A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Gojira

September 10, 2011

Gojira

I have a long history with the Godzilla films. I’ve been a fan since I first saw the big rubber galoot during the Channel 56 Creature Double Feature. The movies had everything a thirteen year old boy could want in a movie. Aliens. Robots. Giant rubber monsters. Hilarious dubbing. I always wanted, however, to see the movies in a more pure form, un-dubbed and un-cut. I figured when DVD came around that Toho would eventually come out with special editions of the movies with sub-titles for American audiences so we could see the films the way they were meant to be seen. Since the movies are generally considered light-weight pop sci-fi this hasn’t really come to pass unfortunately, but this, the first Godzilla movie is an exception.

This film is not a popcorn sci-fi film for kids – it’s a serious disaster movie and obvious allegory about the dangers of nuclear proliferation. In addition, as the progenitor of the entire Godzilla line, and indeed the beginning of the Japanese giant rubber monster genre, this film has special historical significance. So it was that for the fiftieth anniversary Toho released this deluxe edition DVD set that includes the original Japanese Gojira movie. At last I got to see at least one of the Godzilla movies in its original form.

It’s a good thing, too, because if ever there was a movie that needed to be seen in Japanese with English subtitles to be properly appreciated it is this one. This movie is so quintessentially Japanese. Before the infamous monster ever appears on the screen we spend an awful lot of time being introduced to the little fishing village where he starts his reign of terror. As with many a monstery disaster movie the film starts out as more of a mystery. What has caused a small fleet of fishing boats and the boats sent to rescue them to disappear? There are only a couple survivors and they say that it was a monster that destroyed their boats. A supremely grizzled old man declares that it must be the same monster that used to terrorise the village known as Gojira.

At the heart of this movie are four human characters. There’s the scientifically minded paleontologist Dr Yamane who is the first to piece together just what the monster is. There’s his lovely daughter Emiko. There’s her fiance Ogata, and her childhood friend the one-eyed mad scientist Serizawa. Then of course there’s the two million year old living fossil with radioactive breath from hydrogen bomb tests – Godzilla himself.

Dr. Yamane doesn’t actually want the beast destroyed. He’d rather study the monster to understand it and how its species remained alive on the ocean bottom long after such dinosaurs were thought extinct. This causes some friction with Ogata, who takes a while to gather the nerve to ask the doctor if he can have his daughter’s hand in marriage, but insists that Godzilla is a threat that must be eliminated at all costs. Serizawa, meanwhile, has developed an ultimate weapon called an Oxygen Destructor that could probably destroy the monster, but he doesn’t want it to fall into the hands of politicians who could corrupt it and start a new arms race. He tells only Emiko of his discovery and swears her to secrecy.

A couple things struck me as I watched this again tonight. The first was just how bleak parts of this movie are. After Gojira’s attack on Tokyo there are several scenes in infirmaries and hospitals that drive home that this attack has not just destroyed a bunch of detailed models and set fire to sets – it has had a brutal impact on the people of Japan. There are irradiated children. There is a dead woman and her inconsolable daughter. There are hundreds of bodies on stretchers. It is a powerful scene of emotional devastation which must have been even more intense when the film first came out, less than ten years after Japan became the only nation on the planet ever to be attacked with nuclear weapons.

The other thing that struck me this time was the caliber of the talent brought on board for this movie. Of course the monster itself and the destruction it wreaks are fantastic to watch. The special effects work as well today as they ever did. I also love the actors they have on board. In particular I was amused when I thought I recognised the actor playing Dr. Yamane and checked IMDB to find that he is the ubiquitous Takashi Shimura (who we will also be seeing in The Seven Samurai when we review that for our collection.) Glancing at his resume leads me to believe that he probably starred in every Japanese movie made in the twentieth century. Or close to it.

I still heartily wish that there were a comprehensive Godzilla special edition collection that gave the same kind of attention to even the cheesiest and stupidest of Godzilla movies as is lovingly provided to the original on this DVD, but at least for now I can take comfort in the fact that we have this one movie in our collection. I’ve proposed the idea to Amanda that we should watch the dubbed American version tomorrow as a separate film, since so much was altered to make it more palatable for American audiences. We’ll see how we feel about that tomorrow.

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

The Perfect Storm

August 10, 2011

The Perfect Storm

I had no intention of buying this movie. I had no particular interest in watching it. When we were shopping for shark movies, however, it was part of an inexpensive two pack with Deep Blue Sea that we bought at the FYE at our local mall before they went out of business. So it ended up in the collection and so we’re bound to watch it.

The reason that I never bothered to watch this movie was that I knew how it was going to end. I suppose just about everybody who watched this knew how it was going to turn out, since it was a highly publicised true story about a swordfishing boat that was lost with all hands during a colossal storm off the New England coast. So why, I wondered to myself, would I allow myself to watch a movie that spends most of its time humanising these man, letting us become invested in them, their lives and their troubles, when I know from the start that they’re going to all die before the movie’s over?

I suppose that this could have been presented as a kind of disaster movie. I do enjoy watching those. Things like Earthquake or Twister which have forces of nature violently destroying stuff. I enjoy that kind of movie, even if I know that nobody’s going to make it out alive. But this movie isn’t that. Oh, sure, it has the wrath of Mother Nature as a series of events converge to drive “the perfect storm” against the Gloucester coast, but it’s presented much more as a human story about a small group of characters and the people waiting at home for them.

The first two thirds of the movie is entirely concerned with showing us these hearty fishermen and the way that their demanding work has made it hard for them to live normal lives. There’s George Clooney as Captain Billy Tyne, the skipper of the doomed Andrea Gail. He’s upset because he hasn’t been able to find the fish lately as well as he used to be, and is driven to go further out to sea than perhaps is wise with an approaching storm in an attempt to redeem his good name. There’s the young rookie Bobby Shatford played by Mark Wahlberg, who has fishing in his blood, but who has a young girlfriend waiting at home that he would be willing to leave the sea for, if only he could make enough on this one last run to help her live as he thinks she deserves. There’s Dale Murphy (the distinctive John C Reilly) whose wife has left him and who wants only to be able to spend time with his son. There’s Bugsy, the mechanic, and Alfred, the ethnic one, and Sully who only comes along because Captain Billy needs another hand, and who has some kind of bad blood with Dale.

We meet them and their families and learn all about their hopes and dreams and aspirations. Then we get a whole lot of manly male bonding stuff as they battle the elements and the capricious nature of their prey on the ocean. I’ve seen enough Deadliest Catch to be pretty familiar with the ebb and flow of this battle, with the fish biting some times and long periods of disappointment as well. (Indeed as I watched this I very much wanted to put the Deadliest Catch game into my X-Box and play it for a while. It’s now so much a game actually as a very complicated crab fishing simulator.) Then of course there’s the storm itself.

Naturally, since nobody on the Andrea Gale actually survived to tell the tale, virtually everything that happens in this movie is pure fiction. The character names are actual people,and it’s likely that much of what we see about their relationships is drawn from fact, but everything that happens on their final voyage is pure speculation. Dale being pulled overboard by a hook through his hand. The ice machine crapping out. The big action set-piece where one of the anchors they’re using to keep the ship stable as they battle giant waves comes loose and starts smashing up the boat. All of that is just there for dramatic effect. he only thing that is actually known is that the boat went out too far and didn’t make it back.

I have no doubt that all the disasters depicted are actual real things that happen on swordfishing boats. I’ll admit that although I’ve watched most of the first three seasons of Deadliest Catch I’ve never watched Swords, which is the same show but with boats like the Andrea Gale hunting swordfish off the New England coast. Still, there’s the feel of truth to much of this – but that didn’t really draw me into the movie. Instead it made me want to watch Swords so I could see actual people dealing with these actual problems. I think I would have enjoyed that more than the Hollywood version.

Another problem this movie has is that it tries to introduce a whole host of other characters that are not really related to the Andrea Gale. I can understand putting the television meteorologist in who has to do all the exposition about how so many factors are coming together to result in this disastrous storm. But then there’s a family that sails into the hurricane and has to be rescued by a coast guard helicopter (the same chopper that goes down later trying to reach the Andrea Gale.) They distract from the main story of the film and feel like padding, which is too bad because I love seeing Karen Allen getting work. An awful lot of time is spent following the crew of the coast guard cutter and helicopter that also feels like a distraction. There’s even a lengthy refueling scene which will remind any MST3K fan of Starfighters and it’s interminable refueling montages.

I spent a whole lot of this movie wishing I was watching something else. I suppose that’s the main problem I have with it. It made me want to watch Swords or Deadliest Catch. It made me want to see other “nature attacks” style disaster movies. All the wonderful and recognisable actors in the cast made me want to stop this and watch other movies we own starring those same people that I enjoyed more. I’ll admit to a tear or two at the end when the movie gets super manipulative and tries its damnedest make you break down sobbing, but I mostly resented the movie for its manipulative ways by then. About the only good thing I can say about the film is that it has some pretty good special effects (although some of the digital waves are not completely convincing) and that I was quite relieved that George Clooney didn’t attempt to do an authentic Gloucester accent, which would have been painful. I would have spent the whole movie thinking “These people want to see a lobster.”

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

Movie 170 – When Worlds Collide

When Worlds Collide – August 17th, 2010

I had to take some Benadryl earlier today and it has totally knocked me on my rear, so we decided to look at the shortest end of our movies, time-wise. What with the whole space theme we’ve had going, we picked this. Neither of us have ever seen it! And yet the title alone makes me yearn for The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I might have to break out the soundtrack later. Anyhow, this is one of those classic science fiction flicks I can’t believe I’ve somehow never seen. I’ve seen so many bad science fiction movies from this era I keep forgetting there are good ones MST3K hasn’t touched.

Of course, it is pretty riffable. I admit I spent a good portion of the movie making little jokes and comments. But then, that’s sort of second nature to me now. For all that I mocked the dialogue, and for all that some of the plot “twists” were pretty obvious, and for all that it is fairly dated, there was a lot to enjoy about the movie. I mean, I wasn’t watching this expecting iPads and Shakespeare, so it’s not like my hopes were dashed. Given the time period and all, this really is a good, well-made speculative fiction movie.

The basic premise is that astronomers have discovered that two newly discovered planets are headed straight for Earth. One, Zyra, will pass close by, affecting the tides and causing mass destruction. Then right on its heels will be Bellus, which will smash right into Earth, destroying it. Despite most of the world’s leaders thinking the astronomers are total nutjobs, a few men with money put up the funds to build a sort of spacefaring ark that will make an attempt to lift off from Earth and land on the still close by Zyra (which is conveniently very similar to Earth, or so they hope). The scientists recruit people from universities, the best and brightest of their fields, to help build the ship and prepare it with livestock, supplies, and of course microfilm of a couple of libraries worth of books (I like that touch, personally, even if it’s terribly impractical). They’ve only got room for forty people and those places will be determined by lottery just before launch.

There’s the requisite romantic couple, Joyce and Randall, and the requisite romantic difficulties – Joyce was engaged to Dr. Drake before meeting Randall, but with the end of the world nearing, finds herself unable to decide which man she wants to be with. There’s the requisite mean old man, Stanton, who put up a good deal of money to help build the ship but only if he was guaranteed a place on it. There’s a random kid and a random dog, and another young couple whom you know are doomed to not both make it onto the short list at the end. Like I said, the twists are not terribly twisty, and the movie doesn’t really have the heart to kick the sweet and innocent couple too hard.

One thing that did strike me, especially near the end, was how very cynical the movie was about humanity. The movie starts out with a quote from Genesis about God seeing that the earth is corrupt and destroying it. Of course, that’s part of the Ark story, so it’s fitting and all, given the plot of the movie. But sure enough, the movie is pretty frank about humanity being foolish and violent. Stanton might be the cranky old villain of the film, but when he says he knows people will riot when they realize they’re not on the short list, he’s right. People do riot. Then again, there’s not a whole lot of effort made in making the movie a true allegory of the Ark story. Or in making the people who end up on the ship the ones you really care about. They’re chosen randomly. There’s just as much chance that the guys who start the riot could have been on the ship as not. The only people on there who ever really show any selflessness or compassion are the young couple (spoiler!) and Dr. Drake. Otherwise it’s not so much a preservation of the best of humanity as it is a preservation of a random sampling of privileged white folks. But, well, the movie was made in 1951 and the book it was based on was written in 1933. Maybe this was supposed to be more of an allegory than I’m reading it as now.

Anyhow, regardless of the pastiness of the ship’s crew and the cynicism of the movie’s view of humanity as a whole, clearly we’re meant to really throw ourselves behind this effort to save some people. It’s interesting, seeing everyone band together at first, signing up for an enterprise that looks to me like joining a cult – living in cramped barracks in an underground bunker, working on an experimental space ship, all on the word of some scientists the world’s governments have derided as fools. But there’s a definite sense of camaraderie and teamwork. I guess in that sense these really are meant to be seen as good people, just good people who are still human and want to survive at the end.

I’m not going to bother talking about the science. It’s woefully outdated and while I hear there’s a remake in the works, they’ll have to really pile on the pseudo-science technobabble to make the plot work. The tension in the movie starts off coming from how little time there is between the discovery of Zyra and Bellus and when they’ll reach Earth. The introduction of the movie has to explain what observatories are. The computer they use isn’t even called a computer, and it’s a massive array of rods and gears. So no, I’m not going to get into the science. Speculative fiction is more fun when you take something sort of remotely plausible and posit that it really is going to happen, then explore the outcome. This story works on the same principle as something like Larry Niven’s Inconstant Moon (one of my favorite short stories ever). It’s not whether the science is right, it’s how the people in the story react to it. And I addressed that above. I like how this movie handles those reactions, even if they are a bit heavy handed at times. Overall, it’s a fun movie to watch, both for the outdated cheese and for the interesting allegorical look at humanity.

August 17, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

When Worlds Collide

August 17, 2010

When Worlds Collide

We continue our theme of celestial bodies today with the classic sci-fi adventure When Worlds Collide. This represents yet another movie that I bought on a whim in spite of never having seen it. I knew, of course, that it was a major milestone in science fiction, but I had only the most vague notion of what the movie was about.

What was odd for me was that my reaction was so colored by other films I’ve seen. In 1998 this movie was re-made as Deep Impact (one of two end-of-the-world-meteor movies that summer.) Only it wasn’t until I was watching this tonight that I realized that Deep Impact was a re-make. So I kept comparing the two movies in my head as I watched this, and had to keep reminding myself that THIS movie was the original and the other was the knock-off. The other movie I found myself comparing this one to was This Island Earth, which I have only ever seen in its MST3K form. This Island Earth came out four years after When Worlds Collide but it shares some of the same fifties technicolor sci-fi feel.

Just like in This Island Earth our hero today flies a plane. Only this time he’s no scientist (a major plot point in the movie.) He’s international courier and womanizer David Randall. Randall is tasked with bring to America a set of observations from an observatory in South Africa where a group of astronomers fear that they have discovered something dreadful. In America Randall meets Joyce Hendron, her fiance Tony Drake, and her father Cole Hendron. Joyce and Cole confirm the findings of the scientists in Africa: a pair of rogue planets are headed to Earth, and our planet is doomed.

There are a lot of plots here, all mixed up in this end of the world scenario. Dr. Hendron and his colleague Dr. Fry have a plan to build a rocket ship to bring some people from Earth to colonize the planet that is set to destroy our own. To do so he has to seek financial help, and ends up going cap in hand to the nasty industrialist Sydney Stanton, who eventually agrees to fund the expedition only so that he has a way to survive the coming apocalypse. Joyce unaccountably falls in love with David, which seems kind of odd (I guess he just has a kind of animal magnetism.) Then David actually turns out to be a reasonably nice guy, his earlier carousing and womanizing apparently having been cured by a desire to save some little part of humanity. Of course this doesn’t sit well with Tony, who also turns out to be a nice guy.

I was particularly impressed with the way that this movie attempts to be a little multi-cultural. Oh, sure, all of the lead characters and all of the technicians and scientists enlisted by Dr. Hendron to go to the new world are pasty white, but Hendron first brings his plea to the United Nations and there’s a lengthy scene where people of many races and languages debate the nature of the threat to Earth. Then as the apocalypse approaches we’re treated to news reel footage of the attempts to evacuate coastal cities accompanied by newspaper headlines in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese (I think.) For a movie made during the fifties at least there’s an acknowledgement that the rest of the world exists outside of the U.S.A.

The effects in this movie also stand out. I’ve seen a LOT of fifties sci-fi in my day, and this movie clearly had a budget to dwarf your average film of the day. There’s a couple very impressive sets for the rocket ship itself, as well as an absolute ton of great miniature work. You can clearly see the seeds of the work of Roland Emmerich here. (It’s not much of a leap from this movie to the ludicrously silly 2012.)

The movie also manages to work in some cool speculation on how people would react to such a disastrous event. The character of Mr. Burns, I mean Sydney Stanton, acts to represent the mercenary dog-eat-dog contrast to the self-sacrificing good-guys in the movie. (Note that near the end of this movie, as people are storming the spacecraft and panicking because they realize that they’re being left behind to die, there’s a considerable amount of material that Emmerich would blatantly steal for 2012.) The whole constructions and provisioning of the Arc is very quickly touched upon, but is interesting nonetheless. (Amanda was particularly pleased to see a large detail of women being put to work transferring selected books to microfilm for preservation in the new world.)

I do enjoy a good end-of-the-world movie, and this is the grand-daddy of them all. As such I’m really glad that I finally got a chance to sit down and watch it. I can easily state that its reputation as a classic and important part of the genre is well deserved.

August 17, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Independence Day

July 4, 2010

Independence Day

This was the pinnacle of the summer event movie. After the gaudy overdone spectacle of this movie no other could reach the same lofty heights. Not that others haven’t tried. There have been plenty of other big budget disaster movies from Emmerich’s own Godzilla and 2012 to Armageddon and The Core. Everybody loves an end-of-the-world story with a lot of explosions and big name stars. Indeed these days they’re running out of recognizable international landmarks to destroy. But all of them are pale immitations of the success of this one movie. The hype, the scale, and the sheer audacity of this movie has never been matched.

I’m not trying to say that it is a good movie. However enjoyable it may be it is more full of stupid plot holes than an Ed Wood movie. Some examples: why does the dust on the moon blow in a light breeze? Why do the attacking aliens use human satellites to coordinate their strike rather than just synchronizing their watches ahead of time? Why does one alien ship hover over the Empire State Building – when all the others are over centers of government (or the one over Los Angeles for that matter.) Most of all – why is the alien computer network susceptible to a mac virus?????

So don’t try to make sense of it. Just enjoy it for the summer popcorn flick that it is. The formula of disaster movies is well established – going back to the flicks of the seventies like Earthquake, The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. You have a few core survivors of some form of cataclysm who must band together to overcome adversity and save each other. You usually have a couple with marital strife who rediscover their love for one another, a government official of some sort (almost always corrupt who either gets their comeuppance or redeems themselves through a noble sacrifice,) some kind of comic relief, and a doomsaying scientist or something who knows what’s going to happen but to whom nobody will listen. Most of those people are in our collection here. Our cast are: Jeff Goldblum as the doomsaying scientist, Judd Hirsch as his nebbish father the comic relief, Bill Pullman as President Lonestar, Will Smith as the cocky fighter pilot, Vivicia A. Fox as his tough-as-nails stripper girlfriend who organises a rag-tag band of survivors in the ruins of L.A., Randy Quaid as the insane coot who really WAS abducted by aliens, Brent Spiner as the long-haired scientist who has been in charge of studying alien artifacts at Area 51, plus their various families and hangers on.

Will Smith gets all the best lines of course, and is pretty much the de-facto star of the movie. Brent Spiner steals the show for those few moments that he’s on screen. Jeff Goldblum plays pretty much exactly the same character he played in Jurassic Park. I will say that I never for an instant bought Pullman as the president. He just doesn’t have a presidential air. As his wife though we have Mary McDonnell as the first lady, and SHE does have a presidential feel to her. As we well know.

What sets this aside from the disaster movies of the past are three factors – first the disaster at the start of the movie is just the initial attack of the invading aliens, so there’s a bigger save-the-whole-world feeling. The second factor is the sheer scale of the visual spectacle on display. Roland Emmerich, building on the effects of Stargate, has mastered the big-explosion apocalypse. Better explosions of miniature models have never been filmed. Finally, this movie had a marketing push more effective and targeted than any before or since. Right down to the title of the movie and its July 4th release date. (I’m sure you remember the whole ID4 thing if you were around at the time.)

I can lambaste this movie all night for the pathetic holes in its laughable plot, but the truth is that it’s a really fun movie. I’d rather just enjoy all the pretty explosions. After all, isn’t watching pretty explosions what July 4th is all about? (Well, okay, I guess there’s something in there too about a British colony that rebelled back in the seventeen hundreds.)

July 4, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment