicit death toll is a clear message: this may not have been the first youth-oriented Godzilla movie, but it sure as hell is the first counter-culture one. Lest anyone think it's all grim seriousness and molten innocents, there's also some laughs to be had. When we see our first human desintegration (into a SKELETON!), lil' Ken simply goes "Ouch!" and runs into the opposite direction. There's yet another AMAZING lulz-moment that I'd love to give you the honor to describe, Travis. Why don't you blast off with it?

TRAVIS:

Godzilla was born of the death and destruction of the atomic bomb, but he could also play boulder volleyball and do victory dances! Now, basic physics wouldn't allow him to pull off such gravity defying moments, but such is the fun of the Showa era. At the climax of HEDORAH for instance, his imposing figure and weight don't stop him from chasing after Hedorah via propelling himself backwards in the air by firing off his radioactive breath! Yep, everybody, the King of the Monsters now flies. What makes it so much sillier is the triumphant fanfare music that accompanies this glorious scene, like it's all "Go, Godzilla, go! Take flight against enemy pollution! Hooray!" No wonder Ken-chan professes his fandom for both big G and Superman.

What makes flying Godzilla even more confusing to watch is how it contrasts with the wildly wavering tone of the movie. This might be the strangest mish-mash of genres in the series! The surprisingly gruesome deaths brought by Hedorah sets this film as eco-horror, yet kiddie silliness abounds with protagonist Ken-chan and his almost psychic connection to Godzilla. Just how does he seem to sense where G's location is? The cartoon interludes also recall animation from old children's educational programming. I wouldn't be surprised if Toho took some inspiration from Sesame Street. Splash in a buncha psychedelic stuff for the disenfranchised youth of today (why was there a hallucinogenic scene of fish-faced clubbers?), and you'll get one big platypus of a kaiju movie. Gotta admit though, that "Save the Earth" song is kinda catchy!

Director Yoshimitsu Banno was actually so proud of this picture that he had plans for a sequel where big G and Hedorah would face off in Africa. Unfortunately for him, longtime producerzilla Tomoyuki Tanaka (who was hospitalized during production) was deeply outraged with the finished product, going so far as telling Banno that he "ruined Godzilla". Funny to think that after all the bizarre aliens, goofy wrestling moves, and even Minilla that HEDORAH would break G's back, yet it's not hard to understand Tanaka's bewilderment with it. However, this brings up an interesting point about the Godzilla films. If something did ruin them, by what standards of entertainment are we evaluating them against? When they're at their best, are we enjoying them as genuine pieces of legitimate media, or is it simply the most fun cheesey goodness that a silly genre can provide? Is a kaiju state of mind required? What are your thoughts, Luca?

LUCA:

Haaahahahaha I'd forgotten about the motherfucking FEAR & LOATHING style sudden transition into FISHHEAD CLUBBERS! Who was this damned movie for...? I almost want to say that kaiju movies are like porn, since they are all about getting very specific physical acts on screen. But the big difference is, of course, that Godzilla movies are aimed at kids -- and kids listen. Before they get savvy(/entitled?) enough to fast forward to the good bits, they'll watch a movie that is "for them" through to the end, happy to be watching a movie specifically made "for them". Do you remember the first movie you didn't like? I think it was BATMAN & ROBIN on a first TV airing when I was about 13/14. I couldn't quite put my finger on why I didn't like it, but I do remember finding it weird that this "thing for me" (aka Batman) was somehow not pleasing me. Of course, nowadays, I'll gladly watch B&R with some friends and equally friendly substances, but you know what I mean.

I think that, like with any movie, kaiju movies can be judged simply by what they bring to the table. Eleven movies in, we've seen that this varies wildly from film to film. Ironically, I think I've been hardest on the original GOJIRA, since that one has its bar set highest with its actual attempts at tension and scariness with a build-up it (in my opinion) partially flubs. You don't see me shitting on GvH for flubbing Godzilla's intro even though he literally just appears out of nowhere, accompanied by a kid's essay recitation. By this time, Godzilla appearing was just a matter of making him look cool/making the intro different enough from previous entries as the audience knew what Godzilla looked like and, well, he'd become the hero of the series. When you're aware of the movies you're watching being cranked out at a speed of one a year (and sometimes even more!), the highest bar you can really set for them is the level at which they pander. Are they breezy, fun times? Is there cool/weird/funny stuff in them? Any idiosyncracies the directors manage to squeeze in are a bonus. On that front, GvH is a real treasure trove. I don't think ANY director so far (besides perhaps Ishiro Honda with the original) has managed to put as much of themselves in a Godzilla movie as Banno did with GvH.

How does one screw up a kaiju movie? Repetition. If I look back to the ones I haven't really liked, it's been those that didn't bring anything new to the table: RODAN, MOTHRA VS GODZILLA, ASTRO MONSTER (despite being the first entry with aliens), ... In constrast, the oft-maligned ALL MONSTERS ATTACK/GODZILLA'S REVENGE/ICHIRO'S NAPTIME ADVENTURE wasn't a dud for me, simply by virtue of it being so fucking different from anything that came before (despite most of its monster stuff being recycled). I think Tanaka's bewilderment was understandable since Banno delivered a weird, angry, even slightly political movie. Monster movies are supposed to reach the lowest common denominator, and any political messages such a movie delivers might prevent that. Yeah, KKvG and MvG both had vague "let's be nicer to nature" morals, but nothing as outright critical of Japan's increasingly industrialized society as GvH. Shit, I think we've hit a new fave of mine, Travis! Where does this one rank for you?

TRAVIS:

I’ll be honest, Luca, if I had to grab a ‘zilla flick off the shelf on a lazy afternoon, I’m not sure I’d gravitate immediately to HEDORAH. The strange mix of genres definitely makes for compelling viewing, yet for me it’s a little too jarring. Maybe I’m becoming too soft in my kaiju watching age, but I have better times with straight forward stomp’em ups like DESTROY ALL MONSTERS and GHIDORAH. Not saying it’s a bad movie though! An interesting one! While I wouldn’t necessarily digest it on my own time, I certainly would not hesitate plugging in HEDORAH for a Godzilla marathon with a buncha buddies. A shot of psychedelic sludge to clear up the kiddie sweetness! Also, gotta say it again, DAT SAVE DA EARTH SONG.

Luca, I know you enjoyed director Jun Fukuda’s tropical entries (EBIRAH and SON OF GODZILLA), so I’m interested in hearing your thoughts when he takes on a more conventional Godzilla tale. There are no groovy beaches in sight this time! Space becomes Fukuda’s latest frontier as bug aliens use our beloved theme parks to herald a cybernetic bird warrior, and Godzilla and Anguirus… talk?! What other madness awaits us in GODZILLA VS. GIGAN?

 

KAAAISENNN KAAAAISENNN KAAAAISENNNNN