Number 17 – “Ebirah, Horror of the Deep” (1966)

 

 

Fun fact: The first movie review I ever wrote on my own time was for this movie, “Ebirah, Horror of the Deep” or “Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster.” I wrote it for a website I spent a lot of time on when I was a teenager, called Toho Kingdom, back in 2010. At the time, I was in the middle of my film studies in college and wanted to test the waters of film criticism to see if I was any good at it. Not only did I have fun writing the review, but I felt like I was pretty good at it.

For that reason, “Ebirah, Horror of the Deep” holds a special place in my heart, since it started me down this path and led to over 500 film reviews or articles for this site. In fact, I’ve worked it out perfectly so this re-review of “Ebirah” is the 500th piece of writing that goes up here, which is fitting now that I think about it. Anyway, let’s get to the review proper.

“Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster” is an odd-duck in the franchise, probably because it was not meant to be a Godzilla movie. During the writing process and pre-production, the role of Godzilla was to be played by King Kong and the director of the first Godzilla movie, Ishiro Honda, was set to direct. But Toho thought that this movie would do far better with audiences if they replaced Kong with Godzilla. Honda, who was extremely excited to work a vastly different King Kong film of this caliber, walked off the project when the switched to Godzilla, whom Honda believed was being overplayed by Toho. Instead, Honda would go on to direct “War of the Garganutas” in this same year and make “King Kong Escapes” later on. While Toho was still convinced this idea could do well with Godzilla and hired a relatively new director, Jun Fukuda.

While watching the movie, it is pretty obvious that Godzilla was meant to be Kong, especially given how the ape acted during “King Kong vs. Godzilla.” In this movie, Godzilla is awoken by lightning, something that gave Kong power in the previous movie, he shows affection towards an island girl, and routinely uses his strength and fists to solve his problems in fights as opposed to his atomic breath. In fact, Godzilla rarely uses his beam in this movie, just on a couple of finishing moves. But, with that being said, it still feels like the genuine Godzilla with his mannerisms and body language.

This is also the first Godzilla film to not take itself too seriously, with the previous films having dire plots that typically had the fate of the world hanging in the balance, and only some comedic moments. “Ebirah” mostly takes place on a remote island that concerns only a handful of people, while also taking many opportunities to tell jokes and create a more light-hearted atmosphere. For that reason, I do enjoy this one, if only for the human scenes.

 

 

After a disastrous shipwreck in the south Pacific, the brother of the one of the crewman is convinced that he is still alive. He contacts government agents to tell them to continue the search, but they’ve tried everything to find the ship and came up empty handed. So the brother, Ryota, sets out to find him on his own. He finds a couple of guys at a dance marathon who want a boat and the three of them go to the docks and find the nicest boat there, heading inside to admire it. Once there, the three are held at gunpoint by the “owner” who says they can stay the night on the boat if they love it so much.

But everyone wakes up the next morning to discover that the boat has been launched by Ryota, who says they are coming with him to find his brother. The other three are helpless, since they don’t know how to operate a boat. We quickly learn the owner of the boat is actually a runaway thief who was using the boat as a hideout spot.

As the boat gets closer to its destination, they get stuck in the middle of a massive storm which destroys most of the ship. But to make matters worse, a giant claw rises out of the ocean and destroys the boat as they jump out. The four land on a small island and learn it is being controlled by the villainous Red Bamboo, a terrorist organization that is building nuclear weapons on this island.

To make sure no one discovers their hidden location, the Red Bamboo have a monster guarding the island, the Sea Monster Ebirah, a giant lobster. The Red Bamboo have also been stealing island natives from Infant Island, Mothra’s territory, to use as their slave labor force. One of these natives, Dayo, escapes from the Red Bamboo and meets up with our four other characters, who begin working on a way of getting off the island while also saving the natives.

And it just so happens that our heroes stumble across Godzilla sleeping in one of the caves on this island.

 

My biggest problem with this movie are all the conveniences to the plot. Our heroes just so happen to pick the same boat that the thief is on. They just so happen to wind up on the same island as the Red Bamboo. They happen to come across Godzilla’s cave. In fact, Godzilla being on the same island as the Red Bamboo is very convenient. It all fits together a bit too loosely, where everything seems up to random chance that it worked out this way. It’s not a huge problem, but definitely one that shows up more on repeated viewings.

Ebirah is a very simple monster with not a whole lot to him, just a big lobster with huge claws. There isn’t much that sticks out about him but he does his job as the villain kaiju well enough.

As expected from the plot synopsis, Mothra plays a part in this movie. But it is a very minor role, since she spends all but the last 10 minutes of the movie asleep and the natives of Infant Island spent the rest of the film trying to wake her up. Once she does finally awaken, she ends up being the one to save the day and bring the natives home.

One thing I always thought about this movie when I was a kid was that this particular Mothra was the same one Godzilla killed back in “Mothra vs. Godzilla,” since they looked similar and this one spent the whole movie being asleep, which I thought meant she was dead. I honestly thought they weren’t trying to wake her up, I thought they were bringing her back from the dead through interpretive dance.

Anyway, for the first time in this countdown we have some decent acting. Akira Takarada plays Yoshimura, the thief, and he adds a lot of charm to what could have been a straight forward and dull role, especially when he outsmarts the Red Bamboo at every turn and uses their limited resources to their advantage. Kumi Mizuno plays Dayo, and she has a great ferocity to her performance, like she would kill you with any hesitation. While our other three main leads, Ryota, Ichino, and Nita, are mostly around for comedic relief and do a nice job of it.

 

 

Comedy is always tricky when it comes to kaiju movies, since it is so at odds with the rest of the genre. Typically, it is done best when used in small doses to lighten the mood and keep a pleasant atmosphere when the monsters aren’t around. But “Ebirah” goes all in on the comedy and most of the time it works out well thanks to Ichino and Nita. Their out-of-place yet kind-hearted attitudes and general sense of surprise at all the crazy things in this movie goes a long way towards this films light-hearted atmosphere.

Of all the Godzilla movies, “Ebirah, Horror of the Deep” is the most chill and relaxed one. It doesn’t set out to do much in terms of plot or action. Rather, it tells an interesting story about a bunch of odd-balls who happen to stumble into a monster movie and uses comedy at nearly every turn. For that reason, I enjoy it well enough. The monster scenes aren’t terribly impressive, especially since most of the fights are in the water, but they’re not terrible either, especially when Godzilla gets vicious on Ebirah.

 

 

One last thing I’d like to point out about this movie is something I mentioned back in my “Godzilla vs. Megalon” review, about how “Mystery Science Theater 3000” looked at two Godzilla films – “Ebirah” was the other one they looked at. But, unlike in “Megalon” where their commentary complimented the overall ridiculous and cheap nature of the movie, I don’t think they gave “Ebirah” a fair shot. Sure, they made fun of the ludicrous nature of the plot, but spent most of the time talking about how Mothra needs to get an alarm clock, how the explosion at the end of this movie was the same used in the beginning of “Megalon” (it was stock footage in “Megalon” and was filmed for this movie, so they had it backwards), and how they didn’t know the title of the movie (even though they skipped the opening credits for some reason).

Most of what they offered was pretty poor, even by their standards, which is probably due to “Ebirah” actually being a fairly good movie. The best they could do is provide dumb commentary that a wrestling announcer would normally give.

Overall, this is a fun yet different Godzilla. It is a welcomed change of pace, especially since it does well at comedy and a smaller-scale kaiju movie. It doesn’t do anything particularly special but provides a nice solid experience. My view on this movie has changed a bit since my initial review in 2010, where I admitted how much I loved it, but I still agree that it is one of the more memorable films in the franchise.

 

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Number 26 – “Godzilla’s Revenge” (1969)

 

 

I’ve actually debated about not including this in my countdown, mostly because there are many Godzilla fans that do not see this one, “All Monsters Attack” or “Godzilla’s Revenge,” as a Godzilla movie.

To be fair, I see where they are coming from on this. Unlike every other Godzilla film where the King of the Monsters plays an active role and most certainly exists in that world, one could argue that Godzilla does not exist in “Godzilla’s Revenge.” Instead, the film takes place basically in our world, where Godzilla is nothing more than a movie character and made to sell toys. Any time Godzilla is brought up by our main character, Ichiro, a seven-year old boy, the other characters role their eyes, like they are aware that Godzilla isn’t real since all of this takes place in Ichiro’s imagination.

Since Godzilla isn’t really in this movie that makes it hard for me to talk about. What I will say is that, as a kid, I despised this movie, probably more than I hate “Godzilla: Final Wars” now. If you’re going to advertise the movie as Godzilla getting is revenge on something, I expect to see Godzilla throwing his biggest rampage of all time, with an unbelievably angry Godzilla ready to destroy plenty of monsters. Instead, what we got was a film about a some little kid who wanders around empty warehouses and gets kidnapped by bank robbers, and ony briefly cuts to Godzilla.

 

 

But what really made me angry as a kid was that anytime the movie cut to scenes of Godzilla, they were just stock footage fights taken directly from other movies in the franchise, in particular “Ebirah, Horror of the Deep” (or “Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster”) and “Son of Godzilla.” Anything cool about this movie was taken directly from other movies, so why even bother with this one? I could just put in my copy of “Son of Godzilla” and watch the best parts of “Godzilla’s Revenge” there.

It also did not help that I utterly hated Godzilla’s son, Minilla, when I was young. I just thought he was annoying and took away from the better parts of Godzilla movies, and he was even worse here because they gave him an annoying voice. Oh yeah, Godzilla’s son talks in this movie, and can change his size too so he can interact with Ichiro. My opinion on Minilla has changed since then, but my thoughts on “Godzilla’s Revenge” haven’t changed too much (clearly, otherwise it wouldn’t be this low on my list).

Strangely enough though, a few years ago I started noticing that some Godzilla fans admitted that they loved “Godzilla’s Revenge.” For the longest time, I couldn’t understand why – all the best parts of the movie were taken from other better movies. But this peaked my curiosity, so I looked into this a bit further.

 

 

To these fans, “Godzilla’s Revenge” isn’t about Godzilla at all, but an entertaining children’s story about standing up for yourself against bullies. Ichiro lives in the industrial district in Tokyo, his parents are always working so he spends most of his time playing with his Godzilla toys and imagining what it would be like to meet Godzilla. He has a very vivid imagination and has grown accustom to lonliness.

But anytime he begins to enjoy himself in public, the school bullies seem to be right around the corner ready to ruin Ichiro’s fun. At first, he never stands up for himself and just lets the bullies do what they want to him. He nicknames the lead bully “Gabara” and retreats further into his fantasies. Eventually, he goes as far to imagine himself on Monster Island, befriending Minilla as the two watch Godzilla reenact many of his fights from other films. Minilla’s life seems to be just as chaotic as Ichiro’s though, as Godzilla keeps pressuring his son to be more like him and stand up to a monster that is bullying him, also named Gabara.

The point that lovers of this film make is that they were Ichiro at his age. They played with their Godzilla toys, they imagined what it would be like to meet him, while at the same time having to deal with the difficulties of growing up and standing up for yourself. Ichiro isn’t meant to be some annoying little brat that moves the story along, he’s supposed to be every little kid who admires some fictional character. His vivid imagination is what makes him so relatable, since we’ve all done something like that at one point in time.

 

 

And to the fans of “Godzilla’s Revenge” I say that I understand where you’re coming from and I respect that you love the movie on such a deeper level than I ever thought of when I was a kid.

That being said, I think most Godzilla fans either love or hate this movie, and it all depends on how you reacted to it as a child. If you found Ichiro relatable, sympathetic yet at the same time heroic, and didn’t come just for the stock footage monster fights, you probably liked “Godzilla’s Revenge” then and love it now. But if you didn’t care about Ichiro or his struggles through childhood, only interested in who Godzilla has to get his revenge on, then you probably hated this one and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Personally, I fall into the latter group. While my hatred for this one has died down in recent years, I cannot bring myself to enjoy any of it. This one has a big focus on monster scenes, even if it wants to tell a story about a little kid. So when you make that a large portion of the film, but mostly focus on stock footage, it is bound to leave very little impression on me.

So while I appreciate that love for “Godzilla’s Revenge” has grown in recent years, far more than I ever expected, this is still a bad Godzilla movie to me. Maybe it gets better if you don’t look at it as a Godzilla film, but I’ve never seen it as anything else since Godzilla still plays a major role in the movie. This will always be about Godzilla to me, and in that regard, I’ve always had a bad time with it.

 

 

 

Movie Review – “Dogora” (1964)

 

 

“Dogora” is one of the stranger entires in Toho’s daikaiju filmography, which is saying a lot. Considering we have films where Frankenstein’s heart gets hit with an atomic bomb and turns into a monster, a film about a giant flying submarine with a drill up front, and one where the Earth’s solution to a giant meteorite is to push the entire planet out of the meteor’s path. The oddity of “Dogora” mostly comes down to its strange mix in genres, combining a giant monster flick with a bank robbery gone wrong plot.

 

The film follows a group of international diamond thieves, who have successfully stolen gems from France and America and have set their sights on Japan next. They are being taled by both Japanese police and international agents, both of whom want the glory of bringing the thieves in, so the cops are always at each other’s throats. But everything takes a wacky turn when most of the stolen diamonds are sucked up into the sky, consumed by a giant space squid who feeds on diamonds and coal.

 

The plot with the diamond thieves has a mix of comedy and drama, since the Japanese cop and American agent dispose of each other in the most amusing ways like locking the other in a hotel room or giving the other a fake gun. While at the same time, there’s a lot of double crossing and selfish actions with the thieves. One of them is even facing a constant moral dilemma of turning on her comrades or never making a name for herself. The acting is handled fine and the pacing is serviceable, but it does feel at odds with the monster plot.

 

 

 

The scenes with Dogora are some of the most beautifully photographed of all the Toho monster movies, especially with how the monster typically blends in with the sky and the vast range of colors in the clouds when the monster emerges. I feel like many stills in “Dogora” belong in an art gallery. The way the monster attacks is also strangely alluring, lifting everything up with its invisible tendrils, including a massive bridge. For 1964, these effects are impressive.

 

Overall, I enjoyed “Dogora” though the monster scenes were a much bigger draw than the ones with the thieves. It is funny to see how these two vastly different genres bounce off each other and are somehow intertwined. It’s like watching a thriller that also tries to be a comedy – it may not do both extremely well, but you are interested to see how those genres will mix.

 

Final Grade: B-

 

Movie Review – “The Lion in Winter” (1968)

 

 

If words could kill, “The Lion in Winter” would be the most brutal film ever made.

 

Imagine if “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” was set during mediveal times and concerned a “King Lear” type story. That should give you an idea of how uncomfortable “The Lion in Winter” can be, while still being a wordsmith like William Shakespeare. Every word uttered in this film is carefully calculated to be an emotional dagger right into our characters’ hearts, as every one of them is overcome with a lust for greed and power.

 

In the age of King Henry II (Peter O’Toole), he has now become an old man and still has not choosen who will be the next King. So for Christmas, Henry invites his whole family for the holiday, including his estranged sons, the rough and selfish Richard (Anthony Hopkins), the cold and calculating Geoffrey (John Castle), and the inexperienced and naive John (Nigel Terry), as well as his wife Eleanor (Katharine Hepburn), who Henry has imprisoned for the last few years. Henry also invites the young king of France (Timothy Dalton). Henry says he will use this time to decide who will be the next king, mostly leaning towards John since he’s the only one Henry likes even if he would be terrible king, while he also tries to make amends for his past sins, all while abusing his power as king over all of them.

 

 

 

“The Lion in Winter” is mostly a game of chess played through words and subtle manipulations of others, played by King Henry and Eleanor. They both have much larger schemes than either wants to show, especially Eleanor who takes every opportunity to goad Henry and show him that he is not as powerful or as perfect as he thinks. Both take absolute delight in knocking the other down a peg, while both scream at the top of their lungs to see who is the loudest.

 

This is done masterfully through Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn’s performances, as they show the deeper parts of Henry and Eleanor’s love-hate relationship as well as how much they need each other. These are both cruel, greedy people who want the other acknowledge their brilliance, yet they adore one another because they force the best out of each other. This comes during their quieter moments when the two reflect on when they first met and how their love and need for each other has evolved over the years. Tormenting each other with power plays and mind games has changed their relationship into a furious struggle to maintain dominance, and they would not have it any other way.

 

Overall, “The Lion in Winter” is a lot of fun, if only for the wordplay, devestating insults and the relationship between Henry and Eleanor. This feels like a medival tragedy only Shakespeare could have written, so it is amazing that writer James Goldman could create such a fascinating screenplay. The pacing is a bit slow at times, but the tension during the final act is absolutley worth it.

 

Final Grade: B+

 

Movie Review – “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” (1961)

 

 

This is one film that gets better the less you think about it and the absurd premise. Science and reality are thrown out the window for entertainment’s sake, but “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” handles this by balancing difficult moral decisions with impressive special effects.

 

One of the richest and intellectual minds in the world, Admiral Harriman Nelson (Walter Pidgeon) has designed the most advanced nuclear submarine the world has ever seen, the Seaview, including going to unthinkable depths in the arctic sea. Nelson plans to see how long the Seaview can last underwater without radio contact, but after a few days of underwater testing, the Seaview is forced to the surface when the ice caps around them start to break down. The crew finds that the sky is on fire and the surface temperature at the north pole is nearly 120 degrees and rising.

 

The crew arrives in New York City to find that the whole world is experiencing this deadly heat wave. Scientists have estimated that the Earth will become uninhabitable for any life within three weeks. One Russian scientist proposes that just two days before that time, this heat will just go away and everything will return to normal thus humanity should do nothing but wait. But Nelson and the crew are against this plan and come up with their own fire a nuclear missile into the atmosphere at just the right moment in just the right place, from the deepest point of the Earth just before all life is wiped out.

 

The governments of the world refuse to approve this plan, which leads Nelson to take drastic actions and steal the Seaview and her crew, as they make their way towards the Marianas trench near Guam in an attempt to save humanity.

 

 

 

The main theme of “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” is power and how much one man should have of it. Nelson not only builds a one-of-a-kind submarine that outclasses everything the military had built up to the point, but he takes it upon himself to save the world from an event that he feels only he can stop. Anyone else is inadequate or not intelligent enough to carry this burden in Nelson’s eyes. He betrays the advice and authority of the United Nations to go on this mission, and even challenges the integrity and courage of the Seaview’s crew, feeling that they will be the downfall of this mission and thus ending all life on the planet.

 

Nelson’s power is questioned further when they rescue a scientists stranded on the ice, Alvarez, who spouts on about how this heat wave is God’s will and that he has chosen to end all life on the planet Who are we to go against the will of God? Yet, despite all this, Nelson pushes forward to prove that man has the power to make his own destiny, despite the will of others.

 

Robert Sterling plays Captain Lee Crane, who runs the Seaview and her crew, but is constantly battling Nelson’s decisions, especially with how he treats the crew and constantly puts the ship in danger, like when the sonar and radar go out and this leads the ship into a mine field they didn’t see coming. Sterling plays to the emotional side of the film, always understanding and compassionate towards his crew while focusing less on the mission, while Nelson is the cold, logical yet twisted side, always one wrong calculation away from breaking but has to keep his eyes on the goal at all times.

 

This makes the character struggles the most interesting part of “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” especially as the film reaches its climax and the odds keep staking against them. Certainly worth checking out if you’ve got nothing else to check out.

 

Final Grade: B-

 

Movie Review – “El Dorado” (1966)

 

 

John Wayne plays an aging gunman in the lawless west, who must aid a drunkard in the capture of an outlaw, as they capture their criminal in a jail cell and must protect him from his posse so that he can face justice, all while Wayne fights off a previous lover.

 

Oh wait, my bad. That’s the plot synopsis for Howard Hawks’ “Rio Bravo.” Here’s the details on Howard Hawks’ “El Dorado.”

 

John Wayne plays an aging gunman in the lawless west, who must aid a drunkard in the capture of an outlaw, as they capture their criminal in a jail cell and must protect him from his posse so that he can face justice, all while Wayne fights off a previous lover.

 

…Wait.

 

 

 

Yeah, right away I began to notice a lot of similarities between “El Dorado” and “Rio Bravo,” especially in terms of plot and story. Although “El Dorado” adds in new characters, including a family that is caught in the middle of this feud, and the outlaw being a business man planning to buy out all the water in the area, instead of a loose-cannon gunman.

 

But where the two differ is in their tone and atmosphere, as well as the acting. Outside of the comedic scenes between John Wayne and his ex-lover, “Rio Bravo” took itself very seriously, like the whole state of Texas was on the line if they failed their mission to bring this criminal in to face justice. The film reminded me a lot of another Howard Hawks western, “Red River,” with its somber yet meticulous pacing where dread and terror could be around any corner.

 

“El Dorado” on the other hand never takes itself too seriously, with Wayne having a lot more time for banter among his buddies, including the druken sherriff (Robert Mitchum) and a skilled knife marksman (James Caan). The pace is far more leisurely, taking its time to build things up and often going off to do things that don’t have an immediate payoff, like an injury that Wayne sustains early on, or the way that Wayne and Caan’s characters meet out of the blue. This makes “El Dorado” far more pleasant to sit through than “Rio Bravo” and offers a lot more that made me smile, especially through humor and simple conversations.

 

 

 

“El Dorado” also gets bonus points for having some better performances than “Rio Bravo,” namely from Robert Mitchum. His character goes through many different shades, from patient sherriff with wit, to a drunk man who has nothing to lose, to a old man looking to redeem himself, and Mitchum makes each of these sides feel like one whole man, filled to the brim with successes and failures. While “Rio Bravo” had Dean Martin as its drunk gunman, who nailed the humor and banter with Wayne, Mitchum nailed the tragedy of this character and poured on the sympathy.

 

But the biggest reason I take “El Dorado” is because there was no petty scuabbling between Wayne and his ex-lover like in “Rio Bravo,” which was so irritating and insufferable that it almost made me want to turn off the movie. Instead, “El Dorado” was a supportive, almost motherly figure with Maudie (Charlene Holt), who isn’t afraid to snap back at Wayne but knows that she cannot change his mind.

 

Overall, while “Rio Bravo” and “El Dorado” have their share of similarites, the two certainly set about it in different ways. One is a darker, tense tale of redemption and justice, while the other is a more pleasant, humorous romp about making things right. They’re both great movies in their own right, certainly worth checking out if you’re in the mood for a classic western. It is hard to go wrong with Howard Hawks directing John Wayne.

 

Final Grade: A-

 

Movie Review – “Spartacus” (1960)

Just watching this to say I’ve nearly seen every Stanley Kubrick film. Nothing to see here.

Well okay, there is an interesting history to “Spartacus.” This film came about when actor Kirk Douglas was turned down to play the lead role in “Ben-Hur” which went to Charlton Heston. Douglas wanted to prove that he could play that same role better than Heston ever could and set out to make the best Roman epic Hollywood could make. Douglas ended up being the executive producer on “Spartacus” and wanted Anthony Mann to direct, but had many creative differences with Mann and instead went to Stanley Kubrick, who had worked with Douglas previously on “Paths of Glory.”

“Spartacus” is also one of the films to basically end the “Blacklist”-era of Hollywood by openly showcasing Dalton Trumbo’s name as the screenwriter even though he was a blacklisted writer. Douglas openly admitted that Trumbo wrote the script and “Spartacus” went on to be one of the highest grossing films of 1960, showing that Hollywood needed Dalton Trumbo.

 

So while the film started out as a petty way for Kirk Douglas to get back at the executives that turned him down for a role, it did end up saving the careers of hundreds blacklisted writers, directors, actors and filmmakers. A true showcase of selfishness becoming selflessness.

That being said, “Spartacus” is about as average of a Roman epic as you can get. We see the slave uprising, the evil greed of the Roman Empire and their need to suppress everyone around them, the leader of the slaves being very stoic and showing his men kindness instead of the hatred the Romans showed, and so on. Outside of the now famous “I’m Spartacus!” scene, I have a hard time remembering most of the plot.

I find the story of how “Spartacus” was made more interesting than the movie itself.

Final Grade: C