Mini-Review – “Atragon” (1963)


Awesome ideas in this film, but mostly laughable execution.

To illustrate that point, the plot consists of an underwater empire, known as Mu and is said to be more powerful and advanced than Atlantis, has decided to invade the surface world and take back what they feel rightfully belongs to them. The Mu Empire knows that its weapons and technology are far ahead of ours, except for one piece of weaponry that has been in secret development for years – Atragon, a flying submarine with a giant drill on its front with a weapon that freezes everything to absolute zero.

Yet most of “Atragon” is spent on our cast of characters, almost all of whom would be used again in later Godzilla films like “Mothra vs. Godzilla,” and the drama of their lives, like the photographer who wants take pictures of this woman he finds attractive, but she has daddy issues with the guy building Atragon. It takes at least 50 minutes for something interesting to happen in “Atragon,” when the film has less than half an hour to go.

Granted, once the film gets to that point, the effects kick into overdrive as Tokyo literally falls into the ground and we get a cool (although short) battle between the Atragon and Manda, a giant sea serpent. The Atragon is a ridiculous concept that you can’t help but respect the filmmakers for being able to bring such an idea to life. There is also a neat theme involving the captain of the Atragon, who is so devoted to the Japanese mentality of honor and devotion that is blinded to the fact that Japan has evolved since the end of WWII and now cares more about the world around it.

Overall, it takes a while for anything to happen in “Atragon,” but when something does occur, the film pulls out all the stops. It is clear this movie was made by the same people as the Godzilla films, especially with the eccentric tone that rolls with the punches. There is a cheerful atmosphere throughout, so the film is never dull or a pain to sit through. Give this one a watch if you’re bored and want something new to appreciate.

Final Grade: B-



Paul’s Favorite Films – Number 12

Two men are driving to Minneapolis in a stolen car, one is a “funny-looking kinda guy” who cannot stand more than five seconds of silence, the other is big guy that never says a word unless it involves a pancake house and will not stop smoking.

They are going to this winter infested city to kidnap the wife of the man who gave them this stolen vehicle, who has orchestrated the kidnapping. He has told these criminals that the ransom amount will be $80,000 and they will get half, when he really plans to tell his father-in-law these guys demanded one million dollars, and then he will take all but $40,000 for himself.

The problem is that this man, Jerry Lundegard (William H. Macy), cannot hold a conversation without others finding holes in his logic. One of these criminals, Carl (Steve Buschemi), points out why Jerry just can’t ask his father-in-law for the necessary money, instead of going through this elaborate plan to get his wife kidnapped. Jerry says that it wouldn’t work that way, without giving any other sufficient reason.


Jerry is yelled at by his own customers for being a liar, his father-in-law only sees him as a car dealer, and resorts to throwing a temper tantrum when things don’t go his way. Perhaps part of the reason Jerry goes through all of this trouble is to give him some sort of control and power in the world.

But slowly, Jerry begins to realize that he has no control over anything that happens. He may have set everything in motion, but Jerry’s cowardice and greed set in, leading to blood shed.

This is all shown in the first half hour of Joel and Ethan Coen’s masterpiece “Fargo.” That Jerry and these two criminals want to live in their world where they believe control is possible and anything is in their grasp, when they are pathetic little people with inferiority complexes, especially Jerry and Carl.

Yet these characters are not the reason “Fargo” is one of my favorite films, nor is it their constant bumbling that leads to terrible consequences. We see this happen in many Coen brothers films, where despicable people do awful things, leading to a normally depressing and off-putting film with a strange sense of humor. What sets “Fargo” apart from their other films is one simple addition – Marge Gunderson.


Played by a pregnant Frances McDormand, Marge is the police chief in charge of the crimes. Arriving at the scene of a road side execution, she is able to piece together exactly how the event transpired, what type of car and license plate Carl had, and all while her fellow officers were hiding from the cold Minnesotan winter or hadn’t completed their own police work.

Marge chooses to see the best in every one, even the people she may not trust. When meeting her old high school classmate, he breaks down into tears after describing his wife dying of leukemia, and Marge comforts him while joining in a toast to better times. Everything she does is with a genuine smile and unbelievably pleasant attitude, even while chowing down at a buffet.

But the absolute best part of her character is the relationship she has with her husband, Norm (John Carrol Lynch). When Marge is introduced to us, more than a third of a way through the film, she gets a call at five in the morning to investigate the crime. Norm, without any hesitation, gets up out of bed to make Marge some eggs and toast before she leaves for work.

“You gotta eat something,” says Norm.

He eats with her, kisses her goodbye, tells Marge he loves her before finishing up his breakfast. A few seconds later, Marge comes back in. Her police car needs a jump.

Later on, Norm meets Marge in her office with some Arby’s for lunch. This time, Marge has brought Norm a gift – night crawlers for the fishing trip he is about the take. Norm talks about his day so far, and how he is working on his new duck painting to could be made into a stamp. All the time, Marge is extremely supportive and proud of everything Norm has worked on and knows that he will get that stamp.

This may sound small and somewhat insignificant, since this is something most married couples do. But keep in mind this is the same movie where another husband had his own wife kidnapped so that he could collect the ransom money.


In a marriage like this, it is the small gestures and supportive nature that makes love stronger. It isn’t about big romantic moments or hot and steamy sex, but that there is someone out there that you love more than you love yourself. That you want to be with every step of the way, and make sure their life is the best it can be.

Marge and Norm Gunderson have the most realistic, caring and smile-inducing romance I have seen in cinema.

Without Marge, “Fargo” falls apart. I believe the emotional point of the film is to show that people like Jerry and Carl, who think that they have life figured out with their schemes and desire for control are light years behind what Marge and Norm have already figured out – simple pleasures are the greatest treasures.


Marge may not lead a glamorous lifestyle, but she knows that it is better to focus on the things you already have instead of the things you don’t. She holds these values close to her heart, and fights for them every step of the way as she pieces together the crime. All while having the most pleasant and optimistic perspective.

“Heck Norm, you know we’re doing pretty good,” says Marge.

Overall, “Fargo” has one of the best story worlds that manages to be full of evil greedy people yet still comes out cheerful and wonderful. On top of this, the film has gorgeous cinematography of winter in Minnesota that matches the bleak and unforgiving world that Jerry and Carl live in, while also being in stark contrast to the dark red blood throughout the film. Combine this with a hauntingly beautiful score by Carter Burwell and a sense of humor that is so common with the Coen brothers films yet feels right at home with how pathetic these characters can be, and you have a modern-day classic that always brings a smile to my face.



Mini-Review – “Varan, The Unbelievable ” (1958)


Don’t believe the title, Varan is very believable. In fact, I’ve seen this story before. It was called “Godzilla.” Except “Varan, The Unbelievable” is devoid of all the character, awe, suspense and respect for the world around it that “Godzilla” had.

While watching this film, moments and scenes from “Godzilla” kept playing through my head and noticing how similar the two are. The mysterious accident that leaves people dead which sets the events into action, the natives who believe it was their god that attacked these people, the ultimate reveal of the monster that leads to the destruction of the natives land, and the military designated to stop the monster from destroying Japan. This is a plot we would see in several other monster films, but in “Varan, The Unbelievable,” it is rushed and forced to get to the monster sequences.

This film feels like it was made by people who were impressed by “Godzilla” but didn’t understand what made it so great. Which is extremely odd and depressing, considering “Varan” was made by the same creators as “Godzilla.”

“Varan, The Unbelievable” was the fourth monster film created by Ishiro Honda and crew, following “Godzilla,” “Rodan” and “The Mysterians.” It is also the only other black-and-white monster film that Honda would ever make, yet it often relies on stock footage from “Godzilla,” especially for the scenes involving the military. There are even some shots where we see Godzilla’s tail or foot, but the film wants us to believe it is Varan.

However, “Varan, The Unbelievable” does get better near the end, as the military develops new techniques to combat Varan, including the use of flares and making the monster eat explosives. Like most of these Toho monster films, the effects can be impressive, if a bit laughable on the military vehicles. I’m not entirely sure why the film was shot in black-and-white when the vast range of colors is what made “Rodan” and “The Mysterians” stand out. Nothing impressive, but I do not regret seeing the film.

Final Grade: C-


Paul’s Favorite Films – Number 13

I did not have many nightmares as a child, but the ones that I do remember were some of the most painful memories I have. They were always ones of situations that I had no control over, as I watched my life zip right passed me, and being forced to make life or death decisions. Like being trapped in a car teetering on the edge of a collapsing bridge, or realizing that your airplane’s engine is on fire. Nightmares stick with you long after you’ve dreamed them, sometimes more than your pleasant dreams.

Now imagine an entire film that feels like a nightmare.

A film that makes you feel vulnerable, helpless, out of your element and absolutely petrified. The film would not play with your emotions, but feast on your deepest and darkest fears. You’d think a film like that would be different for everyone, but Charles Laughton’s “The Night Of The Hunter” finds a way to make the audience feel as though it were a child being preyed on by a beast that will stop at nothing to sink his teeth in your throat. This is accomplished through many ways, but in particular it is the casting and some of the best black-and-white cinematography.

During the great depression in West Virginia, local farmer Ben Harper (Peter Graves) promises to never put his children on the street without food in their belly, and ends up robbing a bank for nearly $10,000. As he makes it home to his family, he quickly finds a place to hide the money and makes his children, John and Pearl, swear the two will never show the hiding place of the cash, and that John will always protect Pearl. Ben is then taken by the cops and sentenced to death, after killing two men to get the money.

But while sleeping in his jail cell, Ben lets it slip that the money is still out there, and his cell mate, Reverend Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) takes advantage of this upon his release and makes it his mission in life to hunt down the money at whatever the cost, even if that means having to deal with Ben’s wife, Willa (Shelley Winters).


“The Night Of The Hunter” contains elements that you’ll be seeing a lot of when we reach my top ten – A scary other-worldly villain, and breath-taking cinematography.

Let’s start with what most people remember about “The Night Of The Hunter,” Robert Mitchum and his performance as Harry Powell. To me, this is Mitchum’s best performance, in a long career of superb roles. Mitchum was at his best when terrifying our cast of characters, and stopping at nothing to get what belongs to him, in his warped mind anyways. In this film, he stalks, berates and creeps on a desperate and poor family, to the point that the mother succumbs to his charm and silver tongue and marries the man, just so that he can get closer to the money.

The way that he pronounces “children” always sends shivers down my spine, as he takes extra care to emphasize the “chill” part. It also doesn’t help that he keeps calling these children “little lambs.”


The most defining physical trait of his character are the words “love” and “hate” tattooed on his knuckles, long before it was considered popular and cool by other people. In this case, Powell uses these words to tell the story of good and evil, just to get closer to the people he wishes to use. He uses his words strategically and maniacally, with his kind words being able to swoon anyone into loving his pleasant and helpful demeanor, while his hateful words are like a knife stabbing at you long after you’ve left this world.

He sees himself as a wolf, here to help those little lambs from themselves.

But the absolute scariest part of this character, and what makes him one of the most terrifying villains in all of cinema, is that he is a man of God, a preacher. He quotes verses from the bible, profuses his love for Jesus, and tells the tale of good and evil with his hands, just so that he can kill people and steal their money. He uses God to do horrible crimes of passion and self-interest.

When asked what religion he preaches, Powell responds with the religion that he and “The Lord” worked out betwixt them. In fact, you can hear his arrival to any scene with a rendition of “Leaning On The Ever Lasting Arm,” but removing any mention of Jesus, making him all the more menacing.

Reverend Harry Powell is the perfect antagonist to these small children. He has everyone in town on his side, due to his ability to win over any religious folk, but shows no remorse or kindness, and will stop at nothing to get that money. Even when the children on the run and sleeping in a barn, Powell catches up to them in the middle of the night, where John comments on how he must never sleep or eat.


He is the monster in your nightmare that will never stop or get tired, and the only thing he thinks about is chasing you down.

To compliment the absolute terror of Harry Powell, “The Night Of The Hunter” also offers cinematography that is better than most films today, adding to the nightmarish quality to the film.

Aside from the creepy darkened houses with a virtually blank black wilderness behind them, as if they exist in a void, the gothic angles and proportions of the houses are eerie and wildly jagged, like something out of a German expressionist piece. For example, in a key scene with Mitchum and Shelley Winters, the angles of the room make a tiny house, with the vertical ends at strange angles, yet still confined and restricted. Yet Winters sleeps on a bed that is out of house and exists in a black void and almost out of reality.


During the outdoor scenes, which always take place at night, there are many source of light coming from unnatural places, as though there are multiple moons in the sky. To add to this creepy factor, there is an emphasis on small soft animals while the children are around, like rabbits, mice and frogs, and deadly predators like owls when Powell is lurking.

This gives “The Night Of The Hunter” its nightmare effect. Everything is oddly shaped and unrealistic, as if this world should not belong. Yet here is this man who uses the word of God to kill innocent people, and has the words “love” and “hate” on his hands. These children are trapped in a world where they are hunted down for something they didn’t do, in a world that even Dr. Seuss never thought of.


If that isn’t a nightmare, I don’t know what is.

The director of “The Night Of The Hunter” was Charles Laughton, who was known for is roles in “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” and “Mutiny On The Bounty.” This is also the only film Laughton would direct, and it is a gem of black-and-white filmmaking. It uses negative space and emptiness to its advantage, while having an unrelenting atmosphere where you are unsure if even God is on your side. Add an unsettling performance from Robert Mitchum, and you have a film that makes you feel trapped in unforgiving nightmare.



Mini-Review – “The Shop Around The Corner” (1940)


I can see why this film would eventually become a great stage play – most of this takes place in two or three locations, there is a great emotional pull-line throughout the film that leads to some witty banter and has a colorful cast of characters that add to the feeling of community.

Part of what makes this film internationally famous is that it takes place in Budapest, yet everyone speaks perfect english. Even the main stars, James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan seem like they fit in America, yet no one bothers to hide behind any sort of nationality.

One of the important points I found in “The Shop Around The Corner” was the key differences between the way men and women think. There is a key scene where the employees of the shop discuss an item they have an abundance of – a cigarette box that is also a music box. The men think it is a terrible idea, since if you smoke a lot, you must listen to that song a lot, whether you want to or not. While the women believe that others will find the tune enjoyable, and it’ll make smokers into music lovers, and music lovers into smokers, which is great for business.

This comes into play throughout the entire film, as we see James Stewart be practical and logical, while Margaret Sullivan is emotional, honest and true to herself. The two constantly butt heads over their different perspectives, but there is a genuine need to care for one another. They hate one another, but they make each other better people.

“The Shop Around The Corner” is an emotional little slice of life that perfectly captures the comradery between fellow employees and the family that builds between them, while also giving us a neat perspective on the differences between the sexes, which was unheard of in the 1940s.

Final Grade: B+


Mini-Review – “Miami Connection” (1987)


I cannot wait for the Rifftrax of this one.

In case you have never heard of this gem, let me give you a brief description – The film does not actually take place in Miami but Orlando, it follows a rock band named Dragon Force, a bunch of orphaned teenagers that all know Tae Kwon Do, except they’re not orphaned since at least two still have their fathers, and they play a shady club owned by another master of Tae Kwon Do. A rival band is upset they can’t play at this club, always screaming that it is bullshit even after Dragon Force gives logical explanations, and they end up calling in a gang of motorcycle ninjas to take down Dragon Force once and for all. Oh, and roughly 45 percent of the movie is the band performing songs about friendship and kissing ninjas.

“Miami Connection” does not take itself seriously, and neither should you. One of the better “so bad, it is good” movies I have seen in a while. Get a couple of friends and some beers, sit back and enjoy the stupidity.

Final Grade: C+


Paul’s Favorite Films – Number 14

James Stewart and John Wayne in a film directed by John Ford. Best screen combination ever.

Leading up to this little known western, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” both Stewart and Wayne had developed an outstanding body of work in their respective genres. Stewart was the every-man in many screwball comedies like “The Philadelphia Story,” or helping Frank Capra make poignant emotional pieces, as we’ve seen previously with “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.” Wayne, however, was Mr. Western. He was known to “react, not act,” which lead him to become a leading man who felt the same in life as he did on screen – what you see is what you get.

Both were beloved and respected by nearly everyone, but for entirely different reasons. Wayne and Stewart had their share of similarities, such as their drive and dedication to cinema and their overwhelming screen presence, but besides that these two are night and day. They came from different schools of acting, they played contrasting roles and it seemed like they lived on two different planets.

After the end of World War II, James Stewart entered in a new film contract. Previously, he had been stuck in the same types of roles where he played kind but passionate men, and he wanted to change that image. This led him to make four movies with Alfred Hitchcock, a slew of westerns, and roles where he would play more stern and dominate characters, like in “The Flight Of The Phoenix.”

One of these films was “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” which allowed him to work with the iconic filmmaker John Ford, who popularized the Western genre. Basically, any major Hollywood western that came out between 1939 and the late 1950s was directed by Ford, including “Stagecoach,” “My Darling Clementine,” “Fort Apache,” “The Grapes Of Wrath,” “Rio Grande” and “The Searchers,” and almost all of them starred John Wayne. Ford was also known for influencing countless filmmakers, including Orson Welles, Martin Scorsese, Steven Speilberg and Akira Kursoawa.

Ford is the binding agent that holds Stewart and Wayne together, by bringing their contrasting styles and personalities together, to give us a western that is both bittersweet yet satisfying, as we watch the old west fade away and give birth to modern civilization.

Senator Ransom Stoddard (Stewart) has just arrived in the growing town of Shinbone, to attend the funeral of an old friend, Tom Doniphon (Wayne). The local paper is intrigued by this, so Stoddard reflects on his young adventure from decades ago, as a young Stoddard arrives in Shinbone by Stagecoach and is attacked by the town’s biggest threat – Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). Stoddard insists on using law and order to put Valance behind bars for his crimes, much to the laughter of Doniphon, who says the only way to deal with Valance is with a gun.


Aside from Stewart and Wayne in this film, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” has a massive all-star cast, all of which turn in a stellar performance – Vera Miles, the previously mentioned Lee Marvin, Edmond O’Brien, Andy Devine, John Carradine and even a young Lee Van Cleef.

What stands out about “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” is how different it feels from any other John Ford western. In films like “Stagecoach” and “The Searchers,” there is a distinct feeling of the outdoors and vast landscape of the west. But “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” feels enclosed and trapped. Part of this is because most these┬áscenes take place either indoors or on a sound stage, instead of a western town built outside.

Normally, this would be a bad thing for a western, as it would make the film feel artificial and remove the feeling of braving a vast frontier. But in this film, it plays to the themes of the west dying. That there is only so much room for this old way of life to move that it is beginning to suffocate.


Ultimately, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” is about the lawless western lifestyle against the sophisticated and orderly eastern way of living clashing, with James Stewart representing the east and John Wayne doing what he always does for the west. Stoddard is literate, educated, wishes to pass this knowledge onto everyone else, and is against violence, preferring to use justice to solve those problems. But now he lives in a world that doesn’t understand justice or law and order, where whoever has the fastest gun is top dog and the local sheriff sleeps in the only jail cell.

Doniphon insists to Stoddard that Liberty Valance will kill him unless he either leaves town or learns to use a gun, but Stoddard firmly believes in law and order that he is willing to lay down is own life to protect it. The sheriff won’t protect Stoddard, and Doniphon keeps his strength hidden until he absolutely has to use it.

Liberty Valance stands in the middle of this, as he represents the tyranny of the old west. Everyone in Shinbone is afraid to him, and petrified to stop him from his continued antics. The only one who could is Doniphon, but he is too focused on getting the girl of his dreams, Hallie (Vera Miles). He is building an extension to his house to give Hallie a place to live once he proposes to her. The problem is that Stoddard offers Hallie something new – education.


So does Doniphon let Liberty Valance take care of Stoddard and secure Hallie as his girl? Or make sure that Hallie leads a happier more educated life with Stoddard, sacrificing his own happiness?

I’ve talked about this in a previous editorial, but “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” is one of the best examples of a fascinating genre – the death of the old west. We all knew this would happen, that the days of cowboys and hired gunmen would give way to courts, towns and civilization. The heroes of the west would die as the railroad advanced, and riding off into the sunset was no longer an option.

We watch as society slowly creeps into this film, but only so slightly that it doesn’t seem out-of-place. Newspapers have become a great way of getting information around the territory, town meetings are held with no alcohol being served, education and schools are popping up to people of all ages, and statehood is discussed.

It wouldn’t be too long until the untamed west would be cultivated into a beautiful garden.

Yet, at the same time, the east is given enough to learn from the west. Stoddard does have to defend himself against Liberty Valance, and ends up being known as “the man who shot Liberty Valance.” In fact, he ends being elected as a Senator because of that title.

This leads to one of the best lines in the film, said by the editor-and-chief of the paper to Stoddard years in the future, “This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” not only has one of the best screen pairings with Stewart and Wayne, but gives us a look at the old west that is not often observed. This feels like the west is deteriorating and we see what happens to those old cowboys. We’d like to think they hang up their spurs, but now we see their sadness and sacrifice, to make a better world.