Thursday, July 14, 2011

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)


Title: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Director: Hiyao Miyazaki

Review:

Thanks to Walt Disney Pictures acquiring the distribution rights to Studio Ghibli films, the Japanese animation studio has gone on to become a house hold name in the Western world. Not that it wasn’t already a house hold name in Japan , but now, it’s films are more accessible to the rest of the world. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is a film that is commonly thought of as the first Studio Ghibli film, yet it really isn’t. You see, when Nausicaa was made, Studio Ghibli had not been officially formed yet. Technically speaking, that wouldn’t officially happen until Miyazaki and crew got together and made Laputa Castle in the Sky (1986). Still, the team behind Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was the team that would go on to form Studio Ghibli, so many consider it the first true blue Studio Ghibli film. In actuality, Miyazaki ’s first full length animated feature was The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), and he followed that one with his second animated feature Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. It’s amazing how Miyazaki and crew started making quality films right from the very beginning! Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is a true achievement of Japanese Animation.

Nausicaa explores the Toxic Jungle

The film tells the story of a post apocalyptic world striving to survive. After a nuclear war which is referred to as the “Seven Days of Fire”, the world was suddenly overrun by a deadly Toxic Jungle. This jungle is filled with mutations, deadly plants, fungus, and giant insects. It is also inhabited by gigantic caterpillars known as Ohmu’s. Some humans have learned to co-exist with the jungle, while others fear it and want to destroy it. Humanity managed to survive the apocalypse and is now separated into a group of Kingdoms. Nausicaa is an adventurous young girl who rules over the peace loving people of a land called The Valley of the Wind. Unfortunately, their peace is interrupted when a huge war ship from the land of Tolmikia crash lands in their valley. Tolmikian’s have a war like mentality and seek to take over every village they come across. To make matters worse, they carry within their ship the embryo of a giant warrior creature that has huge destructive capabilities, which they have just stolen from the people of the Kingdom of Pejite . The Tolmikian’s intend to use this giant warrior to lay waste to the Toxic Jungle, which they see as a threat. Can Nausicaa teach the Tolmikian’s to co-exist with nature? Will the Tolmikians achieve their goal of destroying The Toxic Jungle?


As you can probably tell from the synopsis, this is an environmentalist film through and through. Nausicaa is what some would call a “tree hugger”. She loves nature and life and is willing to die in order to protect all living things. She is portrayed as having a very curious mind towards all living things, like a scientist of sorts. She purposely walks into the Toxic Jungle, to study it, to understand it, she does not fear it like the Tolmikians do. She is also a just ruler; the people of The Valley of the Wind love her and respect her, because she is fair with her people. In this way the film sets an example for the kind of rulers that we’d all love to have in the world, but seldom ever see. In contrast to Nausicaa’s peace loving ways, the Tolmikians use their tanks, soldiers and guns to spread their way of life across the land. When they see The Valley of the Wind, their first thought is to conquer it and so they muscle in on the territory with their army. The films anti-war message is channeled through the character of Nausicaa as well, Nausicaa is a character who prefers talking things out before shooting guns.


The Tolmikians have the embryo of a ‘giant warrior’ in their power and they intend to use it to destroy the Toxic Jungle with it, and again, as in many Japanese films we see the theme of Weapons of Mass Destruction addressed. This is something totally understandable when we take in consideration Japanese’s history with nuclear weapons. The death of so many Japanese in the nuclear blasts on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is the trigger for the constant resurgence of this theme in Japanese cinema. Interestingly enough, this isn’t the only time that a Studio Ghibli film addressed the dangers of nuclear warfare. Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies (1988) explored these themes more deeply. It is a tale about a brother and his little sister trying to survive in Japan after the nuclear blasts have already taken place. Grave of the Fireflies is a truly heart wrenching film; highly recommend you check it out if you haven’t done so yet. On Nausicaa, it’s the giant warrior that represents these fears of a weapon so powerful that it could potentially destroy all life on the planet. And of course, it’s the war loving Tolmikian’s who want to use it against nature, which brings us to another one of the films themes: Man vs. Nature.


Like many Hayao Miyazaki films, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind stars a young girl as the main character. This would be something that would go on to distinguish Miyazaki ’s films, the use of a female as the lead character. Princess Mononoke (1997), My neighbor Totoro (1993), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), Castle in the Sky (1986) all have females in the lead role. Miyazaki ’s respect towards women is something I’ve always admired about him, he is very sensible towards women. I was just watching Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) the other day and that film begins with Howl protecting a young lady from a pair of rude soldiers that were crudely hitting on her. In Miyazaki ’s films, women are usually portrayed as very strong willed, brave beings who know what they want in life, and if not, they are on their way towards discovering it. He rarely portrays them as damsels in distress.


But aside from all Nausicaa’s themes and characters, there’s the animation and the fantasy element which is so well achieved. Miyazaki has always been synonymous with quality animation; from the very beginning he has delivered exquisitely well animated films. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is a film that has equal elements of fantasy, science fiction and adventure. It displays many of the elements that would become common place in a Miyazaki film: strong female characters, sensible characters that display emotions, and planes! Like many of Miyazaki ’s films, a lot of the action in Nausicaa takes place aboard these giant flying ships, Nausicaa herself is always flying on a glider which is pretty cool. When I was a kid, I always wanted to have that glider! Speaking of which, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was one of the first films I saw as a kid that showed me that animation could go well beyond what I was seeing in Saturday Morning Cartoons at the time. I didnt know what the hell Japanese Animation was when I was a kid, but I new I liked it! Other Japanese Animation had the same impact on me like Lenseman: Power of the Lense (1988), an excellent Japanese Animated film that has yet to be released on dvd or Blue Ray. The version of Nausicaa that I saw back then when I was a kid was called Warriors of the Wind (1986), released by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, Warriors of the Wind was a horribly butchered and heavily edited version of Miyazaki’s film which took out elements that were considered boring, which amounted to about 20 minutes of film. Miyazaki suggests you totally avoid that version; in fact he goes as far as suggesting we “take it out of our minds”. Cant say I blame him, the poster for this American release totally distorts what the film is about, even going as far as showing characters on the poster that were never even on the film!

Their are no winged horses on Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind! 

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is a beautiful film to watch, it is filled with characters that feel and love and care. It has many similarities with Miyazaki’s own Princess Mononoke, so if you liked that one, do yourself a favor and check out Nausicaa, a film that was the embryo of what would go on to become the illustrious Studio Ghibli. It is one of Miyazaki ’s finest animated features. Don’t miss it.

Rating: 5 out of 5



Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ichi the Killer (2001)


Title: Ichi the Killer (2001)

Director: Takashi Miike

Review:

The first time I watched Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer, I didn’t know what to make of it. By this I mean that normally, when I watch a film I am constantly analyzing what it’s trying to tell me, the message that it’s trying to bring across. Most of the times I can pick up themes pretty quickly, but sometimes, with some films, nothing happens. Sometimes a film will speak nothing to me. For me, this was the case with Ichi the Killer, in my opinion a vapid film with not much to offer but violence, blood and gore. And that’s okay! Some films are meant to be enjoyed on that level alone. Not every film has to offer the meaning of the universe to you. Some movies, like Ichi the Killer are there simply to titillate and amuse us. Ichi the Killer achieves this with gleeful aplomb.

That's gotta hurt! 

In Ichi the Killer we meet a Yakuza gang whose boss has just gone missing. The gangs second in command, a violence loving man called Kakihara is investigating what happened. You see, he refuses to believe that ‘Boss Anjo’ as he is called, has died. He thinks a rival gang has kidnapped him and is holding him for ransom. So he goes around town, torturing suspects, questioning people in search for his boss. In the meantime, there’s a killer on the loose, but he is not just any killer! This killer kills Yakuza’s for a living, and his name is ‘Ichi’ which is Japanese for #1. He goes around killing Yakuza’s in extremely gruesome ways. It isnt long before Kakihara and his men realize that Ichi is a menace to them, so they go on a hunt for Ichi.


The reason why I was expecting some depth from Ichi the Killer is because my favorite Miike films have some depth to them, for example, Visitor Q (2001) which is one of my favorites. But let’s face it, Miike isn’t exactly known for depth in his movies, he’s better known for their style, their shock value, their violence and their gore. He is also a very diverse filmmaker, making all sorts of films from all sorts of different genres. But I don’t normally finish watching a Miike film and dwell on it’s themes, most of the times, the feeling is just shock. A feeling of “wow, did I just watch that?!” Miikes films always make an impression on you, they always trigger a very visceral sort of reaction. And on this department Ichi the Killer delivers in spades. Kakihara, the henchman who’s looking for his boss is a sadomasochist and the real reason he is looking of Boss Anjo is because Boss Anjo used to inflict him with tremendous amounts of pain, and Kakihara liked it. Kakihara is the kind of guy who has no problems with cutting off his own tongue to prove a point! He has no problems with torturing someone by pouring red hot cooking oil on his back! He pays prostitutes to beat him, because he misses Boss Anjo’s beatings! The guy is in love with pain, but more than that, he is addicted to sensations, always looking for the thrilling, shocking sensation. He wants to meet Ichi because thinks Ichi will give him the ultimate pain, the pain he has been looking for all his life. So, he doesn’t want to find Ichi to kill him, he wants to find Ichi so Ichi can inflict him with an ultimate dose of pain. For me, it was this strange brew of characters that made this film interesting.


And speaking of Ichi himself, he really is a strange sort of protagonist. He is supposed to be some sort of superhero/crimefighter. He wears a special bodysuit when he goes hunting for bad guys, the suit has a big yellow #1 on its back. But Ichi is anything but a traditional superhero. In my book, he is a really weak main character. He is manipulated and used; he seems to have no real control over his actions. He is fed lies that make him act a certain way. When he is about to murder bad guys, he cries uncontrollably because he doesn’t want to kill anyone, yet he does it because he’s been conditioned to do so. When he is about to kill a bad guy, he gets an erection. He sees a raping going on, he doesn’t try to stop it, he feels aroused and wants to participate. I mean, this guy is all sorts of weird. Yet when it comes down to killing a couple of Yakuza’s he does it almost effortlessly with these blades that come out of the heels of his shoes. With this film, Miike switches everything around, the hero is a wimp, while the villain is the intelligent one. Hell, there is no doubt that Kakihara is the main character in this movie even though the film is named Ichi the Killer, it’s Kakihara’s face that’s on the films cover, not Ichi’s. Actually, Kakihara is on the film more than Ichi is. 

Ichi, a strange sort of 'hero'

This is a film filled with very troubled individuals. Both protagonists (Ichi and Kakihara) have sexual frustrations and dysfunctions. I mean, Ichi gets aroused when he’s going to kill someone and Kakihara gets aroused when he is inflicted with pain. These freaky sexual antics are something to be expected from a Takashi Miike film, a filmmaker that like Cronenberg isn’t shy about exploring human sexuality. I mean, in Gozu (2003) there is a character who can only get an erection by inserting spoons up his ass! I kid you not! So anyways, I hope this review has helped in giving you an idea of what to expect from Ichi the Killer. There’s freaky sexuality and there are copious amounts of violence and gore. A word on the gore: most of it comes off as cartoonish and over the top. Characters get horrendous amounts of pain inflicted upon them and don’t pass out or die, I mean, in one scene Ichi slices a guy in half like a freaking watermelon. Kakihara slices of his own tongue and keeps on walking as if nothing had happened to him. In fact, he simply sews his tongue shut and keeps going about his business. Final words: Ichi the Killer is your typical violence filled gangster movie with not much to say, but lots of things to freak you out. 

Rating: 4 out of 5


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tetsuo: The Bullet Man (2009)


Title: Tetsuo: The Bullet Man (2009)

Director: Shinya Tsukamoto

Review:

Watching Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1988) is not like watching any other movie, it's an experience. It’s a film with very little dialog, and lots of style and visual flare. It’s a film that tells it’s story mostly through emotions and sounds, words aren’t all that necessary, the images and the sound do most of the talking. Tetsuo: The Iron Man tells the tale of a young man who starts turning into a machine after he has a car accident. His body slowly but surely starts to grow joints and cables and exhaust valves and…drills! In many ways, the film plays out like David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986), because it’s the story of a man turning into something monstrous, and the psychological torture that results from this change. Tetsuo: The Iron Man has elements of body horror that many of David Cronenberg’s films have. These are the kind of horror films where a person realizes there is something terribly wrong with their body and suddenly they face the notion that their body has turned into their worst enemy. It also has something of David Lynch's Eraserhead in it when it comes to placing its main character in the middle of a decaying, ugly city landscape. Watching Tetsuo: The Iron Man is an experience because the film is shot in Tsukamoto’s signature kinetic style, where the camera moves and jumps and shakes constantly in a frenetic manner. One thing you should know about Tsukamoto films: if you don’t like “shaky cam” then you should stay clear of this one, but if on the other hand you find that you can stomach it, you’re in for a wild ride!


Tetsuo: The Iron Man is one of three Tetsuo films. The first one was followed by a sequel called Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992), a film I’ve yet to watch. He followed that one with the film I will be reviewing today Tetsuo: The Bullet Man (2009), the third part of this cyberpunk trilogy. On The Bullet Man we meet Anthony, an American living in Japan . Anthony's married a Japanese woman and has started a family with her, together they had a kid whom they named Tom. One day, as Anthony is walking through the city with little Tom, a mysterious black car drives by them and purposely runs over Tom! Just before the accident is over, Anthony realizes that his sons death screams aren’t exactly human, and his blood is black! Almost instantly, his son’s death triggers a transformation in Anthony’s body, and in a matter of seconds Anthony’s body becomes a living weapon! Bullets shoot out of his body, guns come out of his chest and Anthony proceeds to blow away the car that killed his son! But the question remains, who killed his son? And why? Who was the guy driving the car? And why is Anthony's body going through this transformation?


So I was not fully prepared for just how cool this movie was going to be. At all! It’s been a while since I’ve seen the original Tetsuo: The Iron Man and normally directors try to do something completely different with each film, special artful directors like Tsukamoto. And in many ways, this is a very different film than Tetsuo: The Iron Man, and in many ways it isnt. In many The Bullet Man ended up being  extremely similar to previous Tetsuo movies, which is kind of interesting. All three films are connected  thematically and in structure. Tetsuo: The Bullet Man might even feel like a remake of sorts. For example, this is also a story about a working class hero, who lives in the big bad city. It’s also a story about a man who undergoes a physical transformation from a human being into a mechanical monster. The main character is confused as to what is happening to him... and the similarities don’t stop there. So it appears that the Tetsuo movies share that same basic structure, but a few things set them apart. For example, while the original film was a surreal, nightmarish journey where events aren’t really explained and things are left for you to interpret, this third entry goes a totally different route. Tetsuo: The Bullet Man attempts to explain everything with crystal clear clarity, and I have to admit, I enjoyed this take on Tetsuo as well. This one is like a balancing act between an abstract artsy fartsy film and a by the numbers film that wants to tell its story in a rather straight forward fashion. How straight forward is this film in comparison to the original? Well, on this one Anthony actually discovers why he is turning into a walking machine gun when he stumbles upon his fathers private laboratory where he kept all his journals, this scene was reminiscent of a Frankenstein film.


And yeah, this film functions very much like a Frankenstein movie. Anthony turns into a monster that nobody accepts or understands and all everyone wants to do is kill him. He is a creation set loose upon the world, and the world does not want to accept him. Because of this, Anthongy has uncontrollable rage and anger at the ones who did this to him. It is this anger which triggers the transformation, the angrier Anthony gets, the more out of control he gets. In one amazing sequence, Anthony (now transformed into The Bullet Man) goes on a rampage/killing spree against a group of armed men who try to wipe him out by shooting at him. What they don’t know is that bullets make Anthony more powerful! He absorbs them into his body! I have to admit, this was the coolest aspect of the film, Anthony turning into a living weapon, with guns bursting out of his chest and hands; an awesome visual. This whole sequence left me speechless! I was utterly hypnotized by this film and how it was unfolding, I kept wishing that this film would keep being just as cool all the way till the end, and it did. Not for a second did the film turn boring, it kept me glued to the screen the entire time. The most interesting aspect of the film is the main character, The Bullet Man. The idea is plainfully speaking: kick ass. This idea of turning a man into a weapon was also used in a low budget sci-fi film called Meatball Machine (2005), a film I will be reviewing very soon, keep an eye open for that one. 


Speaking of visuals, this film was shot in color which goes in contrast to Tetsuo: The Iron Man which was shot in black and white. But things aren’t all that different visually, Tsukamoto doesn’t give into color entirely, Tetsuo: The Bullet Man is a film that is drained of its colors, almost to the point where it becomes a black and white film. This is a very dark film where blacks and whites dominate the color palate, yet every now and again, a hint of color appears. The editing is swift, sometimes lightning quick.  Sometimes Tsukamoto will just play with the visuals, turning the film into a kaleidoscope of visuals. The camera is constantly shaking; some scenes feel as if you were in the middle of an earthquake…other times it feels as if some impatient, nervous voyeur was seeing everything, looking left and right. I think this erratic camera work fits perfectly with the kind of story they were telling, about a guy going through all these unwanted physical changes, the desperation of the character comes through in the camera work. The overall look and feel of the film is very modern; this film looks slick, stylish. And keeping in line with the films stylish nature, the soundtrack is made up of industrial music, lots of beats and electronic sounds, I personally loved it. It fit perfectly with the film. The closing credits song entitled “Theme Song for Tetsuo: The Bullet Man” was produced by Nine Inch Nails, sadly that’s as far as Nine Inch Nails got involved with the music, it would have been cool had they scored the entire film, but sadly, it didn’t happen. The sound effects are awesome as well! When Anthony transforms into The Bullet Man, and he talks, wow, it’s the coolest voice! So robotic, so otherworldly, actually, it was kind of frightening. 


But was this film the classic case of ‘style over substance’? Are we left with a film that’s all visuals with no meat to it? While I wouldn’t go as far as saying that The Bullet Man is a deep film, I can’t say the film is void of themes either. At its core, this is a straight forward revenge film with Anthony attempting to avenge the murder of his son. His wife won’t let him be and ultimately begs him to kill the guy who murdered their son, which he does go out to do. At the same time, same as in Frankenstein (1931) and Blade Runner (1982), Tetsuo: The Bullet Man is a film that has a creation returning to it’s creator to ask him why he is the way he is. If you had a terminal decease and had a chance to have a conversation with God, wouldn’t you ask him why he’s allowed such a decease to exist? Certain scenes in Tetsuo: The Bullet Man reminded me of that scene in Blade Runner where the Replicants face their creator and question him as to why they die so fast. At the same time the film talks about controlling ones anger and not allowing it to get out of control. Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or The Incredible Hulk, anger is what ignites Anthony’s monstrous side and he must learn to keep it in check. But also, the main villain in the film, a character simply named 'The Guy' wants to show the world how ugly and violent the world really is, he wants to set Anthony loose in the world, so they get a taste of how awful it can be. So yeah, the film does have its themes. Speaking of 'The Guy' I thought it was so interesting that Tsukamoto plays a character in the film. And its a character thats constantly pushing the main characters buttons, pushing him to become more monstrous, more violent. I thought it was so symbolic of how a director of a film makes his characters go through certain situations, by orchestrating the film.  


Many think that this film can only be enjoyed by fans of Shinya Tsukamoto’s films but I say no to that notion because this film is actually more straight forward than Tetsuo: The Iron Man. On this film, things are given an explanation, an origin. In fact, I think Tsukamoto was aiming for a wider audience with this film. The fact that he shot the whole film in English let’s us know this. And this is the part where I speak about the films negative points. My biggest gripe with this one is that by trying to make a film that would be more accessible to American audiences, Tsukamoto sacrificed something in the creative process. The main actor is an American, the Japanese actors all speak in English, or at least try to. Sadly, most of the time their English is hard to make out. I personally like Japanese films to be spoken in Japanese, because performances and feelings come through much better in their native language. In other words: this is the kind of film that’s good to watch with the subtitles on even though most of it is spoken in english. Some characters are dubbed, and their lip movement suddenly doesnt match with what they are saying, which was a total let down for me.  Another thing that lets us know he was aiming for a broader audience is the complete elimination of sexual themes, so The Bullet Man is a 'softer', more accessible kind of Tsukamoto film. But rest assured, this film still has its freaky side. And anyways, even though the attempt was there, the movie still didnt end up being mainstream and thank the movie gods for that because who wants to see a mainstream film from Tsukamoto, raise your hands? Didnt think so. 

Tsukamoto plays a mysterious character called 'The Guy' 

So that’s my take on Tetsuo: The Bullet Man a visually interesting film done with very little money, yet same as Tetsuo: The Iron Man, the results work because of the filmmakers behind the camera. In many ways, it feels like a reworking or a remake of the ideas presented on the first film, only with a bit more money. Even though it doesn’t reach the greatness of the original, mainly because it’s very similar in structure, Tetsuo: The Bullet Man is still an incredibly watchable film. It might be a simple revenge tale, but its visually arresting, kinetic, never boring, fast paced, dark and violent, Tetsuo: The Bullet Man is a film you gotta experience! Highly recommend it!

Rating: 4 out of 5


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1996)


Title: Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1996)

Director: Takao Okarawa

Review:

So far, I haven’t seen a Godzilla film that I haven’t enjoyed in one way or another. Even the ‘bad ones’ have something fun or entertaining about them. Not that the film I’ll be talking about today is one of the ‘bad ones’. Actually, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1996) is one of the best ones; a milestone in the Godzilla Universe. On this one, Godzilla is on the verge of having the heart attack of the century! And it’s because of this forthcoming heart attack that Godzilla’s body now glows red as if he was just about to blow up. His spinal fins glow red, his eyes glow red, and his laser blast is red! Also, his radioactivity levels are out of control! And do you my dear readers know what it means when a creature that is essentially a walking nuclear bomb has a heart attack? Nothing less than the destruction of the world, that’s what it means! If Godzilla blows up (as scientists in this film predict he will) the resulting explosion would take the entire world with it; in other words, Godzilla’s death would destroy the whole planet! Now if that isn’t a good premise for a Godzilla flick, I don’t know what is.


Godzilla vs. Destoroyah is one of the best times I’ve had watching a Godzilla flick. There’s lots of action and lots of destruction on this one! It starts out fast and doesn’t let go. Even before the opening credit sequence begins, we’re already hearing Godzilla’s monstrous roar, which can only mean one thing, Godzilla is already on a rampage of death and destruction! No set up, no nothing, right from the get go it’s just Godzilla, glowing red, destroying a city. Interesting note: in the opening sequence for this film, Godzilla is destroying part of China , not Japan as he does most of the time. What’s Godzilla doing in China ? Who knows, maybe he took a wrong turn somewhere, got lost, I don’t know. But there he is knocking down important Hong Kong landmarks and spooking the hell out of the Chinese people. I have to admit that the Red Glowing Godzilla from this film is a very unique image, it’s not every day you see a giant glowing lizard stomping a city! Those scenes with the glowing Godzilla destroying the city look even cooler because most of them take place during the night. So on this film we get a special version of Godzilla, I would call him ‘Nuclear Heart Attack Godzilla’. On previous films, whenever Godzilla isn’t destroying Japan, he spends most of his time residing on ‘Birth Island’, problem is that Birth Island has just disappeared from the planet, and now Godzilla and his son have nowhere to live. Their home destroyed, Godzilla and his son are now nomads, wondering aimlessly through the ocean. Their next destination? Japan ! 

This could happen to the earth if Godzilla explodes!

But wait, there’s more. Complications arise when it is discovered that the weapon that killed the very first Godzilla (a.k.a. ‘The Oxygen Destroyer’) has mutated a life form from the Precambrian Era. In other words, in the same way that nuclear radiation mutated Godzilla, these microscopic creatures were mutated by The Oxygen Destroyer. The creatures look like mutated crab monsters or something. For a while in the film, these crab like creatures go around the city, terrorizing people, turning cars over, and basically destroying the whole city. How deadly are these creatures? Well, they shoot a lightning bolt out of their mouths that opens a black hole on what ever it hits! So imagine what happens when they aim it at humans! Things go from bad to worse when all of these creatures unite and form the most hellish looking of all Godzilla’s enemies: Destoroyah! This guy has got to be one of Godzilla’s most formidable foes ever! I know I keep saying that in my reviews, but in this case, I mean it. Destoroyah is even bigger then Godzilla! He is the meanest and deadliest! He has horns, wings, claws; basically, it looks like Godzilla is fighting against Satan himself! I mean, literally when Destoroyah appears, its as if he came straight out of hell! Coolest part about Destoroyah is that he comes back about three times before he finally reveals his final demonic visage! Each time Destoroyah comes back, he looks even more demonic than before. 


Another thing that makes this Godzilla film special is that Little Godzilla is all grown up. Don’t know how many of you out there are fans of ‘Little Godzilla’, but me, I personally despise whenever he appears because the creature just looks so childish and cheesy. It’s a creation made to sell toys to little kids. Usually, Little Godzilla doesn’t even figure prominently in the plot, its simply inserted there so the kids will get excited about it and buy the toy. Little Godzilla completely takes me out of whatever Godzilla film I might be watching. But this didn’t happen to me on Godzilla vs. Destoroyah because ‘The Little One’ as he is called on this film, is all grown up. He basically looks like his father, only with smaller spikes on its back. On this film the humans try lure The Little One, so that he fights against Destoroyah because Godzilla sort of wanders away and ignores the fact that the city is being destroyed by Destoroyah!

'The Little One' all grown up

Destoroyah Flies!

The best thing about this movie though is that it shakes things up. Nothing is sacred on this one. I kept thinking to myself that this wasn’t just any Godzilla flick, this one was special, and it is. Even if you don’t normally watch Godzilla films, I think you might find yourself enjoying this one. I mean, you’ll keep asking yourself: “Is Godzilla really going to die?” The idea of Godzilla dying might come as a surprise to many because in most of his films, Godzilla is practically indestructible! Godzilla might get attacked by missiles, lasers beams, robotic monstrosities, he might even go up against three headed creatures from other planets, but he takes a licking and keeps on ticking! Always coming back for more, as if nothing had hit him. But not on this one! On this film Godzilla has a level of vulnerability that hasn’t been displayed before. Since Godzilla’s radioactivity is increasing in intensity, you feel as if every step Godzilla is giving might be his last, which of course adds a level of suspense to the whole experience. Will Godzilla blow up in one final nuclear blast? Coolest part of the whole premise is that as Godzilla’s radioactivity increases, so do his powers! So which each passing second, Godzilla is actually getting more powerful and deadlier than ever. When these two monsters finally face off, the fight is epic! It has to be one of the best fights on any Godzilla film. 


Then there is G-Force, an organization that exists solely to study Godzilla and other giant monsters. Their main goal is usually figuring out ways to fight Godzilla. They have created various weapons to go up against Godzilla, for example the giant robot Mogera, seen in Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla (1995). They even created Mechagodzilla so it could go up against Godzilla in Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002). In this case, G-Force employs a new battle ship called the Super X III, the follow up to Super X and Super X II seen in previous Godzilla films. Super X III is equipped with special missiles that are meant to freeze Godzilla and stop him from destroying the world with Nuclear Meltdown. In this way, I thought the film was similar to Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002), in which Mechagodzilla is equipped with a similar weapon called the ‘Absolute Zero’. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah has some similarities with other films as well, most notably James Cameron’s Aliens (1986). The Destoroyah’s look like alien Drones, when they get bigger they look like the Alien Queen. They even have an extendable inner jaw that can emerge and snap at its enemies. This doesn’t surprise me, most Godzilla films are influenced by an American film in one way or another, right down to the first Godzilla film which was influenced by King Kong (1933). 

The Super X III

This was an awesome Godzilla movie, and one I would personally place amongst my top favorites. The only negative thing I can say about it is that the dialog is sometimes overtly simplistic, and it is constantly stating things that are obvious, but that could be due to bad dubbing, or not, I don’t know Japanese, so I don’t know if the dialog sounds equally as cheesy in Japanese. But aside from that minor hiccup, the battles are epic, the storyline is involving, the special effects are great and it’s a suspenseful film. Nothing is sacred on this one; it’s a Godzilla film that wants to shake your expectations of a Godzilla film. And it has one hellish villain for Godzilla to go up against! By the way, Destoroyah was a ‘Kaiyu’ created especially for this film, it wasn’t a creature that came from the classic roaster of Godzilla villains, this one was special. And what a formidable creature it was, a memorable one in deed. This film was the 22nd Godzilla film ever made and it was well received at the Japanese Box Office, actually, it became the highest grossing film in Japan that year! It was also the last of the ‘Heisei Series’ of Godzilla films, which are the films that take place from 1984 to 1995. I guess they wanted to end this era of Godzilla films with a bang, and so they did. Highly recommend this one if you want to see an exciting and eventful Godzilla flick.

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)


Title: Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, John Turturro, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Rosie Huntington Whiteley

Review:

Truth be told, the notion of a third Transformers film didn’t exactly excite me. The first film was an interesting trip down nostalgia lane but nothing mind blowing, the second film was sheer torture to watch, a truly horrid mess of a film with a convoluted plot and nothing new to offer visually. So when the news came that a third film began production, I expected more of the same. But I’m the kind of guy who likes to give directors second chances to improve as filmmakers or make up for previous cinematic abortions. The big question with this film for me was: would Michael Bay make the best of this opportunity to redeem himself as a filmmaker?

Michael Bay Directs

Story goes something like this: the Autobots have settled on earth. They have decided to work for the U.S. government aiding them in military operations. As a result of this, we get to see Autobots blowing up people in the Middle East and helping humans “not cause harm to themselves”. Soon, the government discovers that the Decepticons are after an old transformer that crash landed on the dark side of the moon. Its name is Sentinel Prime. This transformer is supposed to be the “Einstein” of the Transformers world. He’s invented something that could quite possibly bring forth the complete annihilation of the human race and surrender our planet to the Decepticons. Meanwhile, Sam Whitwicky is going to job interviews trying to get a regular day job so he can lead a normal life with his new and improved super hot girlfriend. Will he land a new job and manage to stop the Decepticons from taking over earth?


Something distinguishes Michael Bay ’s films. They go fast. Their pacing is frenetic, like a hyperactive child on a sugar high. He likes fast cars, fast talking characters, things blowing up and people running, and screaming…there is never a moment to just relax and kick back in a Michael Bay film. Everyone is always in a rush, even when they are not fighting giant robots, they are in a rush. So expect a film that is always running, from one scene to the next, without giving you any room to breath. I mean, even in the funny sequences, where Sam is talking with his parents, characters step on each others lines, they don’t even let other characters finish their sentences! It’s as if characters where on a race to see which one can talk faster. This has been like this since the first film, and it continues with this one, at an even more accelerated rate. So try and really listen to what characters are saying or else you’ll miss it. Dialog and exposition goes at a blink and you’ll miss it pace. Then there's the hot babes, sadly, Michael Bay still seems to think that women are only used in films as demsels in distress, because it's exactly what he has done in all of his films. On this film, Shia has a new super hot girlfriend to protect. But I will say this about Rosie Huntington Whiteley, she isnt hard on the eyes! Michael Bay really knows how to pick them! And I'm certain we'll see more of Mrs. Huntington in future films, she is after all a stunning beauty, hard to ignore by Hollywood executives.  She's an upgrade from Megan Fox thats for sure! 

Rosie in Deed!

The action goes at a frenetic pace as well, but thats to be expected as well. A lot happens and it happens fast! Within the first five minutes of film we go through a war in ‘Cybertron’ (the Transformers home planet) to a spaceship escaping the war and crash landing on the moon. Then we cut to the Americans sending their first manned shuttle to the moon, to them finding the alien spaceship, to the astronauts coming back to earth. I’m not kidding, this all happens in the first five minutes of film! This movie is simple in nature, but it has so many things going on, so many little distractions, so many characters, that it appears to be complex film, yet it really isn’t. At it’s core, this is your typical aliens attempting to take over earth type of film. Actually, it's a bit of an apocalyptic film, with the earth looking all barren and destroyed, humans scattering about trying to survive, not unlike a Terminator film. At one point in the film I kept thinking "so this is what a Terminator film would look like if Michael Bay took a stab at them" In terms of themes, the film touches upon Tyranny vs. Humanity, and how we shouldnt just sit back and let the greedy take over the earth.


This time around I think Bay was trying to focus more on the human side of the story, we get to see more of Sam trying to make it as an adult in the real world. It felt to me like the Transformers were secondary this time around. We don’t get to spend a lot of time with Optimus Prime (the leader of the Autobots) or even Bumble Bee, a character who ended up being an integral part of the previous two films. Bumblebee and Sam had developed a friendship over the past two films that was addressed on this one when Sam finally sees Bumble Bee and tells him “I don’t get to see you anymore”, but ultimately their friendship isnt as explored as in past films. In these films, the Transformers have never been truly developed as characters, something that is needed in a series of films where half of the characters are computer generated images. We need something to  bring them to life, something like character development. But this doesn’t happen this time around either, as a result, we don’t make a connection with any of the Transformers whatsoever, they feel like what they represent, machines. In this way, the film contradicts itself because in this film the Transformers complain that they are treated as machines rather then the Gods they were on Cybertron. How can they expect to be considered more than machines when that’s all that the filmmakers let us see of them? Their machine side?


I will say this about Transformers 3, it has some show stopping action moments and really, that’s what Michael Bay is good at, action. I wonder why he hasn’t concentrated his efforts in making the quintessential good action flick instead of fooling around with toy robots. Oh yeah, the millions. I forget. But the one moment everyone will be talking about will no doubt be the scene in which the good guys are inside of a building as it is being cut in half by a giant robotic worm, you probably saw a glimpse of that scene on the trailer for the film. That scene is sheer cinematic spectacle, and I was happy to discover that the sequence is actually an extended scene, it isn’t a quicky action sequence, they really took their time with that sequence. The film still suffers from some of the same ailments that previous films suffered from: sometimes you can’t tell what the hell is happening up on screen. But I will say that thanks to the magic of slow motion, we can now appreciate things a little better. Yes my friends, the new filmmaking technique for Bay this time around is slow motion. I can hear him now: “slow things down with slow mo so they can actually see what’s happening! That’s it! By golly we’ve finally got this filmmaking thing figured out!” Story is still a big jumbled mess, with many a loophole, but they did manage to make the whole thing a bit more comprehensible than the mess that was the second film.


Bottom line? This movie is exactly what you’d expect it to be. A big budget summer spectacle. Its loud, fast, has a mega hot babe, many fast cars, lots of explosions, and lots of special effects. To top things off, this film doesn’t have one character doing comedic relief, its got about ten of them. John Malkovich, was funny on this one but I kept asking myself: “what the hell are you doing on this film?” And what about Frances McDormand? I guess you can’t blame actors for wanting to try the big budget summer movie on for size. I’m actually glad they were on this film, they make things more bearable. Malkovich had me giggling with every scene he appeared in, he had me thinking he should do more comedies. John Torturro was funny too. So we got a cast that’s beefed up by good actors, while others get lost in the shuffle. Which reminds me: what the heck happened to Sam’s parents? They appear and disappear from the film never to be seen again. And what the hell where they doing on this film anyways? They were such useless characters! Only there to offer up a couple of laughs, that’s it, like many of the characters on this film. Hell, even the Asian actor from The Hangover shows up on this one. And what’s his purpose? Comedy relief!


I guess this was supposed to be the Return of the Jedi of the Transformers franchise. By sequel laws, this one was supposed to be the biggest, the darkest, the most dramatic, and the most expensive of all the films in the series. It is a bit darker, and it’s action sequences are bigger and more complex, and truth be told, this one wasn’t as bad as the second one, but still, I couldn’t help getting that feeling that I was watching more of the same. Not a total waste of celluloid. It is what it is, a big summer blockbuster. Cant blame it for being what it's supposed to. 

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5


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