A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 560 – Godzilla, King of the Monsters!

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! – September 11th, 2011

Given that the running time for this and the original turned out to be so very much shorter than we’d been counting on, it really ended up being not a big deal to watch them back to back. And Andy really wanted to see them together. So we popped it in the night after watching the original. It really does qualify as its own movie, given the nature of the editing done to it. Which I find kind of fascinating. It’s the same story, but restructured a tiny bit and with a brand new character added in. Oh, it’s not a seamless addition. Whenever new guy Steve Martin talks to Emiko, for example, it’s painfully obvious that he was cut into other scenes of her talking, or that he’s speaking to a double whose back is always kept to camera. But that aside, there was an obvious effort to make him a part of the story instead of just a bystander narrating it all.

Now, making this new guy, Steve, the center of the human story is not without problems. For one, he’s a big white American lunk (sorry Raymond Burr fans, it’s true). For two, in order to make him central to the plot he has to be inserted into the relationships that were in the original. Instead of Emiko, her suitor, Ogata, her father, and her friend, Dr. Serizawa, you’ve got the four of them and Steve. And he just seems so out of place. I kept thinking grumbly thoughts about him, like “Why are you there? Leave Emiko alone! She has enough to deal with without worrying about some random American reporter! They figured it all out just fine without you in the other version!” And really, he’s not that bad. He just feels shoehorned into the plot, perhaps because in the original there was no need for a fifth main character. His purpose really seems to be to provide a US “voice” and presence in the movie to make US audiences more comfortable with it somehow.

Otherwise, the movie’s story is largely the same. The monster still attacks boats first, then the villages on the island before moving on to the mainland. People still testify as to the monster’s destructive powers. The monster still kills many and the results of its rampages are still shown. There are still the same main characters – no one’s missing. No one was excised in order to make room for Steve. The major plot points are all in there too. The various attacks, the determination of how old the monster must be. The professor’s desire to study the monster to learn about how it’s survived this long and adapted in the ways that it has. The insistence of others that it must be stopped. The eventual answer – the horrible weapon that might kill it, but also cause untold horrors as a side effect. It’s all there. But truncated.

It should be noted that this movie is a full 16 minutes shorter than the original. And that’s with all the extra US reporter stuff added in. I’m sure someone has done a scene by scene comparison between the two movies but there’s no denying that there’s material that’s been cut out. I suspect a large part of it is in the editing of each scene. Where the original lingers over shots, letting the visuals have time to speak for themselves, the US edit flips between shots much faster. It doesn’t change the pacing of the whole movie all that much, since everything still happens in the same order. But it is noticeable. What does change the pacing more for me is the addition of scenes of American reporters talking to Steve and trying to get details on the story. Those made me feel like the movie was both rushed and interrupted at the same time.

While the US edit didn’t shy away from showing the horrors of the monster’s attacks, it did feel as though less time was spent on it all. What’s frustrating about that is that it diminishes the power of the allegory. I suspect that these edits were done strategically, but I don’t have to like them just because they were done with purpose and intent. That being said, there were things I did like about the movie. Amazingly enough, it really does serve many of the same purposes as the original and I’m very glad that the allegory wasn’t lost in the editing room. Yes, it was diminished a little, but not lost. And that could easily have happened if the additional character had been handled clumsily or if key scenes were removed without much thought. But that didn’t happen.

A whole hell of a lot was kept the way it was in the original, such as the fantastic music. Bizarrely enough, they even kept the large majority of Japanese dialogue, but didn’t dub or subtitle it. Not that I like dubbing or think it would have been a good choice for this movie, but I could have seen it happening. But no, there’s a lot of Japanese, and left with no translation. What strikes me as odd there is that there was an effort to make this movie relate-able to a US audience but then vast swaths of Japanese language lines were left in without any way for people who only speak English to know what, specifically, is being said. I suppose it could have been because it was all deemed not quite important enough to subtitle for, it just struck me as odd. Still, even with that and Steve and the editing, it’s a far better and more serious monster movie than most that came after it.

September 11, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 559 – Gojira

Gojira – September 10th, 2011

When we decided to undertake this whole big project Andy and I had to first create a list of everything we owned. That on its own was a huge task. We had to ferret out all our DVDs, and since we have a small apartment with limited shelf space we’d stashed them wherever there was space. That took a while. Then we went through and made a spreadsheet for it all. Title, running time, whether each of us had seen it or not, where it lived in the apartment, date of review, etc. For the most part we took the running times off the DVD cases. A couple of them didn’t specify a running time so for those we looked online. And most of the time? It worked out a-ok. The trouble is that there seems to be no real regulation for how these things are listed. And so this movie was noted in our spreadsheet as having a 176 minute running time. That’s actually the combined running time for both this and the edited for the US Godzilla, King of the Monsters! included in the same set. Oops.

For that reason, we’d been putting this off a bit. Andy wanted to do the original Japanese version back to back with the US edit and that running time was a bit of an obstacle. Finally we buckled down and put it in. And it was good! Really dark and really interesting and really well done. But as the movie went on I started to wonder about the pacing. I mean, I’ve watched a lot of movies. I’d watched a lot well before we started this project but I think now I can definitely state I’ve seen a lot of movies. And the pacing just didn’t feel right. Here were the two male leads putting on diving suits, preparing to unleash a deadly weapon on the monster after several failed attempts to kill it. There’d been mass destruction and death and a fight between the male leads and a tearful revelation by the female lead and it all pointed to the movie ending relatively soon. And yet we were at just under an hour and a half. So I looked it up. 98 minutes. It’s more than a little disorienting to realize a movie is over an hour shorter than you expected. But it does mean that there’s nothing wrong with the pacing!

My background with Godzilla isn’t remotely the same as Andy’s. He grew up watching monster movies. I grew up watching stuff like Solarbabies. I think he got the better end of the deal, much as I love Solarbabies and will love it forever. But I think it’s important for me to note that my family wasn’t a movie-going family and we also weren’t too much of a movie-watching family outside of a few particular favorites. I really started getting into movies in high school and I admit, monster movies weren’t something I sought out. I saw quite a few through MST3K and I didn’t try to go any further. I was quite aware that Godzilla had been edited for western audiences and that while the newer movies in the franchise were, sometimes, on the silly side, the original was far more serious. I just hadn’t ever made the time to watch it.

Silly, really, because this is a classic and well deserving of its status as one. This is a far cry from the cheese of something like Godzilla vs. Megalon. The story is the introduction of the titular monster, but also more a parable of destructive force causing tragedy and the morality of using greater destructive force against it. As an allegory for nuclear war it’s pretty obvious. At least to me at this point in history. But that doesn’t mean it’s poorly done. Just the opposite, in fact. Because it’s a good story and a good monster movie, regardless of the allegorical implications.

The story begins with a series of mysterious attacks on boats. There are no survivors found until one washes ashore on the beach of a nearby island and only lives long enough to give a few vague details. As the monster continues its periodic destruction the people of Japan begin to realize just how bad it can get. The locals on the island that’s first affected have some inkling of what’s going on, having had legends of a monster from the sea. Everyone else has to learn the hard way: By seeing the monster destroy their homes and families. Once it’s clear that there’s a real threat here the folks in charge start to talk about just how they’re going to deal with it. Many want the monster killed, but a few, such as paleontologist Professor Yamane, believe the monster should be studied as well. The professor’s daughter’s suitor, however, believes the monster must be killed. So that right there puts them at odds. And then there’s Dr. Serizawa, who has created a weapon that could destroy the monster, but could then be co-opted by others for less necessary purposes. This all creates a good deal of character tension in the midst of the horrific disasters and that makes for a more solid story.

If there wasn’t much in the way of character interaction then the whole allegory would just fall apart. The allegory is rooted in the interactions. Because it’s clear in the movie that there is no good answer. That either the monster will continue wreaking havoc or a terrible weapon will have to be unleashed to stop it. There’s no right answer there. There’s no good answer there. Of course the destruction has to stop, but the cost of stopping it is so great. This movie doesn’t pull its punches. It lets you know just how bad it got, from scenes of devastated cities to children crying over their dead parents. And the effects and cinematography are still fantastic, even now. The music too, adds to the whole mood of the movie. It’s somber and grave. This isn’t a monster movie you watch for fun. It’s a thoughtful commentary on arms escalation and morality, but told with explosions and a huge monster and all the trappings of monster action flicks.

September 10, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 505 – The Deadly Mantis

The Deadly Mantis – July 18th, 2011

For a giant monster action scream-fest this movie sure starts slow. First we get some cartography, then a nice lengthy lesson on radar and how we’re apparently using it to keep an eye on those shifty Canadians up north. Seriously, the first ten minutes of this movie are spent showing us maps of places and talking about the “Pine Tree Radar Fence” on the “unfortified Canadian border.” Then people talk over radios and nothing happens. Not precisely the sort of thing that grabs you by your lapels and drags you forward in your seat. Unless you’re a radar/Canada conspiracy theorist (okay, okay, I know it was Russia we were so worried about, but they’re never mentioned and the movie focuses a lot on “The North”).

We bought this ages ago, back when we worked at the video store in Pennsylvania. At the time we grabbed it because it was a cheap used VHS cassette of a movie MST3K had done. And we were amused by the idea of owning un-MSTed versions of MST3K movies, which is why we own Danger: Diabolik and Overdrawn at the Memory Bank and of course, Warrior of the Lost World. I’d marked it down as something we’d seen, because I know we’ve watched the MST3K episode all the way through, but then watching it tonight I realized that perhaps I hadn’t paid much attention to it. Vast swaths of the movie were brand new to me. Far more than could be accounted for by the editing done for MST3K’s bumpers and commercials. Ah well, I’ve seen it all now!

Truth to be told, I don’t think I’d missed much. It’s not that this is a horrible movie. On the contrary, it has some fairly well done effects for a movie of its kind. The giant mantis is nicely done and really, I can’t fault a movie for having Action Paleontology. It’s fun, really, seeing the military guys sitting around debating what to do and being somewhat clueless about this mysterious threat that’s destroyed outposts and whatnot, and then calling in The Scientist. I love seeing scientists as the go-to heroes in movies like this. Modern movies like The Rock and Jurassic Park do it too, putting scientists in lead roles and making them the ones who know what’s going on, but in older movies, like this and This Island Earth the scientists don’t play second fiddle to anyone. They’re heroes, by virtue of being smart. So I give the movie credit there, though This Island Earth gets slightly more thanks to having female scientists as well as male. Still this movie also has a fairly strong female lead, even if it does undermine her at the end.

As I mentioned, the movie starts out slow. There’s a lot of explanation here to set up the whole concept of the giant pre-historic mantis stuck in the ice in the arctic and freed apparently by a volcanic eruption down near Antarctica. And then lots more explanation for how it would be detected and why we’ve got soldiers stationed up in the middle of the Canadian wilderness. And what’s frustrating about that is that it’s not necessary. Who cares why the ice floe that held the mantis broke off, freeing it? And the soldiers and radar net or whatever? That’s all explained in context later on in dialogue between the various characters as they puzzle over the broken off bit of bug that gets found after one of the attacks. Was that part of the movie just propaganda to inform people about how well we were protected from Commies coming over the North Pole? No clue.

Once everything is explained we get our hero, Dr. Ned Jackson, and his intrepid journalist pal, Marge Blaine up north to encounter the mantis for themselves. Ned and Marge both work at the Museum of Natural History, Ned as a paleontologist and Marge as the editor of the museum’s magazine. Now, this is where the movie lost some of the good will I had towards it for having a paleontologist as the hero. Because once they go up to the Army base to take a look at the giant mantis tracks Marge is reduced to being a walking pair of breasts. The Army guys are all agog at her very existence and she’s treated as if she’s incompetent for the rest of the movie. Of course one of the Army guys ends up romancing her after the mantis is dead, telling her to leave the photography to Ned. Haha! Now that she has a man she doesn’t have to do that silly career stuff!

All in all, I was enjoying the movie well enough as a 50s monster movie but it sort of washed over me at times. It didn’t hold my interest terribly well. I’d look up and realize something was happening. I cheered when klaxons sounded because it meant there were things going on. And then suddenly they were trapping the mantis in a tunnel and shooting it with lots of big weapons and then it was dead. And I hadn’t realized that much time had gone by. I think it was all the talking. I don’t mind that there’s a good deal of discussion here because a lot of it is science talk about drawing conclusions based on evidence and so on. But then there’s other talk that just seemed to pad the film out a bit. Like I said, it’s not really a horrible film, but it is slow. Much slower than a monster movie should be. It’s got its high points and there are parts of it I quite like. But it suffers from all the nothing that happens in between the parts where the mantis is destroying stuff.

July 18, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 470 – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – June 13th, 2011

Going into this tonight I feared the worst. People had warned me that this movie was horrible, terribly, no good, messy, ridiculous and so on and so forth. I’d had the ending spoiled for me as well as the reveal of the identity of one of the main characters. But honestly, even if neither of those had been spoiled for me I think I would have figured them out. Subtlety is not a strong suit of the Indiana Jones franchise and it never has been. Still, I was worried. Not because of the things that had been spoiled for me – those didn’t worry me in the least – but because even people who didn’t mind those things had a pretty dim view of the movie in general.

Now, I would go ahead and say that maybe I enjoyed the movie because I had oral surgery today and I’ve been a little out of it. But the sedative they gave me before the surgery had long since worn off by the time we put the movie in I haven’t even taken my first Vicodin yet, so it’s no use blaming it on chemical enhancement. I just flat out enjoyed the movie. Oh, I won’t go so far as to say it’s great. But I will say, without any shame, that I believe it is a far better movie than Temple of Doom. No, I’m not lying. And no, I still haven’t taken that Vicodin.

Let’s look at what this movie has going for it before we get into its faults (and it does have faults, to be certain – I just don’t think they’re overwhelming). For one, it’s got some very clear self-awareness. Harrison Ford isn’t immortal, sad to say, and he’s gotten older. So too has the character of Indiana Jones and the movie is quite clear about that. And I get why this would be sad and unpleasant for some people, but personally I think it’s great. And the little nods to it keep up with the whole thing I love about Indy as a character: He is not perfect. He is fallible. He is going to get beat up and it is going to hurt and he is going to press on because he is a dedicated and stubborn guy. So I’m all for seeing him getting older, dealing with new challenges like McCarthyism and not being as quick on his feet as he once was. Also in the movie’s favor is the return of Marion, who is hands down my favorite of the female leads from the previous movies. And she gets to be pretty awesome here too, having gone on with her life after Indiana Jones walked out of it. I love that Marion gets to have had a husband and a family and still went off on adventures. We’ll get to the family in a moment, but before we do I’ll note the last thing I think is really in this movie’s favor: The choice of villain and artifact.

I know this is likely controversial, but I actually like the choice of the crystal skull and the villains being Communist Russians. After all, while I’m sure Indy had plenty of excitement during World War II (which is alluded to when the FBI questions him), this movie was made with a necessarily older Indy. Unless they were going to do that uncanny valley thing they did in Tron: Legacy, and I don’t think it would have really worked here. So they had an older Indy. That meant taking things forward and taking them forward to deal with paranoia from within the US government and a new enemy to deal with? I am very much on board with that. I think it was a smart move. And as for the crystal skull, well, once we moved away from the Nazis it made sense to move away from the Christian relics. And while I greatly prefer the Ark and Grail in terms of their well-known and widespread lore, at least the crystal skull isn’t something still currently used by a real religion. By using something that’s got questionable origins anyhow, the movie neatly sidesteps a lot of the issues the second movie failed at so badly. Sure, it’s silly and outlandish, but it also avoids dealing with a modern-day ethnic and religious identity. And Indy never really questions what’s going on here. He has no reason to. He’s seen enough to just run with what’s presented to him.

So really, I like Indy, I like Marion, I like the villains (and I think Cate Blanchett did a very nice job here) and I like the basic premise. But there are flaws. One of my problems with the movie is that it seems to wink a little too much to the time period. The McCarthyism and Area 51 stuff work well together, but what was the purpose of the atomic blast? It’s just plain egregious. The greaser vs. varsity fight in the soda shop? Again, relatively unnecessary. It’s all a bit much. And then there’s Mutt. I am of very mixed feelings when it comes to Mutt. I was spoiled about him and really, it’s pretty obvious and I like the idea of him. I don’t even really mind Shia LaBeouf’s performance. But again, he feels like a little bit of overkill every time he pulls out his comb.

My other major complaint is Indy’s double crossing friend. Oh, he’s performed just fine, but the role itself is an issue for me. He feels like a nothing. We don’t know him prior to the movie, he betrays Indy, then betrays his new employers, then betrays Indy again. He’s out for himself and himself only, but he never gets enough time on screen or character background for that to be anything other than the most superficial of character traits. As a side-kick he just falls flat for me and if I had to choose between him and Mutt I’d go with Mutt every time.

This movie did somewhat abandon the formula of the others, with the initial adventure involving not only the major sidekick for the rest of the movie but also the major villain and a pointer towards the rest of the plot. No, it’s not completely connected, but it’s a more cohesive part of the movie than prior introductions have been. And you know, I kind of like it. The pacing of the movie is off in places and I’ve made my feelings on Mac clear, but the incorporation of the major players and concept into the introduction is not a problem for me. Again, it’s a real step up from the second movie.

I could have done without the tribe of natives at the end of the movie and I will admit that this movie certainly goes more in a science fiction direction than a supernatural direction, but the missteps here aren’t nearly as unpleasant as the second movie. It’s got a lot of fun moments and a lot of great interaction between the characters. It’s full of nods to the older movies and it manages to bring the franchise forward while allowing Indy to continue being awesome while also being older. I won’t try to tell people who didn’t like it that they’re wrong, but personally I found it fun and enjoyable and now that I’m certain that I actually liked it on my own I’m going to take my painkillers and go to bed.

June 13, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment