Movie Review – “Blade Runner 2049” (2017)

 

Believe it or not, I was one of the few film buffs who wasn’t looking forward to “Blade Runner 2049” for a long time. I am not a huge fan of the original “Blade Runner,” especially since it took me three attempts to watch it all the way through without falling asleep. I attribute this to pacing problems with the original film and emphasis on style over substance. While the style of “Blade Runner” is unmistakable in its gritty film noir-esque depiction of the future, I never felt it was enough to carry the movie.

It wasn’t until they annouced that Denis Villeneuve was directing and Roger Deakins would do the cinematography that I started getting excited. Villeneuve had already proven himself in the science fiction genre with last year’s “Arrival,” while cinematographer Roger Deakins has shown that he is the most imaginative and creative eye for captivating images in all of Hollywood with films like “Skyfall,” “Prisoners,” “Sicario” and “No Country for Old Men.” Deakins is almost single-handedly responsible for just about every visually stunning movie out of Hollywood in the last ten years.

In this aspect, Villeneuve and Deakins do not disappoint with “Blade Runner 2049.” I went into the movie with slight skepticism and left the theater loving nearly every scene in that movie. It takes the concepts and visuals that “Blade Runner” started and gives it a 21st-century face lift, putting the visuals on an even bigger scale and telling a story that is dripping with style and substance.

 

 

Set thirty years after the original “Blade Runner,” we see that the bioengineered human race known as replicants have been remodeled to be subserviant and loyal to humans, while the remaining resistant replicants are still slowly hunted down and terminated by a special branch of the police force, known as the blade runners. One of these runners is K (Ryan Gosling), an obedient newer model replicant. During his hunt to locate the growing replicant resistance movement, he finds a buried box next to a dead tree, something people in this world don’t seem to know about anymore.

The LAPD examine the contents of the box and find the bones of a dead replicant, in particular Rachael from the first film, a highly advanced one-of-a-kind model that was lost years ago along with former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). But the analysis finally reveals what was so unique about Rachael – she died giving birth.

Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) is stunned by this news, since it has always been believed that replicants could never procreate. She tells K to keep this startling news a secret, since if anyone finds out it could start a war between humans and replicants. Joshi also assigns K to track down Rachael’s child and terminate it before it’s too late.

 

 

The main takeaway from “Blade Runner 2049” is that it is visually stunning and the best looking film of the last few years. This film is worth seeing for the visuals alone. From the opening scenes of a farm that consists of crop-circle like solar panels, to the increasingly large landscape of downtown Los Angeles that looks like buildings are staked on top of other buildings. Nearly every shot in the this movie is pleasing to the eye, especially with its neon color palette that makes anything yellow or orange stand out like a forest fire in the night.

“Blade Runner 2049” is like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” in that both films are always throwing unique yet interesting futuristic devices at the audience to show you how much the world has grown. From its holographic girlfriends that you can pay extra to take outside of the house, to the cameras that can make the blind see again, to technology that allows you to create and recreate memories.

But unlike “2001,” the world in this movie is far from utopia. If anything this world is a dystopia. While the people of Los Angeles live in comfort for the most part, surrounded by all the creature comforts they could ever want, nature and animals are nonexistent. We never see the sun at all in this movie and the most sustainable food source are maggots. Entire cities have been turned into giant garbage heaps, while others like Las Vegas look more like the surface of Mars.

 

 

If the original “Blade Runner” wanted to look like a gritty and darker version of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis,” then “Blade Runner 2049” looks like if “Metropolis” went through a nuclear war.

Outside of the visuals and the world of “Blade Runner,” the film gives us a compelling mystery with enough twists to always keep the journey interesting while also having a great sense of humanity and emotions, even with its main character being a robot. The first film asked questions about robots having souls, but this movie basically asks what makes up a soul in the first place. Is a soul memories? Ideologies? Emotions? K certainly seems just as emotional as any other character and has a strong code of honor to not kill anyone with a soul; does that give him a soul?

Like the first film, this one has no shortage of philosophical questions about what makes us human and what it means to be alive. The difference with “Blade Runner 2049” is that it doesn’t make these questions tedious or uninteresting.

Overall, while “Blade Runner 2049” has some pacing problems from time to time, that is a minor nitpick to an otherwise great movie. Even if you’re never seen the original “Blade Runner,” the visuals are breath-taking and never lets up, while the world the film creates is imaginative while still being startling in its bleakness. The story is compelling and the acting gets the job done, with Ryan Gosling turning in a subtle performance. I highly recommend this film, if only to watch the most visually appealing science fiction movie of the last ten years.

Final Grade: A-

 

Advertisements

Movie Review – “My Little Pony: The Movie” (2017)

 

 

E’Yup. I saw this movie in theaters. Was it awkward? It was weird to say “Can I get one ticket to ‘My Little Pony: The Movie’ please?” but other than that, I was the only one in the movie theater. That’s what going at 10 p.m. on a Thursday night will do for you.

But I can honestly say that, if you’re a fan of the show “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic,” then you will enjoy this movie. It is the same humor, characterization, storytelling, and mythology as the show but on a much bigger budget and slightly changed animation style. If you don’t care for “Friendship Is Magic” or outright hate the show, then you will hate this movie just as much if not more.

This movie isn’t going to convert any haters or disbelievers of the show into fans. Like “Friendship Is Magic” in general, it is targeted mostly towards little kids and this movie excels at keeping those toddlers and little girls engrossed. The adult fans of the show? It depends on what they’re looking for.

Personally, watching “My Little Pony: The Movie” makes me appreciate the most recent season of MLP even more because of how much the characters have changed. My biggest grip with the movie is that it focuses too much on certain characters, in particular Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie, giving them all the good lines, jokes, and standout moments. This leaves little for the three other main characters, Rarity, Applejack, and Fluttershy. AJ and Fluttershy especially get the shaft in this movie, as they get almost nothing to do over the course of the film outside of be in the background.

 

 

Even when Fluttershy gets to do something in this movie, it usually resorts to her traditional cowering in the corner and being afraid of all the threats they face. The problem is that the show’s version of Fluttershy has evolved beyond this point. In seasons six and seven, she has overcome her fears and anxieties to become a rather assertive yet still kind pony. The movie’s version of her resorts back to the early seasons, where every episode she had to overcome a new fear that hadn’t surfaced until that episode.

Also, not a single line of dialogue from one of my favorite new characters in “Friendship Is Magic,” Starlight Glimmer. This shows that the movie is stuck in the early days of the show, where characterization is basic and mostly revolves around simple ideas for the characters, like Rainbow Dash always talking about being awesome or Rarity only focusing on fashion. That was a little disappointing to see.

While I would prefer to watch a good two-part of the show over this movie, like “To Where And Back Again” or “Twilight’s Kingdom,” the movie still isn’t bad. It nails the style and sense of humor of the show and it does feel grand seeing our heroes traverse an entirely new land to discover all new races with their own backstories and mythology. I even enjoy the animation style since it makes all their movements feel more fluid and connected, and the detail on all their eyes is wonderful.

If you’re a parent with a little kid who wants to see this movie, they will have a good time. If you’re an adult fan of the show, try going to a late showing on a weeknight when there won’t be any kids around and you will at least enjoy some parts of the movie. If you’re on the fence about this movie, then this probably isn’t for you.

Final Grade: C+

 

Movie Review – “To Be or Not to Be” (1942)

 

 

There is a distinct charm to “To Be or Not to Be” that is unlike any other film I have seen. The main reason for this is that this is one of the few films that turned the Nazis and Hitler into a farce while we were in the middle of World War II. There were plenty of films that depicted the Nazis as evil and the worst thing that has ever happened to the world, especially during the mid-1940s, but little to no comedies. The only other that comes to mind is Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” which is interesting since both films were made by filmmakers who had direct stakes in Hitler’s march through Europe.

Director Ernst Lubitsch, originally from Poland, made a movie that not only treated Hitler like a bad joke, but also shows the strength and resolve of the Polish people. “To Be or Not to Be” is enduring because of smaller characters, like the Polish bit-player in a theater troupe who quotes “Hamlet” when he witnesses the destruction the Nazis cause. Little moments like that which show the vulnerable side while also juggling the comedic aspect makes this a movie worth seeing.

 

 

The film follows a theater troupe based in Warsaw, Poland who want to put on a play that satirizes the Nazis and Hitler but ends up getting cancelled the night the Germans invade Poland. Some time after this, a professor-turned-spy for the Nazis secretly gets his hands on a list of names associated with the Polish underground resistance movement and heads back from England to Poland to give the Gestapo the names. A young Polish pilot, Lt. Sobinski (Robert Stack), hears about the professor’s plans and heads back to Poland to stop him from reaching the Gestapo. The first person he reaches out to is the leading lady of the theater troupe, Maria Tura (Carole Lombard), which quickly involves her husband Joseph (Jack Benny) and the rest of the troupe as they masquerade as Nazis and the Gestapo to fool just about everyone else.

The star of the movie is Jack Benny, who takes absolute delight in his ability to fool everyone with his acting talents, proving to himself that he is the greatest actor alive. The best scenes are with him, pretending to be the professor, interacting with the head of the Gestapo, Col. Ehrhardt (Sig Ruman). These two have the most inflated egos and take every opportunity to pump more air into theirs just to impress the other.

Overall, I had a lot of fun with “To Be or Not to Be.” The plot is a bit confusing at times, especially once Sobinski lands back in Poland, but once Jack Benny has to go undercover as a Nazi spy, everything turns into comedic gold. Yet the film never loses its human charm with its representation of the Polish people in the face of such adversity. Without saying too much or too little, it says everything that needed to be said about Hitler and the Nazis.

Final Grade: B

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

Number 18 – “Godzilla: Tokyo SOS” (2003)

 

 

We are now officially out of the “Bad” tier of Godzilla movies. Now begins the “Okay” tier, the shortest category among Godzilla films. These next few movies are all pretty average or alright, where they either have the same amount of good and bad moments or are just plain from start to finish. And we begin this tier with my definition of an average Godzilla movie – “Godzilla: Tokyo SOS.”

This is the only Millennium film that doesn’t take place in its own separate universe, but rather is a direct sequel to “Godzilla X MechaGodzilla,” completing the Kiryu Saga. In many regards, it feels like the same movie as its predecessor, but has a few added benefits in the form of more monsters and better looking fight scenes, plus a reduced role for the bland human characters.

“Tokyo SOS” takes place roughly one year after the events of the last film, where the end of the battle between Godzilla and MechaGodzilla left both monsters heavily wounded, including the lose of Kiryu’s Absolute Zero Cannon and his right arm. Godzilla has gone into hiding for the last year, while the Kiyru squadron continues to repair MechaGodzilla. But it seems that Godzilla’s wounds have finished healing and he now begins to make his way back to Japan.

 

 

Meanwhile, in the snowy mountains of Japan, we are reintroduced to an aging doctor, Shin’ichi Chujo (Hiroshi Koizumi), one of the original explorers who was on the first mission to Infant Island in “Mothra.” One night, while spending time with his grand children, Chujo is visited by the Shobijin, Mothra’s tiny twin fairies. Rather than coming here to destroy humanity, like I am positive they truly want to do, the fairies are here to make a plea to all of Japan – Stop the MechaGodzilla project and send Godzilla’s bones back to the ocean where they belong.

Chujo, the fairies, and one of his grandsons Yoshito (Noboru Kaneko) debate about what should be done. The fairies say the dead should be left alone for all eternity and that mankind is trying to play god by resurrecting something long gone. Yoshito, who is a mechanic for the MechaGodzilla project, says that Japan needs Kiryu to protect the country from monsters like Godzilla. So the fairies make a promise – If they return Godzilla’s bones to the ocean, then Mothra will always be there to protect Japan from Godzilla.

This is a simple yet effective exchange between two sides that both make sense. From the perspective of the fairies, using the bones of a dead monster to fight other monsters is just asking for trouble, as well as the whole spiritual aspect. On the other hand, Japan is constantly attacked by giant monsters and, like it or not, MechaGodzilla is their best form of protection. I would also be hesitant to take the fairies promise, since Japan knows how strong Godzilla is and that Mothra, being a giant creature that will only attack sweaters, probably couldn’t do much to stop Godzilla.

 

 

Although, an interesting thought I had recently is that this Godzilla didn’t show up until just after the Japanese government got their hands on Godzilla’s bones, and as we will see this Godzilla is always heading right for MechaGodzilla. Even though we’re never told how this Godzilla was created, the theory is that the Earth made a new Godzilla with the sole purpose of getting the original Godzilla’s bones back into the ocean. Meaning that if the government were to send MechaGodzilla to the bottom of the ocean, this Godzilla would never bother them again.

Jeez, it’s almost like putting the bones of a dead animal inside your giant robot was a bad idea or something! Then again, the fairies are being just as cryptic as ever. They could just say how humanity messed up with Godzilla’s bones and that sending them back to where they came from would end Godzilla’s rampage. But nope, they have to be vague and non-descriptive!

Anyway, while Yoshito feels conflicted about the fairies message, the Kiryu squadron gets word that Godzilla is approaching Japan. The prime minister is reluctant to send MechaGodzilla out to fight him, mostly because repairs are not complete and he heeds the warning of the twin fairies. We get a pretty cool naval battle scene with ships and submarines attacking Godzilla, which leads into a neat sequence of Godzilla arriving in Tokyo Bay and the explosion of underwater mines matching up with his theme song.

But while the military strike feels massive in scale, it goes about as well as you’d expect on Godzilla. Like trying to take down an armored truck with foam noodles. Godzilla rampages through Tokyo for a little bit, appearing to head towards MechaGodzilla’s base. But just before Godzilla gets to the heart of Tokyo, the young grandson of Chujo, Shun (Itsuki Oomori), learns about a way to save Japan. He takes a page out of his grandfather’s book and constructs a large version of the Mothra symbol using school desks. And it actually works, the moment Shun finishes constructing the symbol, Mothra appears to defend Japan from Godzilla.

 

 

For me, Mothra is the best part of this movie. Without her, this is just another “Godzilla X MechaGodzilla” but with even more dull characters. Mothra adds so much variety to this movie and its fight scenes. Not only has she gotten a new bright and beautiful color scheme, but she fights unlike any other monster in the Millennium series – like a Showa monster! She has no beams or many weapons at her disposal, which means she has to think on her feet…or feelers I guess.

Her opening fight with Godzilla might be my favorite scene in the movie, when she makes her presence known to Godzilla and then proceeds to cause hurricane force winds. It doesn’t bring Godzilla down, but it does bring up a lot of dirt to create a smokescreen, which Mothra uses as an opportunity to sneak behind Godzilla and send him hurdling to the ground. It returns to the classic days of monster fighting, when it wasn’t all about energy blasts and massive amounts of damage, but outsmarting your opponent and using your strengths and their weaknesses to your advantage. To my knowledge, this is the only monster fight like this in the entire Millennium series, and it is a welcomed change of pace.

Godzilla and Mothra spend a while fighting until Godzilla finally starts getting the upper hand and throws Mothra into a building. Mothra breaks out her “weapon of last resort” which are her scales. They weaken Godzilla and reflects his atomic breath back at him, but the more she uses her scales, the more difficult it becomes for her to fly. Once enough of her scales are gone, Mothra will become immobile and helpless against Godzilla.

This leads into another great moment where the fairies sing Mothra’s theme song. In previous Mothra movies, this song was heavily overplayed and butchered to the point that it lost all of its meaning. But this version is beautiful and sung wonderfully, complete with a nice background tropical island tune to make it unique. Because of Mothra’s struggle against Godzilla, the song feels natural at this particular moment and works nicely in this scene.

 

 

After the prime minister sees Mothra’s losing fight against Godzilla, he decides that he will not let Mothra sacrifice herself in vain, and immediately orders MechaGodzilla to join the attack. This leads to about a ten minute sequence of the Kiryu squadron prepping MechaGodzilla before sending him into combat. Again, they were going with a realistic approach, and I still say it was a dumb approach to MechaGodzilla in the first place.

But yeah, MechaGodzilla is send in to fight Godzilla while Mothra has been grounded due to losing too many scales. This leads into a fight between the two Godzilla’s that feels exactly like the last time they fought – with Kiryu barely making a dent and then going down to just one or two blasts of Godzilla’s atomic breath.

Are you starting to see why Mothra is my favorite part of this movie? Because without her, this is exactly like the last Godzilla movie.

There’s a couple of neat parts, like when Kiryu uses a building for cover and the two monsters basically fight around and through the building. Or when Kiryu shows off that his new rocket pack can cause a massive explosion upon impact that does send Godzilla to the ground. But other than, it is a copy-and-paste of the long fight from “Godzilla X MechaGodzilla.”

 

 

The fight changes up a bit when two Mothra larva show up in the middle of downtown Tokyo to continue to fight their mother cannot. But since they’re newborns, they do about as well as you’d imagine against Godzilla. But as all three Mothra’s gather for a tender moment, Godzilla has to ruin it by blasting the three with his beam and kill the adult Mothra. It is a sad moment to watch Mothra catch on fire and then explode from the inside out. Too bad it’s ruined by the noises the Mothra larva make that make them sound like chimpanzees.

At the same time, Godzilla causes a critical injury to Kiryu that incapacitates the robot. Yoshito happens to be in the area, to save his grandfather and nephew, and is sent in to repair MechaGodzilla. This leads into a long sequence where the Kiryu squadron has to get Yoshito to the robot, while the pilots protect them from Godzilla, and then the repair scene. This is low point of the movie for me, since it all feels way too basic and lifeless. It’s like I’m watching someone play a video game, trying to complete the mission and get to the next checkpoint, with no emotional investment in their struggle to get to MechaGodzilla or repair him.

In fact, that’s the problem with the majority of the Millennium series, it just feels like its going through the motions without understanding why it has to do that. Like every human character is just a checklist of clichés or plot points. Even if the Heisei series had plots that were ludicrous and made no sense, I’d still take the silly stories over the ones that don’t even seem to be trying.

 

 

As expected, Yoshito is successful in getting MechaGodzilla repaired and he reengages the fight with Godzilla. And suddenly, this is the point where Kiryu starts getting cool. First he wrestles Godzilla to the ground, while also destroying the old Tokyo capital building, then Kiryu turns his new right hand into a drill arm that pierces Godzilla’s skin and puts a massive hole in him. He follows that up by showing his replacement for the Absolute Zero Cannon – the Triple Hyper Maser Cannon. The pilots unleash the full force of that cannon, as well as the regular maser cannon in Kiryu’s mouth, right into Godzilla’s open wound. How come we couldn’t get a kick-ass MechaGodzilla like this in the last movie, or even earlier in this movie?

To top things off, as Godzilla is stunned by Kiryu’s onslaught, the Mothra larva wrap Godzilla up in their silk string so he cannot go anywhere.

The film ends with MechaGodzilla preparing to strike the final blow, only for the original Godzilla to take control of Kiryu’s body. He grabs the captured Godzilla and the two of them fly out into the Sea of Japan to finally bring things to an end. The people of Japan comment on how this feels like a hollow victory, since it cost them MechaGodzilla, but act like they’ve learned not to mess with the souls of the dead…even though the end credits reveal that they still have a vault filled with the DNA of every monster that’s ever attacked Japan, including the original Godzilla.

 

 

From what I understood, this was added to try and push Toho to make a third film in the Kiryu series that never happened. The plan for the third movie sounded pretty neat though, with robot versions of many different kaiju, including Varan, Baragon, and Mothra. But maybe that was for the best, since both entries in this series were average at best.

“Godzilla: Tokyo SOS” is a definite improvement over “Godzilla X MechaGodzilla,” if only for many of the Mothra scenes. This film emphasized how beautiful and majestic Mothra is, while also how different she is from any other monster in the Toho movies – one that relies on intelligence and wit instead of brute strength. Some of the fight scenes between the two Godzilla’s were better here, but only near the end when MechaGodzilla broke out his new weapons. The human characters and the story are still just as bland as ever, but at least they seem to be downplayed this time. Overall, I wouldn’t call this one a bad Godzilla movie, but it certainly isn’t a good one either.

 

Movie Review – “The Lego Ninjago Movie” (2017)

 

 

If you asked me what my favorite animated film of the 2010s is so far, I would say “The Lego Movie” without any hesitation. Aside from one of the most visually stunning animated movies of the last decade, as well as having a visual style that no other movie has ever had, it has this massive sense of imagination and wonder where you feel like anything could happen. The movie even has a fantastic twist that makes the whole movie far more understanding and heartwarming.

It’s a movie where Batman, Star Wars, pirates, and astronauts obsessed with building space ships all set out on this massive adventure across equally imaginative landscapes. How can anyone hate this movie? Even “The Lego Batman Movie” still had this great sense of wonder and scope while still doing its own thing by acting as a love letter to everything Batman has ever done.

Which is why it pains me to say “The Lego Ninjago Movie” is such a disappointment. Not only does the film mostly limit itself to action movie clichés, but it does little with its Lego-setup, never fully utilizing that unique concept to its full potential. The movie feels like a 2-D animated kids adventure flick that was converted into a Lego movie at the last minute.

Told through the perspective of an old antique shop keeper (Jackie Chan), he tells a little boy the story of Lloyd (Dave Franco), a Lego teenager who lives in Ninjago City, a relatively peaceful metropolis except for the occasional attack from the evil Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), Lloyd’s father. But everything Garmadon attacks the city, the Ninjago ninjas are always there to stop his evil plans with their giant mechas. Lloyd is the Green Ninja of this group of six ninjas, trained by Master Wu (also Jackie Chan), who face their toughest battle yet when their plan to finally defeat Garmadon goes horribly wrong.

 

 

Part of the problem is that most of these characters leave no impression on me. Most of the ninjas get little to no screen time or development, outside of Lloyd, and are mostly delegated to churning out one-liners or there to fight the bad guys. Lloyd is irritating at times and average at other points. The relationship with his father gets grating especially when the film forces hacky father-son moments near the end of the film.

The only character I enjoyed in the movie was Zane (Zach Woods), the ice ninja of the group. He’s a robot, programmed to act and think like a teenager, which leads to the funniest lines in the movie. He tries to act like he has all these problems every other kid in high school has, only to find out the way his “mother” yells at him is by screaming the old internet dial-up noise. He’s like a comedic-version of Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

This movie would have been so much better if Zane had a bigger focus or if he were the main character in general. He has more quirks and charm than Lloyd does, so that would have at least saved the movie. Instead, he spends most of the time in the background with an emotionless face. This makes it even weirder in the later parts of the movie when the ninjas need to concentrate and calm their minds to gain new powers and they never bring up the fact that one of them is a robot.

 

 

The biggest problem with “The Lego Ninjago Movie” is that it does not take any chances. The reason the previous two Lego movies stood out is because they tried to do so many different things with their characters and plot, some things that no other movies have done before in terms of scope. But this movie is so straight-forward and by-the-books. Even from the opening scene where Jackie Chan explains how to look at something from a new perspective, the point is made that this is your standard animated kids film with little to no surprises.

As a kids movie, “The Lego Ninjago Movie” is fine. It is bright and colorful with a fine story that will keep kids entertained. But as a fan of the Lego movies to this point, I feel let down by this film because it lacks that same grand sense of wonder. The film does not take a piece of plastic and make a grand adventure out of it for people of all ages, it just makes an average yet clichéd little kid movie.

If “The Lego Movie” is like a kid using his toys to reenact “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, then “The Lego Ninjago Movie” is like a kid lazily playing on a Sunday afternoon.

Final Grade: C-

 

Number 22 – “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah” (1995)

 

 

And now we follow up the beginning of the Millennium series with the end of the Heisei series.

“Godzilla vs. Destoroyah” is the seventh and final entry in the second Godzilla series, and is the film that continually boasts about how it features the death of Godzilla. Outside of “Godzilla: Final Wars” and “Godzilla 2000,” this is the Godzilla film that got the most attention worldwide. I remember watching a news report when I was five about how, after 40 years of making Godzilla movies, Toho was finally killing off the king of the monsters. This was a huge worldwide event, or at least as big as a Godzilla event could get.

Did it pay off? Financially, “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah” did alright at the box office, mostly because everyone already knew Godzilla was going to die before the film started. Critically, the film did okay, but most of the audience reactions seemed to be positive, as they liked how Godzilla’s death was handled. But personally, “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah” falls into the same trappings that many of the other Heisei films did. This leaves me with a boring, uninteresting Godzilla movie that is only saved by the last 15 minutes.

If I have to sit through about an hour-and-a-half of crap before we get to 15 minutes of the good stuff that is still a bad experience.

The film begins shortly after “Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla” ended – Godzilla has returned to his home on Birth Island to be with his son. But as our dear old friend Miki Seagusa flies to Birth Island to pay a visit, she learns that the island has suddenly disappeared off the face of the planet. Shortly after this, Godzilla appears in Hong Kong glowing bright red and is putting out a tremendous amount of heat, now only able to use his incredibly destructive hyper spiral beam instead of his standard atomic breath.

 

 

The scientists of the world gather at G-Force Headquarters to deposit their theories about what happened to Godzilla. They come to the conclusion that a large volcanic event must have occurred on Birth Island that not only destroyed the island, but caused Godzilla to take on massive amounts of energy at once. Since Godzilla’s heart is basically a nuclear reactor, the energy he took on became too much for him, and now his heart is beginning to meltdown.

To make matters worse, the scientists figure that Godzilla’s heart will eventually give out, not only killing Godzilla, but igniting the Earth’s atmosphere and wiping out all life on the planet. Naturally, the military wants to prevent this from happening, but the scientists deposit that any weapons used on Godzilla might only speed up the meltdown process.

So yeah, by the nature of the plot, “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah” is a disaster movie, with the fate of the planet hanging in the balance. Or at least that’s what the film wants to you believe.

The G-Force eventually becomes desperate to find anything to stop the meltdown and retrace Godzilla’s past to see if they can find anything. Keep in mind, while all the Heisei films are contained in their own universe, the events of the first Godzilla movie from 1954 still happened. This leads them to a young student named Kenichi Yamane (Yasufumi Hayashi), the grandson of the famous Dr. Yamane from the first film. Kenichi has spent most of his life studying and analyzing Godzilla, so the G-Force asks for his help. He says there is only one solution to stopping Godzilla’s meltdown – Recreate the Oxygen Destroyer, the weapon that killed the first Godzilla.

In the first Godzilla, Dr. Serizawa created the Oxygen Destroyer, a device that splits oxygen atoms into a fluid and then disintegrates those molecules, causing everything to die of asphyxiation. He had intended to keep the device hidden away from the rest of the world until he felt it was ready to be revealed, but the arrival of Godzilla forced him to put his destroyer to use. To make sure something this powerful never fell into the wrong hands, Dr. Serizawa destroyed all his research and notes on the Oxygen Destroyer and sacrificed himself while using his creation on Godzilla. Which means in present day, no one knows how to make an Oxygen Destroyer.

At the same time, one of Japanese leading scientists has begun working on micro oxygen, so G-Force tasks him with creating a new Oxygen Destroyer. But while he’s busying with this, one of his soil samples breaks free from its container. He studies the soil to find out that it was taken directly from Tokyo Bay in same area where the original Oxygen Destroyer was used on Godzilla.

It turns out that soil sample contained a colony of microscopic organisms that had been mutated by the Oxygen Destroyer and have been growing ever since. The colony begins feeding on micro oxygen, while also acting as a miniature Oxygen Destroyer, killing anything it touches. They continue to grow until these crustaceans are bigger than humans and start running amok in the city.

As far as I am concerned, most of that is just techno-babble for “this is how we get a dying Godzilla to fight a physical manifestation of the Oxygen Destroyer.”

By now you’ve probably guessed this other monster is the titular Destoroyah (not Destroyer). Eventually, all the human-sized creatures are able to combine into one monster that is even bigger than Godzilla. Destoroyah’s design is unique, with everything on its body being a dark shade of red or orange, covered in spikes and a face that make it look like a devil. This is a monster that some artistic goth kid would design while he was bored in science class.

 

 

The problem with Destoroyah, like with most other Heisei villains, is its motives or need to destroy everything. We never learn why Destoroyah feels the need to be wreck havoc on the world and we’re just supposed to assume it is because Destoroyah is pure evil. Near the end of the film, when Godzilla messes Destoroyah up, it is clear the colony monster is acting out of revenge and anger, but as a kaiju, Destoroyah as always left me a bit cold.

It also doesn’t help that Destoroyah is born from a device that was used because of the first Godzilla. The last two Heisei films, “Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II” and “Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla,” both featured Godzilla fighting clones of himself, and now we have another monster closely intertwined with Godzilla. It comes across like the filmmakers of the Heisei series just gave up near the end and could only think about how they could get Godzilla to fight himself.

 

 

So why is “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah” this low on my countdown? Well keep in mind this is, at its core, a disaster movie. The world if coming to an end at the hands of Godzilla and even the most advanced minds of the planet feel like there is nothing we can do to stop it. Remember in other disaster movies, like “Titanic” or “The Poseidon Adventures,” how the characters had to fight for their lives while trying to remain rational and logical in a time when all they want to do is panic? We don’t get any of that in this movie.

The acting in “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah” is stale, wooden, and lacks the desperate emotional punch that could have saved this movie. Most of these characters go about their day like nothing is wrong. Just another day at the office with the possible Armageddon hanging over our shoulders. Nobody seems upset that the world could be ending at any minute. Granted, they’re all actively trying to prevent that from happening, but they do so with all the excitement of a pencil pusher.

The song “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” has never been more applicable.

 

As for what’s going on with our buddy Miki Saegusa, she’s still working for the G-Force and is now in charge of studying Godzilla’s son, who survived the explosion on Birth Island as well and has grown up quite a bit as a result, becoming Godzilla Jr. Her annoyance in this film is downgraded, though still present when they give her a sidekick, another psychic person, Meru Ozawa (Sayaka Osawa).

Because if any character in this series needed a sidekick, it was Miki Saegusa!

In my recent viewing of “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah,” there was a point where I had to stop and contemplate something – Meru Ozawa mentions she was at the top of her class with her psychic powers and is upset that Miki hasn’t been practicing with her powers in a while. I stopped and wondered how we’ve gone nearly six movies with Miki and yet this is the first time we’re hearing about a high school or college-like place for psychic users only. We saw a preschool for psychic users back in “Godzilla vs. Biollante,” but I always thought that was a throwaway gag so it could have a hilarious scene of two dozen kids holding up their drawings of Godzilla destroying Japan while cheering like they don’t have a care in the world.

So this entire world is filled with potential psychic users? Miki isn’t a one-in-one-hundred-million chance to get powers like that? How are psychic wielders treated throughout the world? Is it like the X-Men where they’re looked down on by society and treated like outcasts? Are there special schools stationed all across the globe to help them develop their powers? How come we haven’t seen more of them throughout the series? Wouldn’t more of them be helpful in their constant fight against Godzilla? If they’re as common as Meru implies they are, what kind of impact have they had on the world? What kind of job does a psychic wielder normally get in the real world? And why is this the first we’re hearing about all this?

They had a golden opportunity to do some fantastic world building and they messed it all up. Maybe they could have shown that these psychic powers were caused in part by Godzilla’s unique radiation to tie it back to the monsters. Instead, all we get are two increasingly annoying psychic users who do little to the story outside of teasing us about a huge missed opportunity.

 

 

Miki’s dumb contribution to the story is that G-Force wants to use Godzilla Jr. to lure Godzilla closer to the main land so that he would fight Destoroyah, hoping the two would kill each other and prevent the meltdown. Naturally, Miki is against this plan, saying that she doesn’t want to risk killing Godzilla Jr. for all this, because he is his own strong independent man and don’t need no psychic woman telling him what to do! Except that Miki seems to have forgotten that the fate of the world rests on this plan, so maybe she should set her personal attachments and feelings aside and think about the greater good for a change.

Miki Saegusa is like one of those obnoxious, groan-inducing hippie characters who just wants peace and love for all living creatures, except even more poorly-written than that.

Like I said near the beginning of all this, the only good thing about “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah” is the final 15 minutes, when Godzilla is on the verge of melting down and his power is uncontainable. Suddenly, the film takes a tragic turn when you look at it from Godzilla’s perspective – He just witnessed his son die before his eyes, is unsuccessful at bringing him back to life, his body temperature starts going critical, his body starts to melt, and to top it all off Destoroyah wants a rematch. But even then, it’s the military that gets the killing blow on Destoroyah, so Godzilla doesn’t even get to wipe out his final enemy.

While the effects before this final scene were sub-par at best, especially when dealing with the smaller forms of Destoroyah, they pulled out all the stops for this one. Godzilla’s beam has grown massive and causes explosions that are bigger than both monsters, you can visibly see Godzilla slowly melting away. It does add to the grand scale that this insanely powerful creature is dying.

The actual death of Godzilla is handled quite well. As Godzilla melts down, the military tries everything they can to stop him from taking the Earth with him, and for once it feels like the military does damage to Godzilla. I can almost feel Godzilla’s pain as his body gives up and is reduced to a pile of bones, and his final roar still gives me chills.

 

 

The other highlight of “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah” is the music. It was composed by Akira Ifukube, who composed over a dozen Godzilla movies, including the first Godzilla film, and this was the final time he would create the soundtrack for Godzilla. That theme I loved so much in “Godzilla 2000”? That was originally written for this movie and was used equally well here when Godzilla makes his stand against Destoroyah. His music sounds more boisterous and grandiose than usual, which adds to this being Godzilla’s final act. If there’s one thing that has always given Godzilla far more impact, it has been Ifukube’s music and he certainly goes out on a high note.

Still, that doesn’t change the fact that I had to sit through lots of techno-babble, stale acting and more Miki Saegusa being insufferable for 90 minutes before we got to the good part. The final scenes are some of the best in the Heisei series, but overall “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah” is not a pleasant film to get through. Watch Godzilla’s initial attack on Hong Kong and then skip to the last 20 minutes and save yourself the trouble.