Movie Review – “Fanny and Alexander” (1982)

Now that I have watched five Ingmar Bergman films, I think I can safely say that none of his films resonate with me and that they are more irritating than enjoyable. Sitting through “Fanny and Alexander” was a chore – over three hours of people running through castles and houses with little rhyme or reason, while still having that excruciatingly slow and unforgiving Ingmar Bergman pace that makes the whole movie feel like its on the strongest sleep aids known to man.

There comes a point in filmmaking when a director becomes too self-indulgent, thinking that his art and style outweighs everything else, and Bergman takes that to its most extreme, to the point that I cannot get into his movies. I find all of Bergman’s films, including “Fanny and Alexander” to be devoid of energy and passion to the point that I want to scream at the film to do something interesting or entertaining.

But let me take a moment to address anyone out there that are interested in film exploration or wishes to expand their pallet to foreign cinema – Just because I’ve never been entertained or enraptured by an Ingmar Bergman film doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch his movies. I believe I understand why people enjoy his movies, because they are the most artistic example of filmmaking.

They feel like paintings that could be hung in museums for everyone to see, and we all have different reactions to those pieces of art. For some people, Bergman’s art has a lot to say about our inner fears and how they change over time, and they believe he says it in the most melancholy and natural way possible. Others, like myself, get nothing out of it and I just feel like I’m staring at a blank canvas. But that’s the power of subjectivity in art – your perspective and point of view changes everything, to the point that you get an entirely different outcome from it than anyone else.

Honestly, I nearly fell asleep multiple times during “Fanny and Alexander,” due to its monotonous and dull tone with a lack of anything interesting happening for a excruciatingly long periods of time. But then again, if Bergman’s films have taught me anything, it is that they are an acquired taste. I can’t say that I had a good time watching this film, but I understand why others would enjoy this tale of two children learning their place in the world after a tragic event.

At least this one didn’t make me pull my hair out like “Persona” did.

Final Grade: D+

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Movie Review – “Field of Dreams” (1989)

 

 

If there’s one thing I admire about cinema, it is the ability to blend together vastly different genres to give us a wholly unique and captivating experience. “Field of Dreams” takes two types of stories from completely separate worlds, fantasy and sports, and creates a charming, wholesome, heart-lifting film.

I don’t normally enjoy films about sports, due to their predictable formula and clich├ęs about the underdog overcoming every adversity. But “Field of Dreams” escapes that by using baseball as its backdrop and passion that unites the world, rather than having it define the movie. While the fantasy elements certainly help its case, its love for the game and the sense of nostalgia is what really makes it stand out.

The film is set in the rural farms of Iowa, where baseball-fanatic Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) has made a living for himself growing corn with his wife and daughter. But one day, Ray starts hearing voices out in his field, repeating the same thing over and over again – If you build it, he will come. As if struck by divine guidance, Ray interprets this message as a sign that he should convert his corn field into a baseball field. And sure enough, once he builds the field, magical events start happening.

The acting in “Field of Dreams” is a mixed bag. Kevin Costner brings his usual bland and uninterested tone, as even during the more personal and earth-shattering moments he can barely find the strength to work up a smile, let alone give us a decent reaction. That being said, Amy Madigan, who plays Annie Kinsella, is overflowing with positivity and joy that it almost makes you forget that Kevin Costner is hardly acting. Every time she’s on screen, you can tell that she’s having a blast and genuinely loves being her supportive and lovable character. James Earl Jones plays a famous writer who has lost interest in the world and brings a lot of snark to the film, as well as a connection between the past and the present.

 

 

Although the acting certainly gets boosted further with the final film appearance from Burt Lancaster, who brings the same energy, charm and enthusiasm that he always had throughout his career. As a capstone to his acting career, Lancaster gives us one final chance to see his sentimental side.

But the biggest reason “Field of Dreams” works as well as it does is because of its passion for baseball and how it connects people in so many invisible ways. The film lovingly paints a tapestry of baseball history, explaining what happened to certain baseball players and their statistics, and telling us how there is no feeling quite like playing on a baseball field surrounded by caring fans. Most importantly, that whatever may happen in the world, no matter what troubles and problems we may experience, we’ll always have something to root for out on that baseball diamond. Baseball is not just a uniter, but a love that will never fade.

Overall, “Field of Dreams” is a charming film that loves baseball as much as any one else, and wants to share that love with the rest of the world. It has some heartfelt performance, though some are better than others, and some effectively sentimental writing that hits the right notes when it needs to. The fantasy elements are all over the place, but the passion and love for baseball more than makes up for that. If you are even remotely interested in baseball, or are intrigued by the sport, then check out “Field of Dreams” to see the true strength of the sport.

Final Grade: B

 

Movie Review – “Cinema Paradiso” (1988)

 

 

“Cinema Paradiso” is, first and foremost, a love letter to the power of movies. It is about the allure of watching larger than life characters go on adventures. It is about how cinema brings communities together by making us all feel the same emotions. And it is about how movies teach us as much about life as life itself. This movie views cinema through classic nostalgia googles, viewing these strengths through the eyes of a little boy that can’t stay away from his local theater.

The story is similar to Fellini’s “Amarcord” but with a massive focus on movies and the theater. In that this Italian film is mostly told through flashbacks to one character’s youth and the town he grew up in. We meet most of the people in his town, but don’t really get to know any of them until they get in the movie theater. Each character has a different reaction to their surroundings, including some spitting on those who won’t stop talking, or the guy whose seen the movie multiple times and repeats the lines out loud, yet still ends up openly weeping at the ending of the film.

The story almost feels non-existent here, with most of “Cinema Paradiso” focusing on the lives of these characters and how alive they feel while watching movies. These people feel lifeless and bored without cinema in their lives. If they’re not watching movies, they tend to talk about how life relates back to something Cary Grant or John Wayne once said. To see that type of journey evolve from childhood into adulthood and still have this wide-eyed optimism about it all certainly makes it a worthwhile journey.

 

 

But the real power of “Cinema Paradiso” is how it makes you love watching movies. Even if you’re not an avid fan of classic movies, just watch the reactions these people have to films like “Stagecoach” or Kirk Douglas playing Ulysses and you’ll see that movies are much more than just pretty faces and explosions. The ending scene in particular is one of the most powerful and heartfelt scenes I’ve seen in a long time, worthy of being enshrined in a film museum.

Overall, “Cinema Paradiso” is a slice of life Italian film that has a glorious perspective on movies that you don’t see very often. It is a beautifully nostalgic score by Ennio Morricone and some heartbreaking performances from it’s two main leads. I would highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys reminiscing about older movies, as well as to those who want to gain a deeper appreciation of cinema.

Final Grade: B

 

Movie Review – “The Right Stuff” (1983)

 

 

Meet the movie that every astronaut training movie aspires to be – “The Right Stuff.”

This three hour movie chronicles the life and times from when we first broke the sound barrier to early days of the Mercury astronauts and their journeys around our planet, with a particular focus on the adventurous and wild test pilots the military and NASA used to achieve these lofty and dangerous goals. “The Right Stuff” gives each achievement, each little victory and each leap for mankind the gravitas it truly deserves, letting the audience savor these discoveries as much as our characters do.

While the film feels like a documentary at times, taking its time to accurately show how everything unfolded, the pure joy of the Mercury astronauts get as they see the Earth from a whole new perspective and joke with each other as one has to wait for hours to go to the bathroom is where “The Right Stuff” truly shines. The film doesn’t try to show people like John Glenn (Ed Harris) or Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn) as living legends or gods, but as flawed men who made as many mistakes as the rocket engineers and the government that pushed them so that we would compete with Russians and their space race. The moments of levity and awe are a wonderful compliment to the man failures and challenges of doing something that no one has ever attempted.

 

 

For people who want to reach out to the stars and see what’s beyond Earth, this film feels more human than historical.

“The Right Stuff” does feel much longer than it needs to be, but considering what it is trying to tell and the amount of history it wants to recap, the three-hour runtime feels justified. That being said, it does start out slow and focuses a bit too much on the personal lives of the test pilots than it had to. But once the film starts testing the pilots to become astronauts, around 45 minutes into the movie, things really start picking up and never lets go.

Overall, “The Right Stuff” is one of the more fascinating and humble depictions of the first astronauts. The journey from test pilots to breaking the sound barrier to astronaut training and beyond is an admirable and epic one that takes the proper time to slow down and savor both the little and big moments. Certainly a space epic worth checking out.

Final Grade: A-

 

Number 9 – “The Return of Godzilla” (1984)

 

 

For a long time, I didn’t enjoy this Godzilla film, “The Return of Godzilla.” This was mostly because my only experience with the film was the American version that drastically changed the intent and message of the original Japanese version. The American film, “Godzilla 1985” was made by New World Cinema, owned by controversial B-movie filmmaker Roger Corman. But the reason Corman turned out a sorry product with “Godzilla 1985” was because you had a B-movie director trying to handle a monster movie that is deadly serious.

It wasn’t until I watched the Japanese version recently that I understood why this is regarded as one of the best Godzilla films. “The Return of Godzilla” is the spiritual successor to the original 1954 “Godzilla” in more ways than one. It not only ignores every Godzilla film that happened between 1955 and 1975, but it updates the original’s message on nuclear weapons and progression of science for a modern age by setting it in the midst of the Cold War.

Honestly, Japan has one of the most unique perspectives on the Cold War, even if they weren’t involved. They sit right in the middle of two countries that were one bad argument away from nuclear war that could annihilate the world. If any country was going to get caught in the crossfire between the United States and the Soviet Union’s ego battle, it was going to be Japan.

Not only that, but Japan had evolved a lot since the last Godzilla film in 1975, becoming a economic and technological powerhouse, but still with visible wounds from World War II. So it made sense to bring Godzilla back to make a new statement about the world and its use of nuclear weapons.

 

 

Keep in mind that in the three Godzilla movies prior to this one, we had a robot that looked like Jack Nicholson that could change his own size despite his creator not programming that in him, an underground civilization that had its own giant monster that looked like a cockroach, a princess singing to a giant golem/dog monster to wake it up to fight a giant robot, and Godzilla taking on the power of electricity to turn himself into a magnet. It’s safe to say that the Godzilla series had stopped taking itself seriously and wanted to tell a story that harkened back to the first Godzilla film, the one that dared to show a whole hospital full of people that had been affected by Godzilla’s rampage.

There’s not much to say about the plot, especially since the title is the most accurate descriptor – Godzilla returns. The film is set in 1984, during the height of the Cold War, when a massive shift in the tectonic plates causes Godzilla to erupt out of the Earth and to reek havoc on Japan once again.

Of course, we only catch a brief glimpse of Godzilla in the first 45 minutes, so the first half of the film follows the implication that Godzilla is back once again. The Japanese government doesn’t respond well to the news that a giant monster is coming to destroy everything again, so they don’t do anything about it until they feel like there’s enough evidence to suggest Godzilla is on the move. This results in a Russian nuclear submarine being attacked and destroyed by Godzilla, with the Soviets immediately blaming the Americans for destroying the sub and the Japanese for letting this happen in their waters.

Once the prime minister gets confirmation that it was Godzilla that destroyed the sub, it puts all of Japan in a difficult and almost hilarious spot – The prime minister has to stand in front of the entire world and tell everyone it wasn’t the Americans that attacked the Soviets, it was Godzilla! So not only have you made things politically difficult between two warring nations, but you just confirmed that a giant fire-breathing indestructible monster could strike anywhere in the world at any time.

This sparks a long debate between representatives of Japan, America, and the Soviet Union, with the two former nations both pushing their own nuclear agendas on Japan. The Soviets say their in more danger, since Godzilla is much closer to Russia than America, and that they should be the one to take care of the monster. But the Americans and Japanese are now allies, so they think they should destroy Godzilla.

This is what I mean by the Japanese being a difficult spot with the Cold War – stuck right in the middle of two powerful nations who want to use Japan for their own needs. This is a country that’s already seen the horrors of nuclear weapons first hand, and they know they don’t want to go through it again. In the end, the film’s decision on this is to show the resolve and determination of the Japanese people by saying they will not be bullied or threatened by anything that either side wants to force on them. The prime minister’s ultimate choice is that nobody will use any nuclear weapons on Godzilla, even if he reaches the Japanese mainland.

 

 

Instead, the Japanese government starts searching for other alternatives to stop Godzilla aside from dropping a giant death bomb on him. The defense forces’ top weapon is the Super-X, a flying fortress that could withstand Godzilla’s atomic breath and comes equipped with cadmium missiles that would infect Godzilla with a poison that will slow down his heart. The prime minister gives his approval and the defense force is up on alert.

Additionally, the government hires scientists to research everything they have on Godzilla to try and find an exploitable weakness. This is where our main cast of characters come into play, including reporter Goro Maki (Ken Tanaka), sailor Naoko Okumura (Yasuko Sawaguchi) who witnessed Godzilla erupt from the Earth at the beginning of the movie, and professor Makoto Hayashida (Yosuke Natsuki). Hayashida lost his parents in Godzilla’s initial attack in 1954 and describes Godzilla as a living nuclear weapon – he can’t be reasoned with, can’t be out ran or over powered, nor does he care about the lives he is trampling or setting ablaze. He is without mercy, compassion, or fear, only the desire to destroy.

We get our first glimpse of Godzilla about halfway through the film when he attacks a nuclear power plant in Ihama, and it is a haunting yet forceful introduction. The first few shots are from Godzilla’s point of view as he breaks through a bank of fog to approach the power plant. Then there’s a shot from a soldier’s perspective, starting at Godzilla’s toes and working up the entire length of his body to show how imposing he truly is. Outside of the newest Godzilla films, “The Return of Godzilla” is the best film to put Godzilla’s size and scale to good use, especially with so many shots from human perspectives as Godzilla is about to trample on them.

I’ve always had mixed reactions to the Godzilla suit in this film. Sometimes the suit looks terrifying, especially from lower angels and shots that focus on his gigantic mouth. His teeth and massive maw might be the scariest part, because any time there’s a shot of Godzilla reeling back to roar, the dread and hopelessness of fighting him sinks in even deeper.

 

 

The problem I have with this Godzilla suit is how inconsistent it feels. Sometimes the animatronics on the head and mouth are great and sometimes they look silly. There are several shots of Godzilla with the most derpy and lifeless expression on his face, like he has a thousand-yard stare. There’s also points where Godzilla has an insanely tiny neck, like his head has inflated like a balloon. I wouldn’t have a problem with any of this if it was constantly like that, but it keeps changing depending on the animatronics they used.

This film may have some of the best special effects of any Godzilla film, but the animatronics weren’t as good as they could have been.

Anyway, during Godzilla’s attack on the power plant, the scientists are confused when Godzilla stops his attack just to follow a flock of birds. Professor Hayashida proposes that Godzilla was distracted instinctively by a homing signal caused by these birds, since he is related to them in some way. The scientists find their weakness to exploit and come up with a plan to plant a similar homing signal at a nearby volcano, lure Godzilla to the mouth of the volcano, start a contained volcanic explosion and capture Godzilla inside of it.

 

 

Unbeknownst to all of these plans by the Japanese government, the Soviets have gone against the words of the prime minister and have one of their ships disguised as a freighter in Tokyo Harbor that is prepared to launch a nuclear missile from their orbiting satellites. Should Godzilla attack Japan, an automatic countdown for the missile launch will begin.

As this dire news comes to life, Godzilla rises out of Tokyo Bay and makes his way towards the most populated city in the world. The defense force does their best to fight off Godzilla, but they’re about as successful as using a squirt gun to stop a shark. Godzilla not only blows up every jet but reduces nearly every ground troop to ash with one blast of his atomic breath.

When I was a kid, the special effects for “The Return of Godzilla” always looked weird to me. I would say this is because they looked so different from the effects of the Showa series. The thought that special effects would get better over time never crossed my mind. Not only are the effects in this film more lively and realistic than the Showa series, but they’re even better than most of the effects in the later Heisei series.

Consider the start of Godzilla’s initial attack on Tokyo here, where we see an lively and brightly colored Tokyo landscape, filled with neon signs, buildings taller than Godzilla and a modern train track. One of the first shots is the side of a building that shows Godzilla’s reflection before we even see the rest of him, followed Godzilla accidently stepping in hole that leads underground to the subway and his claw scrapping the side of that same building, sending glass and metal beams every direction. This is followed by Godzilla dislodging a train from the tracks and lifting up one of the cars to roar at it.

 

 

This film takes advantage of its landscape and Godzilla’s size every opportunity it gets to make a rampage that is almost as terrifying as his original attack on Tokyo in 1954. Almost.

Anyway, the freighter that holds the missile countdown is attacked and damaged by Godzilla and the timer starts. The captain tries to stop the countdown before it’s too late, but is killed due to his injuries before he can do so, and the nuclear missile is launched right at the heart of Tokyo. While this is going on, the Super-X is launched to combat Godzilla, which tanks Godzilla’s atomic breath and fires enough cadmium shells to slow down his heart and knock him unconscious.

This victory is brief though, since the Japanese immediately get word that the Soviets launched the nuke at Godzilla and they can’t stop it. The prime minister begs the Americans to fire a counter-missile at the nuke before it’s too late and they do so, leading to the suspenseful scene that you’ll find in any Cold War film involving nuclear weapons.

However, where this film differs is that the two missiles collide in the stratosphere just above downtown Tokyo. While the nuclear blast was averted, it does light up the surrounding atmosphere, providing a bright orange and red light show that leads to an electrical storm and an EMP that shuts down everything electrical in Tokyo, including the Super-X. But some things involving Godzilla never die and every blast of electricity from the storm is drawn to him. With all that extra power, Godzilla awakens again and heads straight for the downed Super-X.

This leads to my favorite part of the movie as Godzilla and the Super-X had an all-out fight through Tokyo, putting all the special effects to use. Even though the Super-X pilots forget about the cadmium shells, they put up a great fight as they get continually blasted by Godzilla and even fight through the giant holes Godzilla puts in the sides of buildings. I love the shot of the Super-X firing everything through this giant hole in a skyscraper while Godzilla just walks right at the machine, even with the building in the way.

The fight ends with most of downtown Tokyo being set ablaze and Godzilla knocking over a building three times his size on top of the Super-X. This leads to some great cinematography as Godzilla’s size not only comes back into play, but makes great use of the burning city.

 

 

Just as Godzilla is about to crush Goro Maki, Professor Hayashida finally finishes setting everything up at the closest active volcano to Tokyo, Mt. Mihara. He turns on the machine and it immediately gets Godzilla’s attention, who stops his rampage on Tokyo to head to the volcano. Once he’s there, suddenly the shot of Godzilla’s thousand-yard stare works when he sees the machine sending out the homing signal, realizing it’s too late for him to leave and is dropped into the mouth of the volcano.

The final scene of Godzilla being forced inside of Mt. Mihara has always been a weird one to me. The music is immensely sad and a little heart-breaking, as if this is a terrible thing we’re doing or that we’re supposed to feel sorry for Godzilla. While the scene does have breath-taking cinematography, especially in the final shot of Godzilla falling inside the volcano, I never felt bad that this had to happen to him. Godzilla is the true villain of this movie and now the rest of the world is safe from his destruction. Still, the ending is just as satisfying as the rest of the movie so I can’t complain too much.

I should mention that, like “King Kong vs. Godzilla,” the American version of this movie is different. Roger Corman wanted to make a film that didn’t feel like an American-version of a Japanese film, but to make a sequel to another film, “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!” That film was the American-version of the first Godzilla movie, which took out 10 minutes of original Japanese footage and added 20 minutes of new footage, mostly scenes with American actor Raymond Burr playing a reporter who witnesses Godzilla’s attack on Japan firsthand. While that movie is fine, it does strip away most of the nuclear weapon subtext and complexity of the Japanese film and simplifies most of story.

Likewise, “Godzilla 1985” takes out most of the subtext involving the Cold War and simplifies everything down to just an average monster movie. The American version brought back Raymond Burr to play the same character he did in “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!” though changed his name slightly. His character’s name was Steve Martin, which wasn’t a problem in 1956, but in 1985, comedian Steve Martin was popular. They didn’t want to confuse people so they just referred to Burr as Mr. Martin, as he is now a consultant for the Americans who are witnessing Godzilla’s attack on Tokyo.

One controversial change “Godzilla 1985” made was during the scene on the Soviet freighter after the countdown has started. In the American version, the captain deliberately launches the missile instead of attempting to stop the missile.

“Godzilla 1985” is a dumb movie that lacks complexities or understanding of the source material and would rather promote products like Dr. Pepper instead of tell a good story.

“The Return of Godzilla,” on the other hand, is a worthy successor to the original “Godzilla.” It is moody, atmospheric, and downright chilling at times, especially in the details with Godzilla’s attack. It makes a modern statement on nuclear weapons and the Cold War without diluting it for the sake of drama or action. The special effects, while looking a little dated at times, still hold up today and look different from any other Godzilla movie. As the start to the Heisei series, you couldn’t have asked for something better than this.

 

 

 

Number 15 – “Godzilla vs. Biollante” (1989)

 

 

I know that it may come across like I hate the Heisei series, especially since I put more than half of the second Godzilla series so low on my list and outright despise entries like “Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth,” but I’ll admit that when the Heisei series wanted to be good, it was often some of the best the entire Godzilla series had to offer. Like I said in my review of “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah,” the monster scenes in that film are spectacular especially the final fight between with Mecha-King Ghidorah.

What I find so interesting about the Heisei series that, from the beginning, Toho had everything in place to make a new Godzilla series that would be better than the Showa series. The studio was dedicated to telling deeper and more adult-oriented stories, supply bigger budgets and get the best possible special effects crews they could get. And for the first two-and-a-half movies of the Heisei series, they delivered on this. But somewhere along the line, the filmmakers got complacent and tired of the material. The passion and energy in the Godzilla films was gone, and replaced by a need to put butts in theater seats and sell toys. The reason films like “Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla” and “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah” are so low on my countdown is because they are so by the numbers and lack the fun of watching a great monster movie.

But I will say there are two different sides to the Heisei series that showed its potential. The monster scenes in “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” were a part of that potential, but now we’ve got a entire film that amps it up, “Godzilla vs. Biollante.” This is the second film in the Heisei series and serves as a direct follow-up to the first film, “The Return of Godzilla” or sometimes simply “Godzilla” (1984) (though I’ll refer to it from now on as “The Return of Godzilla” since we already have three films in this series called “Godzilla”). This film builds off everything the first film started, with a darker tone, greater focus on realism and world building that showed how Godzilla affects the entire world instead of just Japan.

The film begins immediately after the events of “The Return of Godzilla” where the majority of Tokyo has been destroyed, but scientists were able to trap Godzilla inside of an active volcano. Rescue crews get to work on repairing the city, while a group of soldiers scourer Tokyo for live Godzilla cells. They find a few samples and it’s revealed they are working for an American corporation who wants to use Godzilla’s cells for their own needs. As they flee from Japanese soldiers, they run into a foreign assassin who kills them all and takes the cells for himself, heading back to his home country of Saradia, a fictional country meant to replace Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia. The assassin returns the cells to his government, who say they plan to combine the cells with wheat and turn their desert into a fertile wonderland of crops and food.

Saradia’s leading scientist is Dr. Shiragami (Koji Takahashi), a Japanese who fully believes in the power these cells have but doesn’t fully trust science to handle its pure strength. But just as he’s explaining this to a Saradian leader, the lab holding the Godzilla cells explodes due to a terrorist attack, killing Shiragami’s daughter Erika.

 

 

We cut to five years later and get our first introduction to the eye-rolling irritation of Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka). Dr. Shiragami has returned to Japan but has given up all science after the death of his daughter. Miki is here to see if she can use her psychic powers to communicate with plants…like you do. Shiragami believes that his daughter transferred her soul into a rose before she died so his new hobby is tending to his rose garden…like you do.

Meanwhile, other Japanese scientists have been trying to come up with new ways to combat Godzilla in case he ever emerges from the volcano. Their leading project in that area is known as Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria, which if used properly on Godzilla could immobilize him if not outright kill him. The problem with this project is that they need Godzilla cells to complete it and they only have a finite amount of them. This raises tensions between Japan, Saradia, and the American company that tried to steal the cells at the beginning of the movie, known as Bio-Major.

Shortly after this, volcanic activity increases at Mt. Mihara, where Godzilla is being held, and the Japanese defense force begins to fear the worst. They have Miki fly over the volcano in a helicopter to see if she can sense Godzilla, which sounds really stupid now that I’m typing that up, and she learns that Godzilla is moving again.

This provokes the Japanese government to go ahead with the Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria project and use the Godzilla cells they have to complete it. The scientists ask for Dr. Shiragami’s help, since he was an expert on gene-splicing. He turns them down but changes his mind later when an earthquake, caused by a volcanic explosion on Mt. Mihara, leads to his rose garden getting destroyed. Shiragami then uses the Godzilla cells that he’s been given access to and combines them with the remains of the rose his daughter’s soul was supposedly in to keep the rose from dying.

And suddenly Dr. Shiragami goes from a sympathetic scientist to mad scientist by thinking that nothing could go wrong by combining the cells of a plant and a radioactive fire-breathing lizard monster.

 

 

While Koji Takahashi does a wonderful job played Dr. Shiragami, my problem with the character is how hypocritical he is. He goes from adoring the work scientists do, to outright rejecting it, then performs the same experiments he used to do for selfish reasons, and will ultimately flip-flop several more times throughout the movie. It gives off the impression that this movie is anti-science, even though it leads to humanity to many great things over the course of this movie. As a result, the message of “Godzilla vs. Biollante” gets gummed up in the process.

Anyway, we get a hilarious scene with Miki and bunch of grade-school psychic kids who all had dreams about Godzilla emerging out of the volcano to destroy Japan, while the kids cheer loudly and hold up their Godzilla crayon drawings. It’s a short sequence, but it makes me laugh every time. They’re all so happy and cheerful about the destruction that’s coming! Also, still funny that psychics in the Godzilla universe are never explained.

Dr. Shiragami’s lab is attacked by some American assassins trying to retrieve the Godzilla cells, who in turned are attacked by the same Saradian assassin, SSS9, who in turn is attacked by a giant tentacle. SSS9 escapes without the cells, but the Americans are killed by the tentacle. The next morning, the authorities and Shiragami examine the wreckage and find a massive hole in the wall that leads to a nearby lake. A couple of days later, this creature has grown into a giant rose creature with massive tendrils and tentacles in the middle of the lake, which Shiragami names Biollante.

Jeez, it’s almost like the guy who talked about how bad it is to tempering in God’s domain was tampering in God’s domain by combining Godzilla’s cells with a plant!

With no other options, Bio-Major gives Japan an ultimatum. It turns out they’ve planted explosives all around Mt. Mihara and say they will detonate all of them and unleash Godzilla upon the world again unless they’re given all of the Godzilla cells and research on the ANEB. Japan has no other option but to agree to their demands and meets a neutral location to exchange the cells and the codes to disable the explosives.

But just as they deal goes down SSS9 is there to get in the way. He walks away with all of the cells, while the truck with the commands to the bombs is overturned and disabled. They’re unable to stop the detonation and the bombs go off, thus freeing Godzilla from his volcanic prison. This leads to a bad-ass sequence of Godzilla walking out of the volcano with fiery explosions all around him set to his theme music that is always a joy to see.

 

 

The Japanese defense force deploys their latest weapon, the Super-X2, to fight Godzilla. While this thing is no bigger than a jet plane it does have a reflecting mirror that can send Godzilla’s atomic ray back at him. This is a long and drawn-out fight between the two, with Godzilla getting trounced by his own atomic ray and taking a pounding from the Super-X2, though eventually the mirror cannot take Godzilla’s ray any more and starts to melt, causing it to retreat.

Just as Godzilla heads towards a nuclear plant to recharge, his course changes when he hears Biollante’s cries and heads straight for her. This leads to the first confrontation between the two monsters in a lake that feels wholly unique from any monster fight in the Godzilla series. Biollante attacks Godzilla with her tendrils by constricting him, dragging him underwater, spraying acid in his face, while the main portion of Biollante remains immobile and helpless. It is oddly enjoyable to watch Godzilla fight off hordes of tentacles and tendrils, especially when the special effects work here is top-notch, showing off how badly the two monsters are damaging each other.

Unfortunately for Biollante, one blast of Godzilla’s atomic breath to her main hub is enough to basically kill her…but not before she transforms into her next stage and then turns into pixie dust and goes up into space…so I’m not entirely sure who won that fight.

Anyway, Godzilla heads back into the sea after his fight with Biollante and the defense force uses Miki again to locate him. They figure he’s heading towards the closest nuclear plant in Tsuruga to they send in everything they have to fight him off before he gets to the mainland. The government also shuts down all airplane activity in Japan to keep SSS9 from getting out of the country with the Godzilla cells.

 

 

But it seems that Godzilla faked out the entire defense force when he appears in a completely different area of Japan than they expected, still heading towards a nuclear plant. I love the image of a computer screen showing hundreds if not thousands of ships and troops gathered in one bay, only for the camera to pan to the left and show that Godzilla is actually miles away.

This leads to one of the only cool scenes that involves Miki Saegusa. It turns out she is the only one who can do anything to combat Godzilla at the moment, so she goes out onto an ocean platform, actually gets Godzilla’s attention and has a psychic battle with him. Godzilla literally stops his rampage to stare down this little girl and have a battle of the minds with her. I honestly don’t know if Miki is insane or stupid (probably stupid), but if she had more scenes like this throughout the Heisei series I wouldn’t have a problem with her being in every film.

Of course, Miki having a psychic battle with Godzilla goes about as well as you think it would, and she collapses after a couple second of attacking him. She is successful in redirecting his attack though, as he now heads towards Osaka instead of Tsuruga. Again, hard to say who wins that fight but I’ll at least give Miki some points for standing up to Godzilla.

This gives the defense force another chance to fight off Godzilla, especially now that the scientists have finished making the ANEB. All they have to do is get it inside of Godzilla’s system and that should kill him. This leads to Godzilla’s attack on Osaka, which is bolstered for me because of Akira Ifukube’s music. Though he didn’t compose the music for this movie, Koichi Sugiyama and Yuki Saito do their best to update Ifukube’s music to make it feel just as grand as it did back in the 1950s and 1960s.

 

 

The defense force deploys the Super-X2 again, even though the mirror still isn’t working properly. They keep Godzilla distracted long enough for some ground troops with rocket launchers carrying the ANEB to get in position, though it does lead to the Super-X2 getting destroyed when they try to use the mirror and it fails. Luckily, the troops are successful at injecting several canisters of ANEB into Godzilla, with one being fired directly into his mouth. Afterwards, Godzilla heads into the mountains, undeterred from the ANEB.

At this point, our heroes successfully get the remaining Godzilla cells back from the Saradian people and return them back to the Japanese labs for safe keeping.

The defense force is perplexed why the ANEB hasn’t had any effect on Godzilla, even after several hours of being administered. They eventually come to the conclusion that Godzilla’s body temperature is so low that it has no affect on him. Their solution to this problem is they need to raise Godzilla’s body temperature. How? With the artificial lightning generators they’ve been developing, of course!

So in case you’ve been keeping score, so far we’ve had international assassins, terrorist attacks, scientists playing God by creating abominations of nature, souls being trapped inside of plants, psychics, bacteria that eats radiation, giant plant monsters being turned into fairy dust, and now weather-machines. And yet this movie still takes itself rather seriously. The strange thing though is that it works…most of the time.

 

 

Anyway, this leads to another great sequence where the military finally gets an all-out strike against Godzilla. Their attack is one of the more well-coordinated assaults by the military, using masers and tanks to keep Godzilla in the area of the lightning generators and having an entire grid of platforms ready for Godzilla to step on. I especially like that it is filmed in the rain, since we don’t see too many monster sequences with weather effects in this series. Not to mention, the music is once again an old Ifukube soundtrack and it is wonderfully triumphant.

In the middle of the attack, pixie dust starts raining from the sky and Biollante reemerges from the ground to attack Godzilla in her new evolved form. This stage of Biollante is massive, with a huge mouth that has hundreds of sharp teeth while still having dozens of tendrils and tentacles. The two monsters fight again in another well-shot sequence, with Biollante using a wide range of attacks on Godzilla while also fighting off his attacks. This scene takes advantage of Biollante’s size and variety at every opportunity, especially when the tendrils wrap around Godzilla and pierce his hand at one point.

The only problem with the fight is that it comes to an abrupt halt when the ANEB finally starts to kick in and Godzilla nearly passes out. He leaves in the middle of his fight with Biollante to retreat to the ocean before collapsing. It makes sense in terms of the story to finally have that stuff kick in, but this is the third fight in the movie that ends with no real victor.

 

 

With the day supposedly saved, we get some final parting words from Dr. Shiragami, who is being congratulated that the ANEB worked. As Biollante returns to space, he sees the image of his daughter in Biollante’s pixie dust, which leads to him giving a speech about how terrible man is for creating monsters like Godzilla and Biollante and that he believes he can lead a life of peace now…right before he gets shot and killed by SSS9.

A chase scene ensues that leads to one of the other scientists getting in a fight with SSS9, who is killed by one of the lightning generator plates. As the scientist returns to his girlfriend, they’re shocked to see Godzilla rise out of the ocean. They figure that the cold ocean water must have lowered his body temperature again so the ANEB stopped working. But Godzilla’s had a rough day, so he’s fine with returning to the ocean and calling this whole thing off.

“Godzilla vs. Biollante” is a enjoyable monster film, despite having far more silly or stupid moments than I remember. It took what “The Return of Godzilla” started and made it feel like the world was interested in Godzilla instead of only Japan, with the introduction of Saradian and Bio-Major, while also upping their military presence. There was a lot of great shots that showed the skies filled with defense force helicopters or several battleships in the ocean and that added to grand scale of this movie. It is also one of the better looking Godzilla films, especially with Godzilla’s attack on Osaka and the battles between the titular monsters.

 

 

My problem with the movie is its story. There was a huge focus on Bio-Major and Saradia, but after a while their desires became muddy and unfocused. It made sense when they were only after the Godzilla cells, each wanting it for their own needs, but neither of them had any reason to want the ANEB once it was created. This made a lot of scenes with the assassins and political pieces feel unnecessary as soon as Godzilla arrives.

There was also my problem with Dr. Shiragami’s constant flip-flopping on the benefits of science and gene-splicing. I want to say the overall message of “Godzilla vs. Biollante” is that all science is bad and gives scientists too much power…except that not all science is bad in this movie. It is because of discoveries like the ANEB and the lightning generators that humanity wins the day. Without any of that, everyone would have died to Godzilla. It would be better to say that scientists must be restrained by a higher moral and ethical code, but Shiragami doesn’t seem to learn that. As a result, this makes most of the scenes with Dr. Shiragami feel odd when he tries to preach about how terrible science is.

But overall, despite a few hiccups in the story, this is a solid movie. Even with the many silly things that happen, “Godzilla vs. Biollante” takes itself just seriously enough that you feel the weight and gravitas of each decision towards stopping Godzilla. The monster fights are unique and have some of the best cinematography of any Godzilla film. It is a worthy successor to “The Return of Godzilla” and one of the better Heisei films.

 

Movie Review – “Poltergeist” (1982)

 

“Poltergeist” works as a horror film for the same reason “The Exorcist” works – Both movies toy with the unknown, as we watch a family torn apart by supernatural forces. They focus on the the parents, in “Poltergeist”‘s case Steven and Diane Freeling (Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams), as they are helpless to stop beings from another plain of existence from stealing their children away from them.

The difference between the two films is that “The Exorcist” slowly built up the horror, as we watched Reagan deteariorate overtime as she was lost to the devil. The scares came from the tension and concept of a little girl being swallowed by the hell.

“Poltergeist” on the other hand executes its frights visually, leaving very little to the imagination. We see first hand what these ghosts are capable of, including bringing inanimate objects to life, from something as small as a toy clown to as big as a tree, manipulating people into thinking there are maggots in their food, to physically taking people into their realm.

“The Exorcist” makes you think about what this demon is capable of, while “Poltergiest” shows you exactly what they can do.

Neither approach is worse than the other, especially since both movies execute it so well. “Poltergiest” doesn’t take itself as seriously as “The Exorcist,” taking some time to crack jokes and have a bit of fun with the supernatural elements, but it works for the suburban environment and how desensitized the kids are to violence. One of my favorite little moments is when their daughter, Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke), is staring at a fuzzy television, and Diane says she shouldn’t be watching that and turns the channel to a violent movie. She doesn’t care what her daughter watches, as long as it’s not “bad” for her.

 

 

Pop culture tainted by first viewing of “Poltergeist” a bit, since I knew most of the scenes before watching the film. Famous moments like the “They’re here” scene, or the fight against the tree, have been referenced in so many other movies and television shows that you feel like you’ve watched the film before you see it. As such, I didn’t find “Poltergeist” as scary as others might have. But that doesn’t deny how effective the scares are.

Overall, “Poltergeist” feels like “E.T.” crossed with “The Exorcist.” The scares come naturally and stick with you long after watching the film, but there’s a child-friendly atmosphere that makes it accessible to people of all ages. As such, this is a horror film that even people who don’t like scary movies can enjoy.

Final Grade: B+