Editorial – “Shin Godzilla” and the Beginning of a New Age

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It has come to my attention that, while the overwhelming majority thought “Shin Godzilla” was a solid film that blended the terrors of giant monsters with the triumph of overcoming them, while also paying loving tribute to the films that came before it, there are some who were thrown off by the film in many ways. Some hated the cast of thousands that had no development and no reason to care for their struggle against Godzilla, while others thought it was filled with too much political discussions and not enough monster action.

But the most common complaint I’ve heard is that “Shin Godzilla” does away with the traditional style of daikaiju filmmaking, in other words suitmation. In this film, Godzilla is not some guy in a rubber suit, like he was in the previous 28 Godzilla movies, and is instead mostly a computer generated image. In fact, almost all the effects in this film were generated by computers.

Did you know that almost every tank used in the first military confrontation with Godzilla was a CGI creation? I didn’t know that until I watched a behind-the-scene clip on YouTube that showed how some of the effects were created, and it went into detail on how the tanks and helicopters were made.

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Some people hate that a film style drenched in tradition and style would forgo all of that and use a modern creation. A style that goes back to the 1950s and was used all the way through the mid-2000s, and it is missing from the latest entry in the Godzilla series.

And while I see where these people are coming from and the importance of sticking to tradition, I don’t think “Shin Godzilla” would have been nearly as effective if this Godzilla was a guy in a rubber suit. If anything, “Shin Godzilla” showed the potential of CGI in Japanese monster movies and how you can do things that were never possible before.

Let me ask you a question – Before “Shin Godzilla,” what was the most recent big daikaiju movie that came out? In Japan, Godzilla hadn’t been seen since 2004 in a film that nearly killed the franchise, “Godzilla: Final Wars,” Gamera has been missing since 2006 with “Gamera: The Brave,” and Ultraman has been mostly limited to television. I bring this up because it shows that daikaiju movies died out around the mid-2000s.

There are plenty of explanations for this, including an overabundance of monster movies at the time, a lack of original stories and far too many retreads, but it was clear that around 2004, box office numbers were declining with daikaiju films and reviews were not great either. Part of this could have been that the CGI seen in other big budget films, like “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “King Kong,” were blowing away anything Japanese studios could make and they didn’t have the money to compete with the American studios were creating.

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With so many films using CGI, we became accustom to that, and got use to filmmakers using that imagery to create things that we could have never seen otherwise. Because of that, audience didn’t want to see guys in rubber suits anymore.

Honestly, I don’t blame the filmmakers of “Shin Godzilla” for using mostly CGI to create Godzilla. Toho had been using small amounts of CG in the Godzilla films since “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah,” as well as every movie in the 2000s. Sometimes it is easier to get Godzilla’s size and scale across when you’re not bound by a guy in a rubber monster suit.

If you have the technology to do so, why not use it? If you want to get people interested in daikaiju movies again, you’ve got to find new ways to captivate them.

What I found the most impressive with “Shin Godzilla”‘s CGI is how well it complimented the cinematography. There were dozens of shots in this film where you see large-scale camera movement or shots with miles of city-wide destruction. There’s one shot entirely out of the side of a car, as it starts pretty far away from Godzilla, but drives closer to him, until its right next to his massive leg and caught in his trail of destruction. Or another shot where all you can only see Godzilla up to his knees, but the camera focuses on the cars and chunks of building that his feet are kicking up as he moves across the landscape.

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These shots would have been impossible to achieve if Godzilla was a suit.

I cannot recall much dynamic camera movement in previous Godzilla films. There were a few times where the camera would pan left or right a bit, but the camera was mostly static, especially in the early Godzilla movies. I understand why – they can’t move the camera too much because the set isn’t that big. But with “Shin Godzilla,” all of Toyko is this movies’ set.

I was blown away when I got to see Godzilla from so far away and then up-close and personal in the same shot, especially since Godzilla hardly moved in that shot. The camera is so dynamic in “Shin Godzilla” that you could have told an entire story with just the monster clips, and it would have worked out spectacularly. It was breathtaking to see a monster film where the camera movement had no limits.

On top of that, the filmmakers of “Shin Godzilla” set out to give us a Godzilla that benefited from CGI. This Godzilla has tiny skeleton-like hands that couldn’t have worked for a suit actor’s arms, and a tail that moves more than the rest of the body. He has an insanely long neck, leading to a head that has teeth everywhere, an absurdly large mouth and smallest eyes you can imagine. Not to mention, this is a constantly mutating creäture.

Is this Godzilla possible through suitmation? Sure, anything is possible, in fact a few shots in “Shin Godzilla” where they used a large puppet. They even made a full-body suit for the newest Godzilla. But they mostly stuck with CGI, to keep this Godzilla’s bodily exaggerations going.

I don’t think a little Godzilla mutating into a bigger Godzilla in the middle of a bustling city would look convincing if done using suitmation.

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Which brings us to my biggest point – There are so many things you can do with CGI that would be ridiculous otherwise. I don’t doubt the power of suitmation and how clever it can be, fifty years of daikaiju filmmaking prove that, but “Shin Godzilla” proves that using CGI can be as clever. It can be used to give us impossible creatures in realistic settings, and to be combined with cinematography to give us something we’ve never seen before.

Computer generated imagery has come a long way since its conception. While there were dark days of CG, where it was everywhere and everyone thought they were an expert on it leading us to some crappy action/adventure and fantasy movies, we are now at the point where we can have entirely CG characters interact with real actors and be just as emotionally invested in them as any other character.

Any film that uses CG to make a talking racoon and a tree who are best friends, and make them the most interesting characters in the film is using CGI to its greatest potential.

Because computer generated imagery isn’t just a cheap way out of actually creating something. It is a filmmaking tool, just like a camera, lighting and an editing device. It can be used well or poorly, depending on the filmmaker. If you use it badly, it’ll stick out the like a sore thumb and break the illusion of cinema. But if used properly, then you expand your landscape and allows you to show the audience more before.

There’s no denying the appeal of the classic Godzilla movies, especially for someone like me, seeing those rubber suits and hand-crafted sets, where you can see all the hard work in the construction of the shot alone. The charm of those films may not be present in “Shin Godzilla,” but it is replaced by a new charm. One that speaks to the digital age and takes full advantage of using mostly CGI, through cinematography, monster design and atmosphere.

So, with the success of “Shin Godzilla” and its use of CGI, what does all this mean for the future of daikaiju filmmaking? I think that filmmakers are going to become far more clever and find new ways to blend computer imagery with suitmation. Just because one film found success in a new way doesn’t mean they’ll abandon the old ways. I do think this means we’ve entered a new era for daikaijus, one of exploration and possibly experimenting with combining styles. And with Toho planning on more Godzilla movies in the future, I am certainly looking forward to what is in store for us.

 

Movie Review – “The X From Outer Space” (1967)

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I want you to take a good, long look at this monster. Big red bug eyes, long antenna, a head that looks like a flying saucer and seemingly normal-sized body, when it is all in the shoulders and this creäture actually has a tiny frame and chest. This is Guilala, the monster from the 1967 Japanese film “The X From Outer Space” and he encapsulates the tone and atmosphere of this film through is body structure alone – goofy, cheesy and a tongue-in-cheek parody to other kaiju films that came before it.

“The X From Outer Space” came in the middle of the daikaiju boom of the mid-1960s in Japan, when Toho was making two or three monster films every year, including a Godzilla film, Daiei had begun creating the Gamera and Daimajin movies, and other Japanese studios were creating their own monsters to compete with the big boys. This one is Shochiku Studios’ attempt to cash in on the monster-craze, and it has strangely taken on a life of its own. “The X From Outer Space” has been added to the Criterion Collection – the only other daikaiju film I can think of that’s in the Collection is the original “Godzilla” – and is often considered a cult classic among monster fans.

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The plot follows a group of astronauts from all other the world boarding the AAB Gamma to travel to Mars, something no other ship has done before due to unknown interference. After a quick stop at the moon base, the crew finds out what might have destroyed the other space ships – a UFO. The aliens eventually flee, but not before leaving a strange substance on the AAB Gamma, which turns out to be small eggs that will grow into giant monsters that feed off all sorts of energy.

The pacing of “The X From Outer Space” is similar to Godzilla films like “Invasion Of Astro-Monster,” which takes the time to show the progress we’ve made in the future, including international peace, moon bases and spaceships that can travel vast distances. Where this film differs from its Godzilla predecessor is that “The X From Outer Space” does not take itself seriously at all and embraces the bad special effects and cheesy acting.

This film knows that it bad and just rolls with it.

The sequences onboard the AAB Gamma are filled to the brim with bad acting, especially with American actors being directed by Japanese filmmakers, and have to do their best at pulling off zero gravity, which doesn’t work out well at all. There’s an unexplained love triangle among the lead characters, which is the backbone of one character’s pain and anguish, but it contributes to about three lines of dialogue.

The music is just as ridiculous, sounding like something out of a Spanish soap opera or a groovy 1970s disco. The main theme of the movie is childish and silly, like it was made for a kids television program and is unfitting for this movie mostly about space exploration.

I would describe “The X From Outer Space” as a parody of the diakaiju genre, while still being entertaining in its own right. It has ridiculous references to Godzilla and Gamera with its story, tone and characters, while playing mostly for laughs. Once Guilala shows up, the film takes a drastic turn from where it had previously been going, switching from a sci-fi adventure to a monster-attack movie, but once it gets there the effects are well-done and on-par with other daikaiju effects of the time. Watch this one with plenty of alcohol and friends and have a good time.

Final Grade: C+

 

Movie Review – “Shin Godzilla” (2016)

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WARNING – SOME SPOILERS BELOW!

It has been 62 years since Godzilla began to thrill us, terrify us and make us excited about more giant monster movies from Japan. To me, Godzilla is creature that brings out the best and worst in ourselves – created by our own desire to have the best atomic weapons even if that meant we destroyed everything we hold close, yet we must forgive humanity for those mistakes and protect humanity from these abominations of nature and work towards a better future.

The meaning of Godzilla has changed throughout the years, from the original 1954 using him as a symbol of nuclear destruction, to the 1984 remake using that idea to say something about the Cold War-conflict, and the 1990s films that were about our inability to control nature and the world around us. Throw in themes about pollution, the rising fear of Communism throughout the world and the growing generations’ lack of respect for those who died during World War II, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of where the Godzilla films have been.

Then you get the ones where Godzilla fights his mechanical clone built by aliens using a new metal called space titanium, or a monster that looks like a chicken with hooks for hands and a buzzsaw on his chest, and you send mixed messages.

Which brings us to the 31st entry in the Godzilla series, “Shin Godzilla” or “Godzilla Resurgence,” which has left some mixed feelings among fans of the series. This film decides to take a serious approach to Godzilla’s newest attack on Japan and all the problems that come with a giant lizard popping up in the world. Some fans have said it is far too much like the original “Godzilla.” To those fans, I say there is plenty more that “Shin Godzilla” has to offer outside of a modern-day equivalent to the 1954 film. In fact, I don’t think comparing “Godzilla Resurgence” to the original Godzilla is fair at all, nor comparing it to any other Godzilla film because this one stands out on its own.

Set in modern-day Japan, a mysterious geyser of steam and water shoots out of Tokyo Bay and destroys part of the Tokyo Bay-Aqua Line. The heads of the Japanese government immediately work to decide what this might be, most saying it is some sort of new volcanic activity, and what should be done about it. One of the deputy secretaries, Rando Yaguchi (Hiroshi Hasegawa), surmises that it must be a living oceanic creature but is almost laughed out of the room – Until a massive tail rises out of the water and begins to move towards land.

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For those who are wondering, “Shin Godzilla” is not a sequel to Gareth Edwards’ 2014 “Godzilla” movie. It is not connected to that film in any way, this was made by the Japanese company who have given us 28 other Godzilla entries, Toho. This is also the first Godzilla movie Toho has made in 12 years, the last one being the abysmal “Godzilla: Final Wars.” Additionally, “Shin Godzilla” is not entirely men in rubber suits, using a large amount of computer generated imagery and motion capture, a first for Japanese Godzilla movies.

This new Godzilla is portrayed in ways that would have been difficult or impossible using suitmation. With tiny skeleton-like claws, a tail that seems to have a mind of its own, and a jaw that Godzilla can practically unhinge to unleash his atomic ray. This Godzilla is also constantly glowing red, as if this monstrosity had been through some sort of fire and what we see are the smoldering remains. His mouth goes up more than half of his face and has dozens of teeth scattered in odds places. Then there are his miniscule eyes, which go unnoticed at times, until Godzilla begins to fight back and his beady eyes roll over black.

To top it all off, this Godzilla is an ever-evolving creature. The first time we see Godzilla, he is no bigger than a five-story building, walking around on two tiny legs and has no arms, like an eel that sprouted legs, with blood spewing from his gills. Soon after, he learns to stand upright and his skin turns from a beige color to blood-red, while also nearly doubling in size.

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Through Godzilla’s design and unpredictable body structure, I was always terrified anytime Godzilla was on-screen. Rather than going for the awe of Godzilla’s size and power, like the 2014 film, “Shin Godzilla” reminds us how horrifying monsters can be.

Although Godzilla is the focus of this film, he is not on-screen for long. Most of the film is spent on the Japanese government reacting to Godzilla’s emergence, the process they take to stop him, and all the red tape that comes with it. Every decision to combat Godzilla has a hearing and meeting with officials and delegates to discuss everything legally. The Prime Minister feels suffocated by all this legal jargon just to get simple actions done, like giving evacuation orders and military strikes against Godzilla.

A situation that requires compassion and empathy is treated with cold and sterile questioning by the governmental system. Democracy was not equipped to deal with giant monster attacks in a timely and effective manner.

In any other monster movie, this would seem tedious and boring, but “Shin Godzilla” pulls it off masterfully through manipulating the film’s main character to be the country of Japan. Rather than focusing on the people fighting Godzilla, we are given possibly hundreds of different characters who have something to say about this creature. From the biologists who want more information, to the protesters outside the research laboratories fighting to keep the military from killing this new and undiscovered species, to the body-less voices we hear throughout the film talking about the stock market collapse Godzilla brought and the recovery from the attack, we are given a national perspective of this attack.

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We learn very little about these characters as people, outside of Yaguchi wanting to be Prime Minister in ten years and every one reacting to someone’s stinky shirt. Instead, there is a lot of focus on hearing as many voices as possible, and the strong will of the Japanese people. After the first attack on Godzilla fails, and the United States threaten to drop a thermonuclear weapon on the monster, annihilating Tokyo in the process, there is a powerful scene where most of the government learns about their homeland is about to be destroyed by atomic fire yet again. Most of these reactions remain silent, but one thing remained – They refuse to let their country crumble like this.

I cannot think of many monster movies that lack character development, but make up for it by showing the bond between countrymen.

This leads into the triumphant last stand, led by the special task force designed to study Godzilla, instead of the military. Instead of a bombastic display of fire power and artillery, it is a battle of wits, utilizing the strengths and weaknesses of Godzilla that have been found. And the entire sequence is set to a classic military march from an old Toho monster film, created by Akira Ifukube, who scored nearly a dozen Godzilla movies.

That scene was rewarding in so many ways. As a fan of the Godzilla series, it is wonderful to hear that classic music again and to know it is being put to good use. I can’t think of many times where the Japanese people were successful in their attempts to stop Godzilla. There have been times where they stopped other weaker monsters, or stopped aliens from controlling Godzilla, but they’ve never succeeded in bringing Godzilla down. But even without that, the pride and conviction of the Japanese is on full display. Even if the face of their own demise, they are not willing to let their country die or be remembered as the land ravaged by monsters. Their plan to fight Godzilla is inventive and fun to watch, while being respectful of casualties.

The triumph of the Japanese people is made even stronger when they’re up against such a horrifying monster, probably the most difficult Godzilla for the military to combat.

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Finally, while looking at “Shin Godzilla” as fan, this one was a ton of fun. With Japan being the main character of the film, and how the Japanese people had to overcome their own shortcomings and pride to work together on this, it is reminiscent of the 1950 and 1960 Godzilla films, which were about the brotherly bonds between all nations of the world to fight the greater threats.

There are many things throughout “Shin Godzilla” that only diehard Godzilla fans would understand, especially in the sounds of the movie. All of Godzilla’s roars are taken directly from films like “Mothra vs. Godzilla” and “Terror of MechaGodzilla,” and uses at least six pieces of music by Akira Ifukube, all used to great effect. Every sound effect of a building blowing up, Godzilla’s footsteps, his atomic breath, tanks firing their bombs, or something large falling over, is taken straight from the first era of Godzilla movies.

The sounds of a Godzilla film are very distinct and help give the series its identity. You can tell it is a Godzilla movie by the sound effects and the music. I had the biggest grin during the final scenes of the film, because this felt like an authentic Godzilla movie. “Shin Godzilla” was wonderful at being nostalgic without drawing too much attention to that.

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Is “Shin Godzilla” perfect? No, there are several problems. Anytime the film cut to a different location or introduced a character, which happens a lot more than you think it would, there was text on-screen to enlighten us. This got tiresome after a while, especially when the text was usually pretty big and took up a nice part of the screen. It didn’t help that I was watching this with subtitles, so those bits of text had their English-parts written on top of the Japanese text, making it hard to read.

The original music for “Shin Godzilla” is hit-or-miss. Sometimes the original rocking soundtrack seemed a bit out-of-place, especially near the end when the special task force is getting their plan together. Other times it works great, like when we first see Godzilla use his atomic breath. But other times, the guitar-based soundtrack felt inappropriate.

Overall, I love “Shin Godzilla.” I would describe it as a smart monster movie, but not necessarily a deep one. It was a clever decision to make the nation of Japan the main character, especially when we get to see the fear and horror of the situation replace the logistics and emotionally detached side of governmental work. I don’t think the movie is trying to say something profound, but wanted to show the tenacity of the Japanese people and how far they had come since the first Godzilla movie. Godzilla was terrifying to behold, and the special effects were put to good use, making every shot with Godzilla in it worth remembering. And it was heart-warming to see so much love for the older films in the franchise in ways you wouldn’t expect it. This is best Godzilla since the end of the first era of movies in 1975, and one I wouldn’t mind watching many times in the future.

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Final Grade: A

 

Paul’s Favorite Films – Common Themes

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This final entry in my favorite films countdown is going to be different from the others. I would like this one to be as interactive as possible, because I want your input and thoughts. If you have extensive film knowledge, or even if you don’t and only know about these 25 movies I’ve mentioned simply through my reviews, I want to hear what you have to say.

 
The question I’d like to ask is – what do you think are the common points that connect these films together? What do any of these 25 films have in common, if anything? You don’t have to relate all 25 together, but I would like to see what you think even two of these films share. This could be anything from common plot points, to characters, themes, atmosphere, message, tone, production values and anything that you can think of.

 
And, for those that do have a massive film knowledge, there is an optional question – With these common points in mind, what other movies can you think of that also share those points? Just to give myself some recommendations for the future or to possibly rethink another film in a whole new light.

 
I’ll give this a starting point and talk about the most common type of story throughout my favorite films – the misfit in a world of misfits.

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There are several of these twenty-five films that focus on a particularly strange character, for one reason or another, in a world that is either full of characters that are strange of a different variety or characters that contrast the protagonist. At times, his/her behavior is not so different from a passionate and driven individual, but in a world where that is frowned upon, this character is seen as an outcast.

 
Jefferson Smith was ridiculed by the majority of Congress in “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” for staying far too close to the ideals of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, just like Edward D. Wood Jr. was never taken seriously in “Ed Wood.” Both of these characters stayed true to their passions and outlook on life, even when everyone seemed to be against them. In a way, they are both films about fighting the system for ones’ beliefs.

 
Other examples include Marge Gunderson and her husband Norm being the only competent and intelligent people in “Fargo,” Tobey Maguire and Resse Witherspoon being literally from a different time in “Pleasantville,” WALL-E being the only creäture to have come in contact with Earth for over 700 years, and of course Kanji Watanabe in “Ikiru” daring to challenge the bureaucratic symbol of Japan when he realizes that he has so little time left to live.

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We also see this go to opposite extremes with characters like Bruno Anthony in “Strangers On A Train” and Reverend Harry Powell in “The Night Of The Hunter.” Two characters that have a lot in common, but are also radically different. They are in love with themselves more than anything else and love what they do. They both have silver tongues, but to varying degrees. Harry Powell can convince just about any body to join his side by using religion and God to his evil benefits, while Bruno is more crazed and people are merely fascinated by his theories.

 
Characters like Kanji, the Tramp in “City Lights,” Marge and George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life” are not afraid to challenge what is expected of people. One could say that they live in a world separate from the one they inhabit, and wish to show everyone else the benefit of this other world. One free of hate, greed and selfishness, and instead replaced with self-less passionate people.

 
Which brings me to the next common theme throughout most of these films – hope.

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Perhaps there is a subconscious reason why I chose “Son Of Godzilla” and “Mothra Vs. Godzilla” of all the films in the series to be on this countdown that even I wasn’t aware of. Not because I think they’re the best Godzilla films, but because they are the two most optimistic of the series. For a series that includes nearly thirty movies of a giant monster destroying Japan, those are the two that choose to show mankind battling these monsters in a whole new way and focus on making a better world for the future.

 
“Son Of Godzilla” does this through not only the human endeavors to perfect a weather machine and make lands in Africa and South America fertile, while “Mothra Vs. Godzilla” has a theme of removing distrust in the world for the sake of protecting humanity. That a world divided is much more easily conquered and that the biggest threats can only be taken down together.

 
We see hope shine in so many of my favorite films. Hope for George Bailey and the struggle of man against the industry in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” hope for the Tramp and to not judge others by their status in life in “City Lights” and hope for the survival of the human race “WALL-E,” so that they can understand there is a lot of world out there.

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To opposite ends of that, we have films like “Apocalypse Now” and “Ran,” which were founded on pillars of hope and kindness, only to watch it all turn sour and rotten. In the case of “Ran,” Lord Ichimonji was blinded by pride and love for his sons to see that they were greedy selfish people who wanted nothing more than control over the entire kingdom, even if that meant destroying everything their father worked for. “Apocalypse Now,” has hope in the characters that travel down this navy patrol boat, as they want to get this done and over and move on to the next mission. But as they travel further down to the river and into the maws of hell, we see them turn to desperation and drugs, in trying to hide from the tragedies they’ve witnessed.

 
But if there was a common type of story told throughout my top 25, it would the tale of a “loner,” like Kanji Watanabe or Marge Gunderson, as they put their beliefs and morals on the line, against a threat that is not uncommon. It could be something as simple as cancer or their own greed, like “The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre.” And as the film progresses, we learn this loner is not unlike us and their struggle is just as simple.

Or, to put it in the terms of one of my favorite quotes, these characters are realizing they don’t want to merely survive, but to live.

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Some of these characters knew from the beginning what it meant to live, like Marge, and is content with her life with Norm, despite everyone else in the film trying so hard to get “a bit of money” and failing at it. Others realize it over time, like George Bailey, who is so caught up in his work that he never realized just how big of an impact he had on Bedford Falls until he saw what the town would be like if he never existed. There are even characters that try their best to live, given their surroundings, like L.B. Jefferies in “Rear Window,” as he makes up names and back stories for every one of his neighbors.

Then you get characters like Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard” who is merely surviving, but lives in her own twisted world where she is the living the dream and can’t wake up from something that has since turned into a nightmare.

But these characters are fighting for something the chance to live, and to give this chance to others as well. Whether they are running from giant monsters, hiding from a shape shifting alien or loving every second of the gangster lifestyle, there is something worth fighting for in all of their minds.

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Anyway, those are the common threads I noticed between most of my top 25 favorite films. There are a few more obvious ones, like how James Stewart is in four of these films or reoccurring directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Akira Kurosawa, but I decided to go with something a little more interesting.

What do you think my 25 favorite films have in common? I would really like to hear what everyone has to say and I cannot wait to see the varying responses. And remember, if you think there are any other films that aren’t mentioned in my countdown but you think I might enjoy due to those commonalities, be sure to mention those.

 

 

Paul’s Favorite Films – Honorable Mentions

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Of all the couple thousand films I have watched in my lifetime, it was actually quite difficult to narrow it down to just 25 of my favorite films. I have an entire collection of movies which I adore that did not make it into the countdown. So many films that I could watch at any point and still love every scene, but only so many spots on showcase my favorites.

Which is why it seems fitting to talk about some of the other films that just missed making this countdown. These are the ten honorable mentions to my top 25 favorite films of all time. I’ll give a brief explanation to each film. Who knows? Maybe some day, I’ll come back and review each of these ten movies in detail.

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“2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)

The only Stanley Kubrick film to make either the top 25 countdown and the honorable mentions, “2001: A Space Odyssey” transcends what most movies attempt to be, and enters into a state of mind. With virtually no story, we are left with two and a half hours of atmosphere and questions about the future.

Like most Kubrick films, he pays attention to every single tiny detail and draws it out for the audience to enjoy. The reason “2001: A Space Odyssey” gets here over other Kubrick films is because of the scope of space, and to make a film that covers such a vast distance of time and space while keeping the audience entranced.

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“Ace In The Hole” (1951)

Billy Wilder followed up “Sunset Boulevard” with this look at the newspaper business, in which Kirk Douglas finds the story of the century – a man is trapped in a collapsed cave and is slowly being crushed to death. But once Douglas is told they can rescue the man in a few days, he delays the rescue to draw out the story and take the credit for saving this man.

Just as in “Sunset Boulevard,” the dialogue is crisp, but never to the point of absurdity. It is a joy to listen to these people talk about how this story needs to heard across the country. But what really gives “Ace In The Hole” its bite is Kirk Douglas’ performance. He is haunting and disturbing, yet keeps his values and morals close to his heart, even as things get far worse.

“Ace In The Hole” is a tragic tale of searching for fame, only to realize that it often comes at the price of ruining innocent lives, especially in the journalism business.

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“Shadow Of A Doubt” (1943)

Of all the films Alfred Hitchcock made, he often said this was his favorite – the tale of a young Californian family that is visited by their uncle, whom one of the children is named after, only to slowly realize that the uncle may not be who he says he is.

Perhaps this was Hitchcock’s favorite because it was one of the first films he made after coming to Hollywood, and it represented his own fears and doubts about the Hollywood system. Maybe it was the often brilliant cinematography that captured how small our family is to this monster of an uncle they all adore. It could also be the performances of Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright, as they fight for their twisted morals of nature versus nurture.

In any case, this is a classic early Alfred Hitchcock film that hits right at home and how family can often be a bad thing.

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“No Country For Old Men” (2007)

Anton Chigurh. Just Anton Chigurh. “No Country For Old Men” makes this part of the countdown simply because of its villain, a man who feels like he must be anarchy and misery in the world. That he has no other choice but to be this evil, uncaring maniac. He certainly doesn’t get any enjoyment out of killing anyone who sees him, but he remains dedicated to causing mayhem, otherwise he would have no purpose.

“No Country For Old Men” is, more or less, about the evolution of the dark criminal mind and how it has gotten to the point where can no longer understand it, much less control it. Anton is the perfect representation of that darkness, never satisfied with his work, uncaring about those he kills, unconcerned if he is doing right or wrong, and he couldn’t care less about any of it.

A villain the perfectly encapsulates chaos, along with a mostly silent film that sees our hero get chased across Texas and Mexico for just a bit of money. This is one Coen Brothers film that won’t be forgotten soon.

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“Giant” (1956)

The next two films I have already talked about in great detail, but that’s because these are the only films on both countdowns that I have previously reviewed. In a way, I have a greater respect for them because I got to share my new-found love for these films with all of you.

“Giant” is a perfect representation of an epic – Large scale, covering a massive range of both land, people and time, yet it still feels comfy with its focus on the Benedict family and their conflict over pride, race and legacy. We watch as the world changes, but our characters never take that into account and go ahead like the world has always been flat and was the center of the universe.

The conflict between Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor comes naturally, as if they came from different worlds, but see a lot of themselves in each other – their thick-headed pride, but also their devotion to their life philosophies.

“Giant” feels like it takes up all of Texas, while still keeping focus on the marriage of these two and the consequences of their actions.

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“her” (2013)

Simple, yet innovative. This is a science fiction piece that understands technology in cinema is not just fiction, but can be relatable and logical, yet still fascinating and imaginative.

I found myself just as invested in this futuristic Los Angeles as I was in the romance between Theodore and Samantha, finding a love story set in a world not too different from our own. A world where technology might have advanced further than us, and has replaced us in many capacities, but “her” finds a middle ground where humans and technology make one another more desirable. That we wouldn’t be complete without the other.

With that quirky, off-the-wall craziness you can only get out of a Spike Jonez film, “her” is one of the most creative and heart-warming films in recent memory.

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“Godzilla” (1954)

One last time, we return my favorite film franchise.

Since “Son Of Godzilla” and “Mothra vs. Godzilla” made my top 25, “Godzilla” is my third favorite film in the franchise, but this is the movie I respect more than any other. For what this film set out to do, given their budget and the attitude towards nuclear weapons in 1950s Japan, this could have easily failed. Instead, we got a dark and eerie look at how fragile life can be in the face of unrivaled strength and power.

“Godzilla” isn’t just a great monster movie, but a great movie in general. Rather than focusing on a monster running rampant through Japan, we get a film about a weakened Japan attempting to combat such a threat, and the lives that are affected by this tragedy. Throughout the film, we watch as lives are crushed, burned, irradiated and ruined by something out of our control.

With effects that still hold up today, a creepy yet atmospheric score, and the theme of man’s evolution of weaponry taking shape, the Japanese version of “Godzilla” is one of the stand out monster films of all time.

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“Bride Of Frankenstein” (1935)

Speaking of stand out monster films, we have another amazing one at the opposite end of the spectrum as “Godzilla.”

Rather than a monster terrorizing helpless people, we have a monster that never set out to hurt anyone, didn’t wish to be created, and yet is seen as nothing more than an abomination. We fear him simply because he is different and must perish because of it.

Yet, Doctors Frankenstein and Pretorious play god and reanimate the dead just because they can. They attempt to set out and prove they are a higher grade of man by doing what no one else can do – decide to lives and who dies.

All while one of their creations meets an old blind man, and takes him in to his home, feeds him, warms him back up and gives him a good night sleep. And in this case, who is truly the superior man?

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“adaptation.” (2002)

The second Spike Jonez film in these honorable mentions. Even I didn’t know how much I adored his films.

Like Jonez’ other films, it is hard to nail down exactly what happens in “adaptation.” but what makes it far more difficult is the screenplay written by Charlie Kauffman, and then proceeds to make himself the main character of the film. We follow Kauffman as he attempts to adapt “The Orchid Thief” into a screenplay, but finds it impossible given the source material and his twin brother Donald, constantly interfering about how his screenplay is coming along.

I have never seen a film like “adaptation.” and I hope I never do. It is about the struggle of a screenwriter who somehow gets wrapped up in the ongoing story, and then works all of that into his screenplay. Are we watching Kauffman as he writes the screenplay? Or are we watching his interpretation of how it all went down? Or are we watching a man’s slow descent into madness?

I also love the overall message of the film and the realization that Kauffman comes to at the end of the film – You are what you love, not what loves you. An outstanding message for everyone.

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“The Princess Bride” (1987)

Part of the reason I love this film is because of how effortlessly the fantasy seems to come. Every character fits like a glove into the story, their motivation and dialogue feels natural and it all contributes to the narrative that never stops. “The Princess Bride” is beautiful to listen to, as their accents give way to crisp words said with passion and ferocity.

Who does not get excited when Inigo Montoya finally meets the six-fingered man and has a chance to redeem his father? Who doesn’t adore the relationship between Wesley and Buttercup? Who does not get a kick out of the three trails that Wesley must endure to rescue Buttercup?

But the other reason this film gets here is rather simple and often overlooked – that all of this is being told second-hand, as an old man tells this to his grandson. This is a story passed down through the generations, not as just a way to make people feel better when they’re sick, but to teach them about love and acceptance.

In the end “The Princess Bride” tells a story of two vastly different generations. One of fantasy and a fight for true love, and the other of a family growing close together through shared loves. To me, the scenes with Fred Savage and Peter Falk turn this film from a great fantasy into a timeless classic.

Well, those are just some of the my other favorite films that could have easily made my top 25 if there was a bit more room. I hope you enjoyed the quick looks at each of those films. Like I said, I might take a deeper look at each of those films in the future so be on the look out for those.

In the mean time, there is only one film left to look at this countdown – my favorite film of all time. If you’ve known me long enough, then you can probably guess what my favorite is. But if you only know of me through this blog, my top pick may surprise you.

Just in case, here is a refresher of the previous 24 films on this countdown.

25. “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” (1939)

24. “Ed Wood” (1994)

23. “Seven” (1995)

22. “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” (1966)

21. “Goodfellas” (1991)

20. “The Thing” (1982)

19. “Son Of Godzilla” (1967)

18. “Pleasantville” (1998)

17. “Singin’ In The Rain” (1951)

16. “Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan” (1982)

15. “Under The Flag Of The Rising Sun” (1972)

14. “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962)

13. “The Night Of The Hunter” (1955)

12. “Fargo” (1996)

11. “Strangers On A Train” (1951)

10. “Sunset Boulevard” (1950)

9. “The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre” (1948)

8. “Ran” (1985)

7. “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946)

6. “WALL-E” (2008)

5. “Mothra Vs. Godzilla” (1964)

4. “Rear Window” (1954)

3. “City Lights” (1931)

2. “Ikiru” (1952)

Stay tuned, because tomorrow I will reveal my number one pick and my favorite film of all time.

 

Mini-Review – “Atragon” (1963)

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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-

 

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

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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-