Movie Review – “The Dirty Dozen” (1967)

 

 

I want to say that “The Dirty Dozen” fits in the same vein as “The Great Escape,” except where “The Great Escape” had a certain likable charm to it, where even the sour and down moments were undeniably optimistic, “The Dirty Dozen” is cynical, hardened, and fits in more with the action clichés one would expect from a war movie. “The Dirty Dozen” is the proto-typical war film that would inspire the films of today, like “Saving Private Ryan,” “Fury” and “Hacksaw Ridge,” trading in charm and wit for realism and big action sequences.

The film follows Major John Reisman (Lee Marvin) being given the impossible task of penetrating an impregnable Nazi fortress with only the help of twelve prisoners condemned to either death row or life in prison, that way if anything goes wrong the military can put the blame on a bunch of criminals. The majority of the film is Reisman establishing trust and honor among these men who have been locked up for years, the prisoners learning to be productive members of society again, and the military watching over Reisman’s operation like a hawk.

 

 

The best scene in the movie is when Reisman’s commanding officer, Colonel Breed (Robert Ryan) makes a deal with Reisman to see if his men could infiltrate Breed’s command and capture him without being detected. It shows these men were always more than just hardened criminals, but intelligent soldiers who are quick on their feet. What makes this scene enjoyable is that it comes across like the dozen are truly enjoying themselves, like they take joy in messing their own army’s heads, fooling them at every turn.

Still, I only ever felt like I got to know about half of the dozen characters, with the rest filling the role of cannon fodder for the final sequence. It is the typical war movie cliché of building up a straw man character just to knock him down in a storm of bullets.

Overall, “The Dirty Dozen” is a fine war movie, if a bit predictable and cliché nowadays. There are some charming moments, but for the most part this is a cold and sterile look at World War II. Not the best WWII film out there, but certainly not the worst either.

Final Grade: C+

 

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Movie Review – “THX-1138” (1971)

 

 

Unless you are a diehard movie fan, the biggest thing to come from this movie is that it gave way to that annoyingly loud introduction to DVDs in the 2000s from THX.

“THX-1138” is George Lucas’ directorial debut and is about as minimalistic of a depiction of the future as possible, with lots of empty white and blank landscapes, with every character wearing the same plain jumpsuit and shaved haircut. Set in the far off future, humans now live a robotic lifestyle underground where their given designated tasks, take pills to suppress emotions, and can no longer have sex. Everything is done automatically and mechanically, including the production of offspring, psychological treatment and even a Mecha-Jesus to act as a confessional. People don’t even have names anymore, just numbers like a bar code.

Basically, imagine “WALL-E” if we went underground instead of into outer space.

The making of “THX-1138” is the most fascinating part of the movie – George Lucas originally made this movie while he was in college but found the final product unsatisfactory. After he graduated, Lucas was taken directly under the wing of Francis Ford Coppola, the director of “The Godfather” movies and “Apocalypse Now,” where Lucas would help Coppola in pretty much every aspect of filmmaking. For one of Coppola’s bigger projects, Lucas basically acted as the “assistant to everything,” but Coppola couldn’t find the best way to pay Lucas for doing all that work. The best thing Coppola came up with was to fund Lucas’ directorial debut entirely. Lucas used this as an opportunity to redo and reshoot his final college project, and this time with a nearly $800,000 budget and A-list actors like Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasence.

 

 

Lucas made “THX-1138” as a direct response to the rise of consumerism, with television, newspapers, and magazines forcing products and advertisements down our throats, treating us like mindless drones that will buy anything that’s put in front of us if it has enough pretty colors. The film is also a slam against then-President Richard Nixon, as the villain of the film takes direct excerpts from his speeches to propagate his evil point-of-view.

And that’s about all that’s interesting with “THX-1138” – Everything else is pretty standard for a dystopian science fiction film where everything from emotions to duties to society is handled by computers. Maybe it is because of the blank voids this film uses for backgrounds, or the bland designs of the characters, but because everything looks and feels the same, nothing truly stands out. This movie just feels like one giant shade of gray.

If you’re curious how the creator of “Star Wars” got his start and the his first attempt at science fiction, then give “THX-1138” a shot. But if you’re truly interested in watching a worthwhile dystopian science fiction, look to other more visually interesting tales in the genre and save this one for a rainy day.

Final Grade: C

 

Number 3 – “Godzilla” (1954)

 

 

These final three films in my Godzilla-thon are, in my opinion, all perfect A+ movies. These three movies range from deep thought-provoking tales about the horrors of nuclear aggression, to an emotional and uplifting film with superb storytelling, to one of the most exciting and fun movies I’ve ever seen. Each of them is a masterpiece in their own way and it is almost impossible for me to pick one of them over the other.

In that case, this comes down to my choice of favorites and which film leaves a bigger impact on me. Which is why the original 1954 “Godzilla” only comes in at number three on my countdown. Make no mistake – the first Godzilla is not only the most important film in the franchise, but the most important daikaiju film ever made. It basically created an entire genre and style of filmmaking. And while that genre has been diluted and changed over the years, “Godzilla” remains just as shocking and poignant today as it was in 1954. This is the “Citizen Kane” of giant monster movies, transcending its genre to be a great movie in general.

Part of the reason “Godzilla” still holds up today is, like “Shin Godzilla,” because of the focus on Japanese identity and its people. When this film came out, Japan was still healing from their defeat in World War II. The government was in shambles, major cities were still being rebuilt from the ground up, and they had a genuine fear after having two atomic bombs dropped on them. The Japanese people were broken at this time, still searching for their new identity in this world.

“Godzilla” emphasizes this by taking its monster attacking the city concept, but turns it on its head – Instead of being about the monster, it’s about the city and the people being stomped and burned by the monster. Some of the most powerful moments in this movie are smaller moments that show individuals reacting to Godzilla, including shots of people looking up at Godzilla from inside their apartment complex just as the monster destroys the entire building without a second thought, or the brave firefighters attempt to put out Godzilla’s radioactive flames but end up being surrounded by a sea of fire, or the survivors of Godzilla’s attack watching helplessly as the monster tears apart their city, yet cheering their hearts out when fighter jets arrive to drive Godzilla away.

 

 

Even from the opening of the film, this focus on Japan’s reaction to the terror is brought into the light. “Godzilla” opens with a fishing ship bursting into flames and sinking into the ocean. As soon as the Japanese officials find out about this, they send out another ship to investigate, only for that boat to be destroyed in the same way. Their headquarters are crowded with the families and loved ones of those who were on those ships, hoping, and waiting to hear news about the fate of the crewmen. When they get word there were two survivors, the room is sent into a state of panic, everyone hoping that its their loved ones that made it out alive.

Not a lot of focus is put on these grieving widows and loved ones, but it is enough to make a point that this is a tale about people coming to terms with the horror that they now face.

But the big sticking point in “Godzilla” is its focus on nuclear weapons. Not only is Godzilla awoken from his slumber by hydrogen bomb testing, but he has been transformed by the bomb, mutated to a point no creature should be able to withstand, yet he has survived. Godzilla’s design screams of pain, from the many tiny bumps and wrinkles on his skin that suggests being burned and scarred by the blast, to his amalgamation of many dinosaurs, complete with creepy piercing yet unblinking white eyes.

On top of that, Godzilla is a physical manifestation of the atomic bomb. He is indestructible, cold, uncaring, and kills without prejudice or intent. Anything he touches is reduced to rubble or ash, contaminated with radiation that would kill everything else. You cannot fight it or reason with it, and all he leaves is a massive wave of destruction. You’re only hope against something like this is run, but even then you probably can’t run fast enough.

 

 

This makes his rampage through Tokyo one of the most chilling scenes I’ve ever seen, as the living atomic bomb tears through the city without remorse or feelings. Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects almost make this scene look like a documentary as Godzilla bites into the side of a tower with news reporters on it, watching them fall to their deaths while Tokyo burns. All the excitement and thrill of monster destruction is replaced with fear and sympathy in this scene, as we bare witness to a society’s obliteration.

“Godzilla” sheds a different light on nuclear weapons though. It’s one thing to say that all atomic weapons are bad and should be destroyed, but “Godzilla” takes it a step further with the character of Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata), who has developed a weapon that is stronger than a hydrogen bomb, the Oxygen Destroyer. Serizawa uses his creation to make an interesting point – man will always try to create a more efficient killing machine at whatever cost. This led to the creation of mustard gas in the first World War, then to nuclear weapons in the second world war, and that led to Godzilla’s creation. We will always look for ways to pervert science to the benefit of weaponry and killing our fellow man, which is why Serizawa is so reluctant to hand over the Oxygen Destroyer to the rest of the world.

 

 

This not only makes “Godzilla” a sympathetic portrait of Japanese society, but a poignant film about the escalation of our weaponry, always attempting to make a bigger and better bomb than before. And the point of the movie is that we’re now paying for that aggression and inherent destruction with a living incarnation of those weapons destroying us.

“Godzilla” is smart, chilling, mysterious when it wants to be, and yet surprisingly uplifting. It takes the idea of a giant monster’s rampage and makes it about something relevant to the rest of the world by making it about people instead of the monster. This is one of the greatest monster movies ever made, and one of the most important movies to come out of Japan. If you only ever watch one daikaiju film, make sure it is the Japanese version of “Godzilla.”

 

 

 

Number 4 – “Shin Godzilla” (2016)

 

 

I’m amazed at how divided Godzilla fans are about the newest entry in the series, 2016’s “Shin Godzilla.” It feels like fans are cut right down the middle, with half saying dubbing it “C-SPANzilla” and saying it is a bore, while the other half is absolutely in love with this film. Count me in the “love” portion, because I adore nearly every moment of this movie for one reason or another.

To me, “Shin Godzilla” is a smart, passionate monster movie that has one of the greatest senses of national identity I’ve ever seen. The film blends together a political drama about the bureaucracy of the Japanese government and a terrifying monster thriller that has more than enough twists to keep the film entertaining. This movie also acts as a nostalgic trip for Godzilla fans with its sound effects and music, but never focuses so much on it that the nostalgia is overbearing or forced.

That being said, I do understand where the negative criticism for “Shin Godzilla” is coming from. Fans come to these movies for Godzilla and, like the 2014 “Godzilla,” get little of the monster. On top of that, this new Godzilla is a much different take on the classic kaiju, in terms of design, effects, and abilities. I’ve heard some fans argue this new Godzilla is just as disrespectful as the 1998 American Godzilla’s design. The nickname “C-SPANzilla,” while a bit unfair is fitting in that it focuses a lot on the busy government work that comes with a giant monster attack.

All of these criticisms make sense to me and I see where fans are coming from. With that said, I respectfully disagree with them.

To fully appreciate “Shin Godzilla,” I think you have to look at it from the Japanese perspective and the state of their country at the time of the film’s release. The country had recently been battered by tsunamis that leveled towns and even caused a massive nuclear disaster in Fukushima, yet the government was slow to react, getting around all the red tape and legalities of the situation before anything could be done.

In Japan, there is a massive focus on national identity over personal identity. One of their common phrases is “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down” meaning that anyone who tries to stand out or be different from others will be met with resistance and hardships until they join the rest of society. This phrase would never work in America, where individuality is often celebrated and praised. But Japan is a proud country that cherishes its society, not so much its people.

The film was a massive hit in Japan, but lukewarm in the United States and I think I understand why. “Shin Godzilla” focuses on strong Japanese values, including honor, infrastructure and the nation over the people. The Japanese hold onto those values like a tight blanket, while Americans do not necessarily hold the same values as highly.

The Japanese people came out of “Shin Godzilla” loving their country and society, while Americans went in expecting a giant monster movie and got a lot of government officials unable to do anything about a monster. Without the proper context, “Shin Godzilla” will have little to no impact on you.

 

 

I’ve already written up a detailed review of “Shin Godzilla” from last year and my initial thoughts on the film have changed little since I first saw the movie. I’ve rewatched the film a few times since it came out on Blu-Ray and I’m still in love with this well-crafted monster movie. So instead of another detailed review, I’ll go over the aspects of “Shin Godzilla” I loved the most.

For those unaware of the plot, it is a return to basics – Godzilla attacks Japan and the government does its best to deal with the monster.

But the first aspect I love about “Shin Godzilla” is how incompetent and unprepared the Japanese bureaucratic system is at dealing with Godzilla. Where other Godzilla movies would be quick to attack Godzilla and come up with solutions to stop him, this film is methodical, taking out all the urgency of the situation until they’ve fully analyzed everything to come up with the best course of action. The government is cold and sterile about this whole incident, stopping to ask scientists and marine biologists to tell them what type of creature it is, only for them to be completely pointless and waste the prime minister’s time.

This is helped visually by having many members of the government played by geriatrics and old men who have grown tired and see no reason to act quickly. It gives off the impression that these are old men comfortable in the position and power they have now, and don’t wish to jeopardize that by making a crucial mistake with this monster. So they play it safe and easy, not realizing that there personal interests and lack of concern is killing hundreds if not thousands of people.

Yet, at the same time, our main character Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) is a young buck compared to the men around him and isn’t afraid to speak his mind on any given matter. He’s the first one to suspect that this could be a giant sea creature and not a new geological event. Of course, no one believes him and writes his claims off as insane ramblings until they are told otherwise. Yaguchi always seems to be three steps ahead of every other cabinet member, as he formulates plans to bring the greatest Japanese minds and people together to handle this, while the prime minister has a dozen voices surrounding him, trying to tell him what do, including foreign pressure from America.

 

 

If it weren’t for Yaguchi, the first half of the film would fall apart. Watching the Japanese government stumble over themselves while Godzilla destroys the city is fascinating while Yaguchi is doing is best to make a difference and cut through all the red tape. Without him, it would feel more like a farce as the entire cabinet and Japanese government feel pointless. Watching the competent Yaguchi struggle to get even the simplest thing done with bureaucratic democracy makes for a surprisingly entertaining political drama.

But the only reason these scenes are so captivating is because they are fighting for something bigger than themselves. If this was just any other day for the Japanese government or dealt with a minor scandal, I would be bored out of my mind. Because this is a system that cannot handle a crisis, and they have a giant monster thrust upon them, that makes their incompetence stand out even more.

This brings me to the next thing I love about this movie – Godzilla himself. I have no problem saying this particular Godzilla is my favorite incarnation of the creature since the original, because of how jarring, terrifying and different he is from another Godzilla. Directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi take a lot of liberties with changing his Godzilla, some fans would argue too many liberties, but I feel all of the changes they made were for the better.

This version of Godzilla is an ever-evolving creature that can mutant and change itself to adapt to its current environment, or even create new defenses and weapons to better suit its needs. The first form we see him in is as a giant frilled shark that just learned to use its new legs. Its gills are red and continually spout blood as it learns to adapt to air instead of water. This is a creature that looks like it is in constant pain. His giant unblinking eyeballs and almost playful smile are jarring when you first see them.

Things get even creepier when he starts evolving in the middle of the city, nearly doubling in size and learning to stand up on two feet. Given his failed attempt to stand up in his first form, part of me believes this monster is trying to imitate the humans running away from him, like he’s watching us.

 

 

At the halfway point in the film, we see that Godzilla has evolved once again and is now nearly three times bigger than his last form and this is one of the most chilling monster designs I’ve ever seen. His flesh looks like its bubbling from the inside, glowing bright red like his skin is smoldering, his utterly tiny arms and hands are skeleton-like with little flesh on them, and his tail seems to have a mind of its own including a distorted and warped face.

But the truly frightening aspect of this version of Godzilla is his face, with his tiny eyes you can barely see as the rest of his face dwarfs his field of vision and his messed-up teeth that have no rhyme or reason to them. Anytime this version of Godzilla is on screen, I get goose bumps just from looking at this abomination of life. This is a creature that screams of pain and agony, something that shouldn’t exist, like a nightmare that found its way into our world.

And yet, I still see a traditional Godzilla in this design. Every aspect of Godzilla is there, from the massive tail, to the dorsal spines, this looks like an irradiated dinosaur turned monster. While it feels different from any other Godzilla, this version is different in all the best possible ways. Any changes made to the character of Godzilla is to add to the dread and mystery of this creature, to make him even more haunting than before.

This Godzilla isn’t different for the sake of being different, but to create a more effective and memorable monster.

 

 

As soon as this form of Godzilla comes into the film, the monster scenes take on a whole new life, as we get some brilliant cinematography to showcase how Godzilla is impacting Japan. From shots of Godzilla kicking up massive amounts of cargo containers and buildings to a single take that starts a fair distance away from Godzilla and continues until the camera is underneath him, there is no shortage of wonderful visuals in this movie.

But my favorite scene that emphasizes this Godzilla’s terror is when the Americans send in stealth bombers to blast Godzilla and he evolves to the point to use his atomic breath. The attack comes in three stages, first spreading a flammable gas over the city, then unleashing an unholy amount of flames that brings most of Tokyo down to a blazing inferno, and finally a concentrated beam of energy that he uses to destroy the bombers and slice through most of Tokyo’s skyscrapers. There’s a shot that shows an outline of downtown Tokyo’s landscape as Godzilla lifts his head high into the sky, and we see a purple beam of destruction extend up into the sky with no end in sight. There’s just something so hauntingly beautiful about something like that.

The final shot of Godzilla’s rampage is a background of nothing but massive flames, while Godzilla’s bestial form looms in the foreground, staring directly into the camera as he powers down from his first beam attack.

So not only do we get some fascinating political scenes about a government that is too caught up in the legality of the moment and the red tape, but we have this juxtaposed with a eerie monster that is constantly changing causing untold amounts of chaos and destruction.

This brings us to the third act where another element I love is on display – the pride and the strength of the Japanese people. In my initial review, I mention that “Shin Godzilla” doesn’t have on particular main character and instead makes the country of Japan its protagonist. We get a nationwide response to nearly everything that happens in the movie. Not just the government’s reactions, but also the businesses reacting to the ensuing stock market crash and Japan losing most of its money and funds, to the ordinary citizens protesting about scientists wanting to kill Godzilla instead of studying him. One of the biggest moments of this is when news is leaked that the Americans will be dropping a thermonuclear weapon on Godzilla while he’s recharging in the middle of Tokyo. We get a reaction from nearly every minor character, each of them being distraught and on the verge of tears, learning that their country is about to destroyed in the vain hope of stopping this monster.

 

 

This is something I hope I’ll never have to experience – witnessing my country get ripped apart by nuclear weapons once already, only for it to happen all over again. The film takes on a much more somber and defeated tone at this point, before the remaining members of the government announce that they will not allow their country to be torn apart by nuclear weapons yet again, even if that means going against the wishes and orders of other countries.

And while the scene with Godzilla’s first use of his atomic breath is a wonderfully haunting scene, my favorite moment in “Shin Godzilla” is the final battle against Godzilla, where Japan sends in everything they have to win back their nation. This scene is a little silly at times, but is unbelievably triumphant and so rewarding to witness. The Japanese people think everything out logically, using drones to drain Godzilla’s energy before sending their giant skyscrapers tumbling down on him. All the while, Akira Ifukube’s heart-pounding military march plays that always brings a smile to my face.

This final battle against one of the most powerful and intimidating versions of Godzilla is one of the most exhilarating scenes in the entire series and ends “Shin Godzilla” on the highest note possible.

While I understand the hate “Shin Godzilla” gets, I can’t help but love this movie. It is so different from any other Godzilla film, while still keeping the core elements of Godzilla. The monster is used to say something about the world we live in and told in a way that never feels boring or repetitive, while still being a terrifying monster in its own right. Every scene with Godzilla is visually stunning and the effects are top-notch. By making Japan its main character, “Shin Godzilla” becomes one of the most unique and intriguing monster movies I have ever seen.

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

Movie Review – “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-

 

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+