Saturday, August 29, 2015

LOLLEST COMMON DENOMINATOR: Descendants (2015)

 

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It is with some trepidation that I present my experiences with Disney’s DESCENDANTS under the banner of my barely existent LOLLEST COMMON DENOMINATOR series. The only other films to be covered as LCDs (hehh) were those of Paul W.S. Anderson’s seminal RESIDENT EVIL saga. Now, you can snigger and eye-roll all you want, but RESIDENT EVIL is a deeply personal auteur’s vision of a dadaist zombie apocalypse. Every one of them is written by the man himself – no committee-written, ever-cheaper cash-in sequels here! It’s just that… well, Paul W.S. Anderson’s vision often coincides with the tastes of ICP-lovin’ teenage multiplex goers.

DESCENDANTS, on the other hand, is definitely a good candidate for the title’s intended purpose. If you have not heard of it, do not worry! A Galadriel-esque voice-over will get you up to speed on this genre mélange within seconds!

A magical storybook opens and an ethereal voice into—HOLD UP HOLD UP RECORD SCRATCH MUTHAFUCKAS

Haha you see, this magical storybook is actually a I TABLET COMPUTER and the Galadriel voice? Forget about it! A snarky teen is at the mic!

Within the space of a few swipes and pinches, she has informed the audience that after Belle and the Beast got married, Beast united all the kingdoms of the land and was elected SUPERKING. The movie does not use the term superking. But all the villains, they were exiled to the dark island of lost souls or whatever.

Now, young prince Ben (son of Belle and Adam/Beast) is doing a thing where… I don’t think I fully understood this. He’s gonna be the new king because…? Neither Adam nor Belle seem to be in ill health. It also doesn’t seem to coincide with his high school graduation or any other milestone. This teen is just gonna be the new king, okay? I guess being elected superking means you can also do away with that stupid “electing superkings” rule. Ya walked right into that one, regular kings!

Before he is king, however, Ben gets to make one Royal Decree for reasons! I mean, I’m pretty sure the action-packed finale is set at his coronation*, so he’s definitely not king yet. Baby’s First Decree is as follows: the children of the exiled villains will be given the chance to attend Auradon High School because they should not be held accountable for the evil deeds of their parents. But is this such a good idea? Let us flash to Darkness Island and see what these kids are up to!

MISCHIEF, I say! Mischief so fucking bad that they declare themselves ROTTEN TO THE CORE in an introductory dance segment. What exactly they do, I’m not sure of. Jay, the son of Jafar, does some rowdy PARKOUR moves. Mal, the daughter of Maleficent, I vaguely remember tagging a shack’s wall? Anyway, they all dance to what my old ears sounded like a dubsteppy pop song that really cracked me up. I had no idea this was a musical and them just barging in with this SAINTS ROW music really had me slappin’ thighs!

Kristin Chenoweth is Maleficent, and she is a proper musical actress. She’s also the source of a couple of the intentional laughs of this movie and the one musical number that actually works unironically – although this particular form of vaudevillian musical theater she was doing is so camp that I don’t know if irony is ever really absent. In all honesty, I’m not really well-versed in musicals, so maybe this was a really bad and OBVIOUS and PANDERING song, but eh, worked for me!

Yeah, there are a couple of intentional laughs in the film, and even a couple of moments that I thought were kinda sweet (these mostly consist of Mal telling Evie – the ditzy daughter of the Evil Queen** from Snow White – that she’s a great person and her sister in spirit, if not blood). I can’t really fault it for not making me laugh, as this is a thing aimed at five year olds in the Midwest. I’ll give ‘em credit for at least doing that “Luca checks in on a network sitcom and the law of averages makes sure he sensibly chuckles a couple times” thing.

While I don’t feel entirely comfortable shitting on the jokesmithery of DESCENDANTS because it is so far from anything remotely aimed at me, I will gladly get on my soapbox about its lazy world-building. Fine, you’re throwing together an assembly of all the Disney characters and tell a tale of their children. Nothing inherently bad with this. But you’re really gonna do nothing more than put ‘em in a high school movie? And I’m talking about a fancy modern day prep school here – this isn’t Disney Channel Hogwarts. The kids are picked up in a regular ass limo, for fuck’s sake!

One of my favorite things in this movie were the “make sure the cheap seats get ‘em” references to Disney characters. A geeky poindexter guy in chemistry class introduces himself to Evie as “Doug… Dopey’s son”. First of all, who the hell did Dopey fuck to get a full human kid? Second, why would Evie be in any way more positively disposed towards him once she found out he was the son of one of the eight bastards who plotted her mom’s downfall? Third, dude, don’t go around telling people you’re Dopey’s kid.

A bit later, a girl called “Lonnie… Mulan’s daughter” introduces herself in Mal and Evie’s dorm room. Whoa whoa whoa, so Mulan also was real in this universe? Superking Adam must be fucking amazing to have a Tang dynasty emperor say “Whoa… guys, I dunno about you but I am quitting this game while I’m ahead. ALL HAIL SUPERKING ADAM”

Speaking of Hogwarts, there also seems to be a brokeass Quidditch approximation happening there. The rules are never explained and the matches take place in montages of under thirty seconds. Well, handsome boys are athletes, so we need a sport, right? But why even bother making up a fairy tale sport that you’re not gonna explain, and like 90% of this school is just a regular ass school anyway. It coulda been football just as easily!

I’m not even inherently opposed to taking famous characters and turning them into kids/teens for a high school romance, but I think what is necessary here is that the characters you’re teenifying have a modicum of gravitas to them. Disney Princesses, and by extension their villains, have already been so commodified into smiling, friendly lunch box covers that there’s nothing to subvert here. Yes, I am basically arguing that WATCHMEN BABIES: V FOR VACATION would have been a better idea than this. Why would a ten year old girl tune in for DESCENDANTS? She could just as easily watch, well, ALADDIN or BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. But hey, gotta keep dat content mill churning.

I’ve never been to a Disney theme park or ever really watched Disney Channel, but I was most struck by how relentlessly artificial everything was. For decades, filmed fantasy fiction has traded in the “used universe” aesthetic, where everything is supposed to look lived in, for a greater and easier sense of immersion on the viewer’s behalf. This is not absolutely necessary, of course, since a heightened world can be equally effective in delivering either visual thrills or bringing a satirical bent to the proceedings.

Unfortunately, DESCENDANTS doesn’t look particularly interesting, nor does it have anything especially biting to say. The heights of its imagination are fancy prep schools, limos, sort-of Catholic looking cathedrals with all the religious imagery scrubbed out and… slums? Yes, the evil villains live on an island that literally just looks like a poor neighborhood. And it’s not just the four evil parents that live there, there seems to be a thriving community with babies and all (Mal steals candy from one in the opening number). Keep in mind that the four villain kids are invited to attend high school as a special mercy from the prince. What does that mean for the other kids on the island?

Damn, Superking… you cold as fuck.

This won’t have you rolling as much as it did me since you now know it’s a musical, but enjoy anyway!

*Did not nap during this film, nor did I partake in any mind-altering substances.

**Evil Queen only ever referred to as Evil Queen.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

TURTLE TALK #4: GAMERA VS. VIRAS (1968)

 

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TRAVIS:

In the first GAMERA film, the people of Earth successfully trapped our hero in a rocketship and launched it off to Mars. However, a well-timed meteorite collison set him free, and the big turtle soon made his way back to his home planet for more adventures. Outer space was still a frontier for the franchise to explore, and thus the fourth entry opens as a mysterious spaceship from the planet Viras closes in on Earth. Though we don't initially see the aliens, we can overhear them as they talk about their invasion. But their conversation ends abruptly as Gamera starts wreckin' apart their ship! In what might be one of the series' best title intros, the aliens send a final warning to their home planet before exploding: “We have discovered a terrible creature protecting the Earth. Its name is...” BOOM! The title GAMERA immediately whips up on-screen! Woo! Oh, and so does the rest of the title: VS. VIRAS.

Back on our planet, a troop of Boy Scouts are visiting a local aquarium to check out a cool new invention: a small, two-man submarine that's so easy to use that even a kid can drive it! And where there's fun to be had, naughty lil’ boys will play. Sneaky prankster Scouts Masao (who's Japanese and is a whiz at electronics of course) and Jim (who's American and is a whiz at cowboy lasso tricks of course) take the sub for a ride and discover Gamera hanging out underwater! Of course, the boys shouldn't worry about him since, as Masao puts it, he's “a friend to all children” (the first time the monster's popular moniker is introduced). But the kaiju's soft spot for the young soon becomes his Achilles Heel as a second spaceship from Viras lands on Earth and kidnaps the two boys. Knowing of Gamera's protectiveness of kids, the aliens threaten to kill the boys unless he surrenders. He relents, and the aliens place a mind control device on his head so that he can destroy the Earth under their will. Can Masao and Jim use their electronic know-how and lasso trickery to free themselves and Gamera from the Viras invaders???

There have been some fun films in the series so far, but VIRAS truly is where the template for the typical Gamera flick is set. This is the franchise's first threat from space, but it definitely wouldn't be the last. Most importantly though, here we see Gamera fully embrace the kid audiences. Kids will be our primary protagonists for the rest of the Showa era, and VIRAS will also set the trend of using children of both Japanese and American ethnicities. And not only are we first introduced to Gamera's brand name of “friend to all children”, but this is also the first film featuring that catchy Gamera march song! “Gamera! Gamera! You are so strong, Gamera! You are so strong! You are so strong, GAMM-AH-RAAHHHH!!!!” Did this tune rouse you to your feet, Luca?

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LUCA:

I was roused to my feet but then I got a little cramp, so dancing wasn’t on the table anymore. Luckily I had danced on other occasions in my life and used the memories of those instances to really cut loose to the Gamera theme song. Holy squids, Travis! I think I’m not exaggerating that in an 80 minute movie there’s a good 10-12 minutes of re-used footage here. And to think I was even quite on board with the portrayal of the aliens at first: Disembodied voices over images of flickering geometric shapes? Alright, some proper alien-aliens! They want to find out how to defeat Gamera, so they must “travel back to the beginning”? Awesome! Let it be a testament to how much the film had me that I thought they were going to explore the Atlantean beginnings of “the Devil’s Envoy” (as described by Plato, don’tcha know)! But nope, it just meant we were going to get a brief bit of re-used GAMERA footage with a weird purple (?) filter over it, showing how our favorite turtle monster first came out of the ice. Then it just pastes in the two major battles from BARUGON wholesale in an attempt to “find out more about the creature’s battle tactics”. What’s next? Why, if you guessed some fights from GAMERA VS. GYAOS, you win the No-Prize!

What this leaves us with is a stretch of beach and a dockside that everything was filmed at, along with a gaggle of boy and girl scout extras (the scouts are explicitly thanked for their cooperation in the opening credits). That baby submarine was the most expensive thing on screen, I think! Which makes it extra funny that we cut to model shots once we get underwater with it. If nothing else, the flatly presented, center-framed yellow submarine (!) model chugging along the ocean floor reminded me of Wes Anderson’s THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU. Coupled with the fact that it’s manned by prankish boy scouts (MOONRISE KINGDOM), one can start to wonder whether or not ole Wes is a Gamera fan. Masao and Jim are really fun protagonists, I feel, in a genre where the human detritus is usually just cheap filler to get to more model-smashing. Maybe it’s that old Dean Jones Disney movie coziness they bring to proceedings. They’re just lookin’ to get into mischief! Oh no, the scoutsmaster is on their trail and he’s steamin’! Masao’s big sister has a Dick Tracy style communications watch to talk to him! It’s all just very obvious little kid pandering and it’s lovely.

Now, Wes Anderson would also certainly be amused at the sudden outbursts of deadpan violence that punctuate this film! From a quintuple decapitation (!!!) to Gamera being completely skewered by Viras, this series is really taking its “horrific violence” quota seriously. Oh, how I’d love to be a fly on the movie theatre wall and see children’s reactions when good friend Gamera just gets impaled all the way through right after a victory lap alongside his buddies Masao and Jim. And, even more bafflingly, he’s completely okay two minutes later! Don’t make it look so horrible if you’re not going to do anything with it, guys! Even Godzilla was only ever shot in the shoulder or something in those rare instances he actually bled, and I imagine that was already traumatizing enough. But hey, that’s my attempt at empathy with actual 1968 young kids who might have watched these movies. In 2015, only internet weirdoes like ourselves would dig these movies up and therefore, the more of such unexpected weirdness, the better. What are your feelings on the tonal shifts, Travis?

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TRAVIS:

Internet weirdoes?! As a rational adult who loves big monsters punching each other, I say that we are perfectly mature in seeing as much kaiju violence as possible! In all seriousness though, you pointed out in our Godzilla book that weird shifts in tone are welcome in these types of movies because, frankly, it breaks their routine nature. We've absorbed such a large volume of Japanese imports that any type of oddness whether it clashes with the film's tone or not is at least interesting. One could surmise that this is typical of Asian cinema as a whole. Though movies from Asia can be straight dramas or comedies or whatever, it may be surprising to American audiences that genres in these films can intertwine in ways that Hollywood pictures don't normally allow. Take for example the 2007 Korean monster movie THE HOST. In the midst of a story about a fractured family coming together to save their young daughter from a subterranean beast, there are both sad moments of family grief and black comedy beats of levity in between tension filled action sequences featuring the monster. What might seem jarring to a US viewer is perfectly in line with Asian culture.

It's a little different when talking about Gamera however. We've talked many times before about kaiju stuff regularly pandered to kids, and we've discussed how early Gamera chased after the young market earlier than Godzilla. In the Godzilla series, you can see Toho obviously add in things to appease the kiddies while trying to maintain that sheen of Godzilla as top tier entertainment. Daiei didn't seem to care as much about that kind of integrity, so they had the Gamera series follow the tastes of their youthful demographic. Kids like outer space? Send that turtle to fight monsters in space! Kids wanna be friends with Gamera? Now kids are the stars of Gamera's adventures! Kids have a blood thirst that cannot be sated? We're gonna have our kaiju spray out body goop like it's EVIL DEAD! As I've said before, you can find this cheesy catering to children annoying or charming, but I generally enjoy my Gamera to be nacho-level cheesy, so I'm happy to chomp it all down!

And heck, I don't even mind seeing GAMERA'S FAMOUS FIGHTS FROM THE PAST even though it's only here to pad out the running time. Most hilariously, most of Gamera's mind-controlled rampage is footage of his Tokyo raid from the first film (still only kinda-sorta color corrected by adding that purple tint to the black & white scenes). We'll continue to see footage re-used again and again in the Showa era, culminating in the ultimate greatest hits montage GAMERA: SUPER MONSTER. If you’re looking for justification of this cheap method of filmmaking, remember that this was a time before movies could be re-watched on TV and video. Movies were exclusively seen at theaters, and if you take that into consideration, what kid wouldn't want to not only see new Gamera adventures but also favorite moments from the series? Of course, in today's on-demand streaming environment, this point has been lost to history, but it's still a curious artifact of yesteryear's viewing habits. Any last words on VIRAS before we rocket-blast off to the skies, Luca?

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LUCA:

Something that doesn't come across on the page but was a minor surprise to me while watching the movie was the pronunciation of the name "Viras." I assumed it would be VEE-rus -- turns out it's BAIRAS! Well, they do infect poor Gamera with the ragebairas and a side-order of stockfootageitis, so I suppose it's apt. And, not unlike the bacteria that might traverse a sick monster's bloodstream, the human Viras hosts air-swim through the corridors of their spaceship horizontally on their bellies. This has no bearing on the quality of the film, nor does it illuminate any underlying thematic elements, I just wanted to let people know that some grown ass men jump into corridors and woooshhhh into the next rooms like a really bored bunch of Kal-Els. Speaking of those guys, I liked the curveballs the movie kept throwing at me regarding their nature. Geometric shapes? Cool! Oh, they're just guys and they were off-screen earlier. Dumb! Huh, they've got a weird floating octopus in a cage. Do they trophy hunt on the side or something? Weird! Oh ho ho, the floating octopus is their BOSS! And he's upset with all of them, so he's gonna take down Gamera himself (after decapitating/absorbing his disappointing minions so he can grow into kaiju size). Awesome!

What parting thoughts can I give our readers regarding GAMERA VS. VIRAS? Well, it's colorful and funny, and there's tons of moments that you've already seen, so maybe this 1968 production was simply so far ahead of its time that it just accurately predicted our current social media age of short attention spans. Oh, he's fighting Barugon again? Time to make a sandwich! Oh, he's destroying Kurobe dam again? Maybe I should call my mother... It's an odd duck for sure. If it wasn't for the stock footage extravaganza, I would have no qualms with calling it my favorite Gamera film so far. It just has such positive vibes and that late sixties kid movie cheer. If Lane Pryce on Mad Men was blown away by GAMMERA THE INVINCIBLE, I'm sure VIRAS would have been a hit with Bobby and Gene Draper in 1968. Bit too “kiddie” for Sally by that point probably, though!

Full movie’s on YouTube as well!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Derp Blog Into Darkness #32: THE CELESTINE PROPHECY (2006)

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.

Oh boy, oh boy! A movie I had literally never heard of in my life! How often do you get to treasure such a moment? I’m not talking about a mystery at the level of “not knowing a plot synopsis” here. When, in 2015, do you start up a movie that you have no preconceived notions of, no idea who the director is or what they did previously, what level of talent/price range the cast is… nothing! Well, good friends, I was quite excited for this CELESTINE PROPHECY!

Luckily, it was only 90 minutes and change.

What I think happened with THE CELESTINE PROPHECY (based upon the world-wide bestselling novel by James Redfield, I’ll have you know – or at least a sticker on the DVD will) is that the book got in the hands of a Starz executive and they were very touched by the NINE INSIGHTS of the titular prophecy. It blew their minds! What if, friends, what if…

I say this because this Starz Home Entertainment presentation actually has pretty substantial production values. For a story that is mostly set in Peru, they managed to get some location filming in, with helicopter shots and everything. A rocket launcher blows up an old school bus at one point!

The film starts with a quote from the First Insight, some sort of fictional in-universe text I innocently assumed at that time. Let it be said that I don’t remember what the opening quote actually was. Maybe something about evolution? Well anyway! History teacher John Woodson (Matthew Settle, the dad on Gossip Girl or, if you will, the killer in I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER) has just been laid off (by Will Smith’s mom from Fresh Prince, no less, in a tiny one-minute role). John is devastated by this because he’s a really cool guy who shoots b-ball hoops with the urban youths!

Dejectedly, he takes one last stroll through the school hallways. What now? What’s… Next? Indeed, he writes “what’s next” in marker on the timeline above his classroom’s blackboard. Big bang… dinosaurs… cavemen… civilization… what’s next INDEED! If you like clumsy symbolism like this you’re in for a treat buddy!

John goes to have a drink with his journalist friend, who, about five minutes into the movie, delivers the first real laugh-out-loud line.

“Oh, have you heard about this ancient prophecy that was found in the Peru recently?”

“Hmm?”

“Yes, a priest named Father José found eight scrolls with an ancient prophecy on them.”

“Ah, yes.”

John is not sarcastic here! He’s politely interested! He doesn’t act like us mere mortals who might say “What the… I just got fired, Charlene! Can you hold off on your crazy person talk for five seconds maybe?”

But no! Quite the opposite, actually – after some open-shirted contemplation*, John takes the first plane to Peru, where he immediately gets caught in a dark yet low-intensity conspiracy with the overqualified Hector Elizondo and the just-about-right qualified Jürgen Prochnow as his antagonists. Elizondo is Cardinal Sebastian, who wants to suppress these heretic documents before they cause chaos, while Prochnow is the evil Jensen, who works for a mysterious cabal of miscreants who do not want the sacred knowledge of the eight scrolls to be spread throughout humanity.

I should also add that John has hilarious high-contrast sugar rush dreams where he is reminded of a past life starring pretty much the entire main cast in Christmas pageant old timey outfits. Best of these is CONQUISTADOR Prochnow with greasy long hair and a curly moustache!

Everyone John meets in Peru basically talks at him about these NINE INSIGHTS that will be revealed to him in time. Most hero’s journey stories have a problem with a blank slate hero for the audience to project themselves onto (what is Luke Skywalker but an empty vessel who just says “ok” to a rotating roster of ever-more-grizzled father figures?) but John Woodson is the real Platonic ideal of a blank slate protagonist we can project ourselves onto. Do not worry friends, you do not need any special skills or talents to be part of the great mystery of life that is THE NINE INSIGHTS.

John reaches the commu—uhhh idyllic hacienda VICIENTE run by Father José thanks to his new friend Will (Thomas Kretschmann pre-ULTRON) and it’s just full of happy white-clad Caucasians massaging plants. Seriously, besides José the only latinos here are waiters and other staff. I’m starting to understand who exactly Mr. Redfield was selling his scam to!

John’s blandness also makes for some hilarious scenes with his female co-lead Marjorie (Prison Break’s Sarah Wayne Callies – what a veritable bevy of network talent here!). One of the tenets of the Celestine cu--- lifestyle is that you shouldn’t impose your views on others… or something? Or you shouldn’t control them? Anyway, the script apparently finds John a pushy control-freak, while Settle’s performance doesn’t pull him out of anything beyond mildly curious milquetoast. The movie has Marjorie storm off about three or four times in the running time, incredibly exasperated at John’s inability to GIVE energy instead of TAKING it. By the second time I was already laughing at this crazy Randy Marsh lady just storming off angrily over nothing!

Oh, and speaking of which, the first time John is being ENERGY TAKING with her, Julia (another lifestyle enthusiast) is observing them and she sees a shitty CGI red aura do-mee-nayt another shitty (yet… peaceful?) blue aura. Friends, I was howling at this sudden and unexpected turn into the Syfy-level supernatural! A bit later in the film, Will is telling John about auras and goes so far as to say “People of great sensitivity throughout history could see them… have you never noticed in the great works of art…” and John has an actual flashback to some renaissance painting that features a halo.

Another hilarious bit of idiocy is when a professor is talking about “the early church”, to which John replies “Franciscan or Jesuit?” The professor is astonished at this amazing knowledge (!), and John smugly asserts “Hehhh… I’m a history teacher.” The church had been around for SOME TIME by the time Jesuits popped up!

It’s also kind of odd that the only custodian of these ancient scrolls that’s ever mentioned is the Catholic Church. Yes, Father Sanchez (not José – played by Joaquin de Almeida of DESPERADO and FAST FIVE) does mention that the incredible knowledge in these sources might help all faiths, but c’mon! You’re having your guy have flashbacks to 1622 Peru and you’re not even gonna invoke some bullshit noble savage tropes? It’s all from the vaults of Rome? South America and its people are literally just a well-off white guy’s adventure’s background here. We need nothing from you but your nice scenery, good folk!

Anyway, if you wanna see a cult recruitment video that is just Movementarians-level amazing, I highly recommend this. I was rolling with laughter several times! It’s 90 minutes long and mostly looks and always sounds nice. Unfortunately, the sequel tease never amounted to anything, but it does leave you on a gentle flamenco high.

I guess I will have to wonder forever what the TENTH insight was…

Full movie! PLIS TO ENJOY

*John has more shirt changes in this movie than Cindy Crawford had sexy showers in FAIR GAME.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The “In” at the Crossroads: Nine Worlds 2015

 

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“Warning: Prolonged exposure to a thing’s fandom can damage your opinion of the thing.”

“We usually don’t have to work at finding an in.”

These are the two great insights I have gained at Nine Worlds Geekfest 2015.

No, come back, gentle friend! This piece is not about calling your interests weird and worthy of scorn! Pull up a beanbag and let us converse…

Since the first edition of the con in 2013, I’ve always come away from it intellectually and socially edified, with new nuggets of wisdom to go out and spread in the subtlest, politest, least obnoxious way possible. If quite a few of your irl acquaintances and some of your irl friends are basically “But isn’t racism/sexism over?” types, this can be rather handy.

This year, however, my #notallmen friends are safe – the revelations were of a personal nature. I had been contemplating my status as an ally over the past year, and the ways in which I could be most useful to the general cause of helping women, PoC and queer people. A good friend opined that sometimes what is best for privileged voices is to just sit back like a parliament bench-filler, wave your pamphlets about and grumble “Hear, hear!” when a woman/PoC/queer person is speaking.

So it was with a humility engendered by previous iterations of Nine Worlds and cultivated by discussion with friends throughout the years that I embarked on this year’s journey. Little did I know, dear reader!

My wife Ella and I arrived early on Thursday, and opted to partake in the 9 Worlds Pub Quiz, an ez-mode trivia contest that was more about forcing you to get to know some new people by limiting the number of teams available than it was about winning any prizes (though I did take home a sweet Mandalorian mug).

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Regarding wisdom #1 mentioned at the start of this post: The quiz host posed a Serenity/Firefly question, and made a little “I’m sorry to remind you chaps of this traumatic event!” joke. The crowd then good-naturedly made exaggerated “oh nooo!” sounds. A bit eye-roll inducing, but fine. This then happened two or three times… and the crowd kept going along with it.

I like Firefly/Serenity. I own both on DVD, and when I recommend it to someone, I’m enough of a dork to say they oughta read the Dark Horse comic miniseries “Those Left Behind” after watching the series but before seeing the movie to really get the full experience. I’m also thirty years old, of moderate economic means and living in a first world country. This means there’s more entertainment out there than I can really ever experience in my lifetime. This also means that I’m not really still sad about Firefly’s cancellation. It’s been a decade, and it had a decent run of episodes and, while maybe not a good “movie”, it had a good season finale that just happened to have played in theaters. Besides, I’ve had six seasons of Justified to watch since 2005, which really filled my personal quota of “witty, sarcastic cowboys but not in typical cowboy times”.

I remarked upon the Firefly fandom’s wallowing in victimhood over drinks with Ella, and she said: “It almost seems like it’s become part of the experience.” It is, I realized – and there’s no problem with that. Privilege is busting on people for seeking that communal safe space (which the privileged person may not require), and I ain’t gonna give anyone shit for that. So I apologize for the outrage-inducing opening statement to get you to read on: “damage” should be understood as “alter”. Worked, though, didn’t it?

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A big new geek thing I discovered is roller derby. This is apparently a seriously feminist/queer thing, a space of acceptance and openness and opportunity for expressions of power for the disenfranchised. Awesome! Another eye-opener: how Ella and I reacted to roller derby documentary “In the Turn”, following different women and queer people around, detailing their experiences with the sport (which, for all intents and purposes, looks almost exactly like human pod-racing, crashes and explosions included – pretty awesome indeed).

My reaction: “How lovely! I hope those people are all happy.”

Ella’s reaction: “Oh my god it makes me wanna get all tatted up and do my hair in crazy colors and and and”

And here’s where “We usually don’t have to work to find an in” comes… uh, in.

Almost no media I ever consume requires me to do any effort to connect with its protagonists. I found Frozen to be merely okay when it came out. Elsa was an empty icicle of a character to me, a nice deliverer of musical numbers and nothing more. She built an ice palace on the mountain and just sat in it. During the panel “Magical Girls 4-Eva” I learned that the studio was banking on Anna becoming the break-out character people would identify with. I had a vague memory of Disney being unprepared for the huge amount of demand for Frozen merchandise, but that particular detail had eluded me.

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Why is it so relevant? In my discussions of Frozen, one of my big pet arguments was always “Come on, Anna was way more fun than Elsa!” … which, it turns out, was exactly what the suits were expecting me (and everyone else) to think. Nobody’s a snowflake with unique individual opinions. If you say “Am I the only one who…?” the answer is probably “no”. Privilege pops up everywhere, even in the simple act of appraising a piece of narrative media. Don’t shit on anyone for wanting to belong. Rather, ask yourself why they want to belong and try to understand the appeal. Maybe it’s not for you – that’s fine. In this case, it’s fine not to have an opinion.

Look, I’ve typed a lot, and it sounds like 9 Worlds is some dour, soul-searching annual retreat, but it’s seriously tons of fun that you can learn from if you let it! Hell, even that introductory pub quiz I got all heavy-handed about was full of laughs and meeting lovely new people. Some other highlights of the year included:

  • The Here Be Dragons Silly Film Quiz that required absolutely no film knowledge – including a round on kaiju with “Memories from Monster Island” giveaways (yay)
  • A livecast of a commentary for SPECIES with partners in crime Andrew Clarke and Kat Iwinski – I do believe we slayed the room!
  • The aforementioned “Magical Girls 4-Eva” panel, with an art historian giving an introductory speech on the feminine mystique in art around the world dating back to prehistory
  • A delicious gin tasting with Dr. Anna Brock and Hannah Lanfear (yes an actual BOOZE DOCTOR)
  • Christine Ni’s presentation on the women of Shaw Brothers, logically called “Shaw Sisters” exposing me to a whole new subgenre of martial arts films I only had the vaguest knowledge of
  • Literally anything the Duke Mitchell film club showed in room 41
  • Giving Haribo to Game of Thrones’ Miltos Yerolemou (a jolly chap who was HIGHLY AMUSED at the kaiju clips we showed) and shaking Kerry Ingram’s (the little girl they burned on that very show) hand
  • Movie and TV discussions that actually gave me new insights where I was half expecting them to just be circle jerks – big ups to Naomi Alderman (Mad Max) and Chloë (A Song of Ice and Fire)… I don’t remember her last name but she made an excellent Squirrel Girl

I’m sure I did many more awesome things and listened to awesome discussions that I have forgotten to mention here, so forgive me for their omission (I did imbibe quite a bit). You are surely appreciated, if not wholly remembered!

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Now let’s get cracking at my 2016 cosplay. Thinking either Lucas Hood or the Tampunisher (that is a regular Punisher outfit but I carry a paper maché fire hydrant with me at all times).

Note: All cosplayer pictures taken with express consent. DM me @servantofdagon if you see yourself and wish me to remove them.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Derp Blog Into Darkness #31: TWO WEEKS NOTICE (2002)

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.

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There is no better way to encapsulate the experience of watching TWO WEEKS NOTICE than to describe its addition to that most hallowed wing of the romcom pantheon, the mad-dash-for-the-lover-you-almost-lost at the end of the film. Billionaire playboy George Wade (Hugh Grant, playing a character I really wish was called Bruce) has just declared his love to his former attorney Lucy Kelson (Sandra Bullock) in the guise of practicing a speech. The disillusioned, fed-up Lucy brushes him off with a muttered “I have work to do”, and George, heart-broken, shuffles off. He isn’t out the door for a minute when Lucy sits down next to two colleagues and asks, “That was actually a pretty perfect speech, wasn’t it?” One of the co-workers (fat, black) responds with “Yup. Hell, I hate the guy and I’m wondering what you’re still doing here!” This of course prompts Lucy to storm out of the office and engage in that age-old ritual of overcoming sudden physical obstructions and a ticking clock to profess her love to the one and only Co-Lead And Thus Perfect Partner Forever.

Only… she kinda bumps into two guys who are moving stuff for a second and then meets up with George about 20 yards down the street. WHATTA CLIMAX! Time for credits!

This low-energy hijinks is not just the movie’s ending fizzling out, it’s the diligent application of an “ehhhh” style of filmmaking prevalent through the entirety of TWO WEEKS TO NOTICE. Grant and Bullock are fine actors, and actually manage to be funny a handful of times, but neither the script nor the direction aid them in any way.

This is the type of movie where young activist lawyer Sandra reminisces on an old community center being torn down in favor of expensive condos set to “don’t it always seem to go / you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…”

Sandra waltzes into Hugh’s office demanding more appreciation? “R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Find out what it means to me!”

Hugh takes Sandra on an impromptu helicopter ride? “Fly me to the mooooonnnn…”

Is Marc Lawrence Zack Snyder’s even more lunkheaded cousin? Signs point to yes!

The two weeks’ notice of the title happens in the middle of the second act, as Sandra decides she’s done with Hugh’s overly needy employer and manages to convince him to search for a replacement during these two weeks.

Now, the movie didn’t actually start out with Sandra as Hugh’s beleagured lawyer/nanny. She’s introduced as an idealistic “shackle yourself to bulldozers” activist who gets hired by Hugh as she’s that rare type… someone who dares to talk back to me… in a classic moment of Hollywood fairy tale bullshit. But that’s fine! That’s why we go to the movies.

Over the course of a montage of months we see Sandra become increasingly exasperated with BIG BABY Hugh’s delirious demands. The final straw? Getting a text about an “emergency” as she stands a bridesmaid at the altar of a friend’s wedding. She of course rushes out of the church in a tight pink dress, getting comments from construction workers and taxi drivers alike, until she finally meets Hugh only to find that… he wants her advice on which jacket and pants to combine. When she angrily says she was at her best friend’s wedding (haha), Hugh seems nonplussed and just says “Well you didn’t have to rush out immediately!”

This is the worst that happens to a social justice activist whose job perks include “giving millions and millions to your favorite charities”. What hell! What torment!

When they’ve found a suitable replacement for Sandra (the aforementioned big black lady in her first appearance of the movie), the scene starts at the end of her interview with everything seemingly in the bag. But OH! Hugh screws up by asking “Oh, and when’s the baby due?” This PROUD black woman don’t need to take any guff like that, so of course she storms out.

This six figure paycheck vacancy with a super undemanding boss is having some serious trouble getting filled! You know a movie is set in coo coo bananas land when a woman of color with a conventionally unpopular body shape leaves a job like that over one ignorant comment.

The position is ultimately filled by a certain June Carver (Alicia Witt) who immediately starts flirting with Hugh and is sort of the TOTAL BITCH antagonist. Only… she’s not? It’s unprofessional that she starts flirting with her boss, true, but Hugh and Sandra do not have a relationship. In fact, Sandra desperately wants to get AWAY from this capitalist monster when the two women first meet. She’s not angling for her job either, since she’s a perfectly legitimate candidate that was chosen to replace Sandra.

Jeeeeez movie, you’re really trying to not make me feel any strong feelings whatsoever here, huh?

If I can give the movie any credit, I suppose I can say that Sandra’s character doesn’t have a man-shaped hole in her life at the beginning of the movie. In fact, she has an off-screen boyfriend who is even more politically active than she is. Obviously, this relationship goes south so she can hook up with Hugh, etc, but at least they attempted to make her character have other longings than romantic ones.

The movie also appears to be actually shot in NY, which was probably a huge boost in late 2001/early 2002 when this was being filmed. Good on you, Sandra (I’m assuming this was all Sandra and otherwise it woulda shot in Toronto or something).

Oh, and Hugh’s character’s brother Howard (played by that awful wax museum owner from Penny Dreadful’s second season) tells Hugh “I don’t know if you’ve noticed but the economy isn’t what it once was!” Later, at a party, Donald Trump threatens to steal Alicia Witt from Hugh. HA HA 2002

TWO WEEKS NOTICE is a movie that aims for the middle and easily reaches it, only to find that the middle is a vast grey expanse of nothingness, with at its noisome heart a dilapidated community center hosting senior citizen synchronized swimming courses for none.

Sandra Bullock shits loudly in an RV.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Turtle Talk #3: GAMERA VS. GYAOS (1967)

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LUCA:

By virtue of not having access to any licenses to the most famous monsters of (American) filmland, Gamera’s career in monster rasslin took a slight detour from the standard Godzilla trajectory. After a black and white solo debut and a first match against a quadruped reptile, GAMERA VS. GYAOS takes us straight to the match against a flying monster, foregoing a clash of icons such as KING KONG VS. GODZILLA. Gyaos is no kind and gentle Earth guardian like Mothra, though. He’s not even a rowdy jock like Rodan, even though his design is obviously lifted from the (by that time) decade-old Toho pterodactyl. Gyaos is, for want of a better expression, a big fuckin’ asshole. Now, the meanness in this film doesn’t actually exceed what we saw in BARUGON, but there’s definitely some added weirdness to go along with the cruelty. But let us start at the beginning, friends…

GAMERA VS. GYAOS starts as many a kaiju movie does, with news reports about increased seismological and volcanic activities around the country. What could be the cause and/or result of these? Surely a look at the film’s title and/or poster could not tip us off here! Against the backdrop of this threat of ecological disaster, we meet our little protagonist Eichii Kanemaru (Naoyuki Abe), grandson of village elder Tatsuemon Kanemaru (Kichijiro Ueda), as he lives an idyllic life at the foot of Mt. Fuji. That idyll is disturbed, however, as the dastardly (or is it…?) Express Engineering Corp plans to build a highway through the forest, and wants to buy out all the villagers’ land. Grandfather Tatsuemon is the main spokesperson for the rights of the civilians, and tries to come to a beneficial solution for both parties. However, things take a turn for the bizarre when a laser beam slices a UN survey helicopter clean in half and causes at least one old man surveyor to fall to his death in a hilarious fashion. What could the source of this danger be? What is the mysterious green light emanating from the cave that the laser originated from? Newshound Okabe (Shin Minatsu) convinces lil’ Eichii to be his guide into the mountain. What they uncover might spell stiff-necked doom for all of Japan!

This is all extremely textbook stuff for your average kaiju movie, and as such it took a while for it to really capture my attention. The bisected helicopter with subsequent casualty was my first laugh-out-loud moment, and Okabe and Eichii’s ill-fated expedition into Mt. Fuji was probably the second time it managed to muster some interest. Now, I don’t want to undersell the movie, as it does wind up doing some crazy and entertaining stuff, but I’d hate to cover all the fun stuff before you can have a go, Travis. I’ll instead take the less fun route and enumerate the two biggest failings of the movie: the bland set-up I’ve already gone over. This stuff is what sank the original RODAN! Second, and one might say quite fatal for a movie whose entire purpose rests on it: Gyaos frankly looks like shit. He’s stiff as hell, his eyes are too big and motionless, and his teeth are the purest ivory, indicative of a rushed paint job. Rather amusingly, there’s actually an in-universe explanation given for why Gyaos can’t move his head sideways. You see he has two throats, in order to… create… the laserbeam? And they can’t… touch? Aw hell, Travis, what did you think of the third Gamera film?

TRAVIS:

Yeah, I'll admit too that Gyaos looks pretty cheap. Luca, the description you gave of motionless eyes and a rushed paint job sums up the look of most of the Gamera kaiju. Though we're already dealing with sci-fi monsters, this aesthetic gives the creatures a more cartoony appearance than the ruff & tumble stars of the Godzilla series. Whether you find this as more cheesy goodness or proof of Daiei's shoddiness is up to you. While Gyaos' believability certainly won't fool anyone, he is an interesting kaiju among his peers. I like that his beam acts more as a cutting torch than a standard laser that simply makes things go kablooey. Giving him a vampiric personality with his hunger for blood and vulnerability to sunlight also make him quite unique among Gamera's rogue gallery. In fact, Gyaos would end up as the only recurring opponent in the entire franchise. He racked up two more Showa appearances before becoming the primary antagonist of the Heisei trilogy, and he'd also square off against the big turtle in the opening scene of the Millennium era GAMERA: THE BRAVE. Good on ya, ya tight-necked bloodsucker!

Count Gyaos-cula is also responsible for my favorite guffaw inducing scene of the movie. The military eventually devises a plan to lure the monster out of his cave with gaseous clouds of synthetic blood just before dawn so that the sunrise may destroy him. But how will they keep Gyaos from flying away as soon he sees the sun? Why, by placing the plasma geyser on top of a rotating platform that will spin so fast that he'll become too dizzy and delirious to escape! If you thought the humans' plan to trap Gamera in a rocket and blast him off to Mars in the first film was ridiculous, this one certainly tops it! And so we're treated to a fun two minute sequence of Gyaos keeping high off of blood fumes while he twirls around and around and around and around and around... Basically, if you're looking to find kaiju clips to turn into LOL-worthy GIF files, you've struck gold.

But enough about our monster villain! What about our human villains? In these kaiju flicks, it's typical to paint land developers and businessmen as fools who don't respect the sacred territories and myths of the native people. GYAOS however turns this on its head in a fun way. While the villagers are protesting the construction of the new road, it's not because they care about their homes or the preservation of their history. They're simply being difficult until Express Engineering gives them a high enough price for their land so that they can become rich. What cads! To even further the role reversal, Express Engineering dedicates much of their manpower and time to aid the military in defeating Gyaos while the villagers continue to squabble and argue about their greed. Of course, it also helps that Express has the dashing, heroically handsome Shiro (Kojiro Hongo) as the foreman to lead the attacks on Gyaos. A true nobleman for urbanization, he is! What did you think about this twist, Luca?

LUCA:

I think GAMERA VS. GYAOS must be one of the most morally offensive children’s movies ever made if you have a single environmentalist or leftie bone in your body. Not only do the poor townsfolk mean to milk that gentle billion dollar corporation for all it’s worth – shades of the Simpsons episode “Radioactive Man” where Mickey Rooney scolds the Springfieldians for taking advantage of those kind, naïve Hollywood souls who just wanted to tell a story about a man… a radioactive man. Only in GAMERA VS. GYAOS, there’s no joke! The villagers really are slick hustlers who hold a billion yen enterprise by the balls for personal gain. Not only are the company men hailed as heroic, square-jawed heroes as opposed to the sniveling small-town hucksters, the plans to defeat our winged villain monster range from merely burning down a forest to spraying it with blood. Adding insult to injury doesn’t cover it: that’s some Aslan-shaving shit right there!

Thing is, I honestly have no idea if screenwriter Nisan Takahashi was consciously trying to make “civic minded” children’s entertainment, or if it was just a product of living through years of a post-war reconstructionist Japan where progress, progress, progress was the highest good. If you compare this movie to Toho’s ALL MONSTERS ATTACK, another monster flick specifically aimed at children released around roughly the same time, it’s quite jarring to see that in AMA unchecked industrialization is kind of a background evil, a dehumanizing, distancing force. In GAMERA VS. GYAOS, Express Engineering Corp is pretty much the Justice League! If nothing else, it really makes me appreciate Ishiro Honda’s anthropocentrism, even if it’s buried under layers and layers of re-used footage and shrill children’s songs.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The fact that GAMERA VS. GYAOS (unintentionally?) espouses some politics that I am super not-down with doesn’t mean it’s not a good time. It totally is! In fact, it’s a pretty solid entry for Showa monster movie watching, with a couple of real outlandish gags, a cute kid protag and a short runtime. I won’t even say the movie is fun “despite” its horrible ideology – I’d even say it’s an added bonus. Nothing surer to strike up a conversation with friends than a movie just starting to say/do evil shit like it’s normal, I say! It’s actually interesting that this kind of filmmaking has returned with the rise of China as a global economic power (and movie market). The best recent example would be TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, where the movie inexplicably moves to China for two hours, and the Chinese government is an expert at killing Decepticons, evacuating civilians and saving American asses and being all around good guy badasses. Hey, at least they didn’t have to burn down forests to beat the bad guy!

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TRAVIS:

Oh man, I love that the movie's so pro-business that burning down the entire forest will not only help defeat Gyaos but also give those petty villagers their due comeuppance! Even elder Tatsuemon justifies the action by saying that Gyaos is punishment from their ancient ancestors for their present day greed and that only destroying their land will cleanse them from sin. Remember, kids, don't allow your selfish needs to block the way of progress lest a vampire monster force you to lose your possessions!

Speaking of kids, while Gamera's soft spot for youngsters has occasionally crept up in these first few movies, it's in GYAOS that we see the turtle fully settle in as the friend to all children. Not only do we see him selflessly protect lil’ Eiichi from being gobbled up by Gyaos, but he also flies the child to safety and drops him off at a Ferris wheel to be picked up by rescuers. Wow! Imagine being a kid getting a trip on Gamera's back and having your flight end at an amusement park. What a great day! It helps that Eiichi himself is a charming young lad, a little guy who adores Gamera while luckily not reaching the heights of psychotic idolatry that Toshio from the first GAMERA portrayed. He adores the big turtle while not becoming annoyingly precocious. It's also very amusing to see the military consult Eiichi a couple of times on strategies for defeating Gyaos since the boy's a fan of kaiju and studies their habits for most of his time. This must be the ultimate wish fulfillment fantasy for geeks: having the government rely on you and your expert knowledge on your nerdy obsession to save the world.

Gamera already fought a threat from the skies, so now it was time to fight a threat from the seas! I mean, the sea threat technically comes from the skies (outer space to be exact). And I guess Gyaos didn't come from the skies either but from a volcano BUT NEVERMIND! The squid aliens are coming! The squid aliens are coming! Let's hope our hero has the taste for calamari with GAMERA VS. VIRAS!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Turtle Talk #2: GAMERA VS. BARUGON (1966)


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TRAVIS:

Now THIS is what I'm talkin' about.

A mere year after the original black-and-white GAMERA, the tortoise returns in full color for GAMERA VS. BARUGON! We pick up moments from the first movie with Gamera's rocket ship heading towards Mars WHEN SUDDENLY it crashes into a meteorite and the monster is freed. Gamera immediately beelines it back to Earth and destroys the power plant at the Kurobe Dam to suck up some more fire power. Meanwhile in Osaka, a tale of TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE-style twists and betrayals are afoot! WWII veteran Kano has gathered three men (his brother Keisuke, ship officer Kawajiri, and general scumbag Onodera) together to send them on a jewel hunt in the South Pacific. Years ago during the war, Kano discovered a giant opal on a tropical island and hid it in a cave to retrieve later. Now handicapped with a limp, he sends Keisuke, Kawajiri, and Onodera on a mission to travel to that same island and bring the opal back with the promise of fortune and riches. What could go wrong?

The men reach the island and run into the local tribe. Tanned complexions, flower and straw dresses, high energy dance routines.... yep, it's your atypical kaiju flick island tribe! And like all tribes, there's a fatal warning for those who dare upset the spirits. In this case, the men are warned not to venture into the “valley of rainbows” as only death awaits those who disturb it. But our group of mainlanders do not heed this warning and explore the secret cave. They do successfully find the opal, but Onodera pulls the double cross by allowing a deadly scorpion to sting and kill Kawajiri and detonating the cave to leave Keisuke trapped by the falling rocks. Keisuke is rescued by tribeswoman Karen, but both must race back to Japan! Why? Well, that opal Onodera stole is no opal! It's an egg containing the ancient monster Barugon! It soon hatches and Barugon begins his destructive rampage on Osaka!

Now so we don't confuse any novice kaiju fans, we're talking about Barugon from the Daiei Gamera series, not Baragon the burrowing monster from Toho's FRANKENSTEIN VS. BARAGON and GODZILLA, MOTHRA & KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK. I'll always have a place in my heart for the floppy eared Godzilla sidekick, but Gamera's rainbow villain is pretty fun too! As I said in the previous review, the Gamera films were fun when they embraced the sci-fi silliness, and the powers of Barugon are hilariously great. He's best known for the rainbow death ray that emits from his back, yet he also has a tongue nozzle that shoots freeze spray! Fun times! It's a small detail, but I also liked how he had vertical eye lids, giving him a little unworldly touch any time he blinked. He's definitely a great opponent for Gamera's first versus movie. What did you think of round two with Gamera, Luca?

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LUCA:

What a wonderful surprise GAMERA VS. BARUGON was, Travis! After the initial disappointment of Gamera's debut, I was a bit fearful as to how enjoyable a series on this monster might be. Luckily, my fears turned out to be unfounded (for the moment). To me this is just an all-timer of a Showa monster movie. You've touched upon how great and imaginative an adversary Barugon is, but let me focus on what dragged the movie kicking and screaming into Top Tier Kaiju for me: the asshole Onodera, as portrayed by Koji Fujiyama. More often than not, kaiju humans are pretty boring filler, meant to pad out scenes in between model city smashing and suit wrestling. Sometimes, however, there'll be a human(oid) villain to conjure up some conflict for our people-protagonists. This'll usually be a greedy businessman or an overly aggressive general or the like. Painted with the same broad brush strokes as our heroes, these antagonists are quite reliably hilarious in their one-dimensional greed/anger/general evil. It must be said, however, that Onodera is a cut above the baddies I've seen in kaiju movies so far. This mercenary's (?) evil is of such a venal, petty, cowardly, violent kind that I felt like I was reading an Elmore Leonard short story rather than a kiddie monster flick. Onodera just wants to get paid, and he doesn't really have a specific plan for that to happen. Instead, he just seizes the moment (like with the scorpion) when it's there or goes to bully people into doing what he wants. Some highlights include beating up a disabled man (not that Kano doesn't give as good as he gets, screaming "Die, you bastard!" in the brawl) and sabotaging the military operation to destroy Barugon because the diamond used to power the weapon is HIS BY RIGHTTTTT which it demonstrably isn't.

With all these great bad guys for the heroes to overcome, there's really no need for the good guys to be super interesting, as the villains have it pretty much covered. That being said, I still had to laugh at how haphazardly Gamera gets pulled into this movie. Oh, a meteor bumped the rocket on a course back to Earth. Oh, he ate a dam and then took off for parts unknown. Oh, he's back now cuz he just can't have Barugon smashing up the place. We've often talked about kaiju monsters being like wrestling matches for kids (well, moreso than usual), and in only his second appearance Gamera has the air of an old pro who has to show up to defend the championship title cuz none of these other guys really move any merchandise and it's just in his contract. I suppose the continuity nerd in me appreciates that the movie bothered to explain why he's back, rather than Toho's patented "Well, here's Godzilla I guess" approach. Still, pretty funny that they're already resorting to grafting their marquee monster on seemingly unrelated scripts two movies in. I at least hope they will keep explaining his presence! If not, okay, fine. I can deal with this now after 30+ of these!

Another tradition (if one can call it that after two movies) that is brought over from the first GAMERA is the strange exoticization of the English language. You have an island tribe full of Japanese actors in brownface, and their beautiful princess is called... Karen? Was she a stranded anglophone scientist's daughter or something and did I merely miss the line of dialogue that mentioned that? I hope not, because it'd be hilarious if the script features a fictitious group of Pacific Islanders where "Karen" is a viable woman's name. More hearty island-laughs: the dire warnings about death and doom that will follow anyone that enters... THE VALLEY OF RAINBOWS!!! I love that they just unabashedly went with that, rather than Barugon Gorge or something slightly more threatening. Now I've been an island adventure mark ever since EBIRAH, but how about you, Travis -- was the tropical or the urban half of the movie more entertaining to you?

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TRAVIS:

I have to give it to the urban half because that's where all the MONSTA WRASSLIN' happens. However, that half does occasionally drag when the army manages to subdue Barugon (twice!) by dropping artificial rain on him. Both times they're followed by ponderous scenes of the cast figuring out a plan to kill him. You'd think that if they've successfully stopped Barugon in his tracks that they might as well blast him with a bunch of fire hoses or something since water is supposed to be his weakness. Or heck, wouldn't all that artificial rain eventually melt him away? It's implied that the army keeps liquid dusting him for days, so shouldn't he be a little weakened at least?

I guess not, because it takes Gamera to straight up hold Barugon underwater and drown him until he erupts into a purple bloody geyser! One feature of the Gamera series that was distinct from Godzilla was the amount of monster gore that was sprayed and gushed about freely in these supposed kiddie kaiju flicks. What probably made it okay for children was that the bodily fluids were never red colored, and the Gamera monsters generally bled black or purple or some unnatural color. Compare this to later Showa Godzilla entries where the G-man sometimes garishly gushed bright red blood from his wounds, and it's not hard to imagine children being more comfortable with the safe fantasy of Gamera's muted colored violence.

Speaking of children, GAMERA VS. BARUGON is a unique film in the series because it's the only one that lacks a kid protagonist. Yep, even though Gamera's known as a “friend to all children”, it's hard to spot someone under seventeen years old in this film. Though the Showa movies were regarded as kiddie stuff, BARUGON has the most adult tone with its old yarn of treasure hunters and the mistrust between them. Even when the plot gets back to Osaka, serious themes of greed and man's disrespect of nature and myth are prevalent in between the moments of giant turtle vs. rainbow lizard. The filmmakers could've made a serviceable movie about these themes, but hey, that's not why you're watching this flick, right?

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LUCA:

I’m gonna wuss out and say the urban/jungle portions were about equally good for me. One had the kaiju stomping as you say, but the jungle adventure also had the human betrayals escalating to the point of attempted murder (and originating hilariously with Onedara making the other two scrub the deck in their guises as skipper and sailors, respectively). The scenes build quite well, flowing logically from one to the next, with new obstacles popping up and leading to new complications in nearly each of them. That’s basic filmmaking, sure, but you’d be surprised at how rare it is in cheap monster movies like these! Or not, I suppose, considering they’re cheap monster movies. What I’m trying to say though is that the movie actually earns its 100 minute runtime – a real epic in terms of length when it comes to Showa movies, outdoing its predecessor by about half an hour and the distinguished competition at Toho by about twenty minutes. I must say that I didn’t feel this stretched runtime – even though it was (by my estimate) made longer because of the need to graft Gamera onto an already existing screenplay – as badly as I did with some Heisei Godzila films. Lookin’ at you, SPACEGODZILLA!

It was 1966 and the Gamera business was booming – or at least lucrative enough to be cranking them out at a pace to rival Toho’s. After ripping Barugon to shreds at the bottom of a lake like a rainbow lizard version of Jason Voorhees, it would not be long before our turtle friend returned to Japanese theater (and American TV) screens with GAMERA VS. GYAOS. Join us next time as Gamera takes on what appears to be its very own version of Rodan!