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

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

Movie 556 – The Host

The Host – September 7th, 2011

I have probably asked Andy what this is every time I’ve looked at our movie list. It wasn’t something I recognized and his description of it wouldn’t stick in my head. Probably because I’m pretty sure his description was usually something very short, like “It’s a Korean monster movie” or “It’s a Korean horror movie.” And to be honest, that just doesn’t grab me. Nothing about that tells me what the movie’s story is or how it’s done. Really, that’s a very generic description, and as I’m not a horror fan and he didn’t give me much in the way of details about the monster, it had very little to set it apart in my mind. I thrive on details. Telling me something is “a period drama” or “a musical” isn’t going to get me excited either. There had to be a reason why this Korean monster movie and not another, right? But without details, how am I supposed to know that reason?

Turns out the reason is that it’s a very well done monster movie with a sense of humor I’m beginning to consider a staple in Korean movies. It’s not a comedy. Far from it. But it has comedic aspects to it that would feel bizarrely out of place in most other serious monster movies. And make no mistake, this is also a serious movie. It has Things To Say about the government and pollution and the United States military. And the monster kills people. This isn’t some goofy monster that just causes panic or something. It doesn’t destroy buildings but leave the people unharmed. No. It kills people and eats them and saves some to savor later. It belches out the bones of its prey after digestion, leaving no doubt that it’s a killer. It is a malicious force and the movie sets that out right at the beginning. There is no question.

Still, there is humor here. Mostly from the main cast and their interactions. The Park family runs a snack cart near the river, serving up fried squid, instant ramen and beer to people relaxing on the riverbank. The family consists of the owner of the cart, Park Hee-bong, his three adult children (unemployed college grad Nam-il, archery champion Nam-joo and lazy eldest son Gang-du) and his eldest son’s pre-teen daughter, Hyun-seo. The whole family loves Hyun-seo, but derides Gang-du for always being asleep and for not even attempting to do anything with his life. Really though, the whole family has problems. There’s Gang-du, obviously, who spends all his time working at his father’s cart and sleeping. Nam-il finished college (paid for by his father’s tireless work at the snack cart) but all he’s done since is drink. And Nam-joo has the makings of a gold medalist, but hesitates every time and always lands lower than she should. Hyun-seo obviously loves her family, but is exasperated by her father and uncle and saddened by her aunt’s failure to live up to her potential. And the movie takes the time to introduce all these characters to the audience and make them at least a little sympathetic as individuals and more sympathetic as a family. And then it has the monster kidnap Hyun-seo.

The monster is created early in the movie, well before we meet the Park family. An American military doctor tells a Korean assistant that the formaldehyde bottles in the morgue are too dusty and to dump all of it. The assistant argues that dust on the bottles doesn’t mean they have to dump it all and that the chemicals are dangerous and shouldn’t just be dumped. But the doctor insists and so the formaldehyde is dumped down the drain and into the Han river in Seoul. I suspect it’s meant to be more than just formaldehyde. I have a vivid recollection from high school of being told to be careful mixing formaldehyde with other chemicals. And given the results, it seems like it would make sense for it to be a combination of noxious chemical liquids that produces the giant fish monster that is the basis for the movie. Formaldehyde alone just doesn’t work for me, so even though it’s the only chemical mentioned by name in the English subtitles, I’m going to run with “formaldehyde et. al.” to describe what gets dumped. Formaldehyde alone would be boring.

So this big fish monster with legs comes up out of the river one day and attacks a ton of people hanging out on the shore. Gang-du runs, tries to fight it along with a American dude, sees it kill people by the dozen, then tries to grab his daughter to keep her out of harm’s way and finds that he’s grabbed a similarly dressed stranger by accident. The monster has Hyun-seo. Everyone who was present for the attack gets quarantined, especially Gang-du, who was in direct contact with the creature. And in the middle of all of this somewhat serious monster movie drama the entire Park family engages in over-the-top hysterics and slapstick fighting while grieving for Hyun-seo. It is one of the stranger things I’ve seen in a movie recently because it just seems so unlike what I expect from the tone of the rest of the movie. And it’s not the first or last time there’s a bit of slapstick comedy tossed into an otherwise serious plot. I’ll just have to make a point of watching more Korean movies to see if it’s a cultural thing I’m just not personally familiar with. I like it! I’m just a little bemused by it.

Anyhow, it turns out that Hyun-seo isn’t dead. She’s been stashed in a sewer for the monster to snack on later. So the family breaks out of the hospital and cashes in everything they have to pay for weapons and a map of the sewer system so they can go find her. Things escalate and one member of the family gets killed. The government bans people from the whole river area and news comes out of the US that the monster transmitted a deadly virus to the American guy Gang-du fought the monster with. It all turns out to be a smokescreen for the Americans to save face after being the cause of the monster’s existence in the first place and the movie’s pretty clear on that. There’s a whole lot going on in this movie, and I’m not just talking about the monster and the action and the family drama. Reading over some analysis done by people native to Korea, it makes me wish I knew more about the culture and country. There’s some very obvious messages, such as the dumping of the formaldehyde (et. al.) in the river and the US lies about the creature. But then there’s some subtle stuff I didn’t pick up on at all. It was an interesting movie, and a well made movie. It also wasn’t at all what I was expecting, which is a good thing, because I was expecting something generic and forgettable and that’s not what I got.

September 7, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Host

September 7, 2011

The Host

Many times in the last year and a half that we’ve been doing this movie-a-day project Amanda has looked at our list of movies to review and asked “What’s The Host?” A couple of times I’ve had to stop and think for a moment. What is The Host? Oh, yeah. It’s that weird Korean monster movie. Now Amanda doesn’t have quite the same fondness for monster movies that I have from my youth, so this hasn’t been high on her list of must-see films. Indeed, as we started watching tonight she wondered aloud just what possessed me to buy this in the first place. The short and easy answer is that I was intrigued by the glowing reviews I read in Entertainment Weekly which hailed this as a new Godzilla. here’s more to it than that though. I’m always on the look out for well regarded foreign films because I like to see viewpoints I’m not familiar with represented in my collection. And let’s face it, I’m a sucker for a cool creepy beast that eats people. This movie delivers well on both those fronts.

This movie is decidedly not American. Indeed the primary villains (aside from the monster I mean) are all Americans. They’re responsible (through their irresponsible pollution) for the creation of the beast. Then they’re the ones who start the entire virus scare that pretty much drives the plot. In point of fact the Americans in this movie are rock stupid and obstinate. Then there’s the strangely comedic elements of the film which seem out of place in a tense horror film. There’s a distinctive sort of tongue in cheek sense of humor that Amanda and I have noticed in all of our Korean action films.

The protagonist of this movie is a bit of a loser. he’s a dim, mouth-breathing, semi narcoleptic screw up named Park Gang-Du. Gang-Du is an embarrassment to his father Hie-bong, who allows him to work in the family refreshment kiosk and to his seventh-grade daughter Hyun-seo. His brother Nam-il is a wastrel and a drunkard. His sister Nam-Joo seems to be the most successful of the whole family as a championship archer, though she has a strange emotional detachment to her.

The other star of the movie is of course the monster itself. It is a kind of giant lumbering fish thing that rises up out of the river near the Park family stand and starts killing people. It moves quite quickly considering its ungainly bulk, dragging itself around on its misshapen fore-limbs and swinging from its prehensile tail. Director Bong Joon-ho does a great job of keeping the creature enigmatic. It’s so malformed and bizarre that even when it has considerable screen time it is difficult to figure out its anatomy. It has a fish like mouth with no teeth but prominant gums like a parrot fish, but with multiple mandible like jaws and fangs surrounding its gullet. It has sort of toe-like protuberances on its flippers and multiple twisted limbs projecting from its sides and back.

When the creature first emerges from the river and starts menacing people it ends its rampage by grabbing Gang-Du’s daughter and carrying her off. At first he and his family think she is dead, and they mourn her rather over dramatically. Then the government starts to quarantine survivors, claiming that the monster is host to a deadly virus. While in quarantine Gang-Du receives a phone call from his daughter who, it turns out, has survived and is being kept by the monster, presumably as a midnight snack. Nobody will listen to or believe his tale though, so he and his misfit family must break out of the hospital to search for her on their own.

This movie has so many familiar elements. The plucky normal people forced to take matters into their own hands when their government lets them down. The strange government cover up and attempts to use the event to dominate people and drop poisonous “agent yellow” on the river banks. The lone survivor of a devastating attack trying to stay alive and escape. All of it has a distinctly foreign air to it though. It just feels slightly off kilter, and I think that’s what I like about it most.

This movie reminds me most of District 9 out of the films in our collection. It has the corrupt powers that be attempting to perform sick experiments on their own people. It has that air of an independent film made with cutting edge special effects which defies Hollywood convention. It’s simultaneously slick and well made and strange and unfamiliar. Some of it is the cultural divide between myself and the probable intended audience, but some of it is that this movie just isn’t trying to be the same as the films I’m used to. It’s a huge blockbuster hit, but it wasn’t made to sell popcorn and carbonated sugar water to bloated Americans. It was made for an altogether different demographic, and that was just the kind of movie I was looking for when I added it to my collection.

September 7, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 543 – Dinocroc vs Supergator

Dinocroc vs. Supergator – August 25th, 2011

When we were doing Shark Week we had some real gems like Sharktopus, and when we have movies like that we will often watch the trailers before the movie on the DVD. Why? Because every so often we will see something like this. All it took was one line and we knew we had to have this in our collection and I’m sure that’s why that line was included in the trailer. When you hear a character say, straight, that crocodiles and alligators are naturally mortal enemies, then propose making the two monsters of the movie fight each other? That right there is a thing of amazing beauty. Amazingly stupid and ridiculous beauty. That it had David Carradine in it was just the cherry on top of the sundae.

I did worry a little that this would be a Megalodon situation, where it would be fun, but not as much fun as I wanted it to be. I shouldn’t have worried, though, because this movie was everything I wanted it to be, right down to a hunter named Logan from Louisiana who goes by the moniker “The Cajun.” Because that’s unique. And no, he does not have claws or glowing eyes and he only wishes he was as cool as the X-Men. It’s got ridiculous science, laughable attack scenes, shoehorned romance and big monsters chomping on each other. All filmed against a rather lovely backdrop.

I actually feel a little silly just going over the premise. I mean. It’s a movie titled Dinocroc vs Supergator. Does it really matter why these two things exist? Or why they’re fighting? One’s a dinocroc! The other’s a supergator! Chomp chomp! But okay, let’s gloss over the basics. They do not make this movie any less silly. There’s a biological research lab in Hawaii with government grants to develop super huge food sources to combat hunger or something like that, but undercover agent Paul Beaumont thinks there’s something fishy about the place! And of course he’s right, because this place is also developing enhancements for humans to make them into supersoldiers. And what could possibly produce the right chemicals to make supersoldiers? Crocodiles and alligators! And how did they get said animals to produce them? By zapping them with rays, of course! There was an attempt to have this all make sense, but I wasn’t paying attention. It wasn’t important in the grander scheme of things.

The important part here is that instead of having the scientists at the lab devise a way to take the dinocroc and supergator out, the head of the company – David Carradine – orders them all to be executed by mercenaries. You know, like you do. He even goes so far as to have his assistant assassinate one of the scientists in the hospital after she escapes and spills the beans to Beaumont, Logan and the local sherrif’s daughter, Cassidy, who’s also in law enforcement. The amusing thing to me is that Logan almost immediately takes up with Beaumont and Cassidy, agreeing that these monsters must be stopped and not because he cares about the company’s reputation. So they all work together against the monsters.

Meanwhile, as the humans all chat about how the monsters were created and what they should do about it and whether they should sell tickets for the final giant reptile showdown, the reptiles themselves are snacking on the local tourists. These scenes, are, by the way, fantastic. And I don’t mean they’re incredibly well done. I mean they’re hilarious and awesome at the same time. Now, you have to understand that these things are supposed to be huge. Like, fifteen feet tall or long, depending on the creature. One of them is up on large rear legs, like a velociraptor. The other is just, well, a really big alligator. At least three feet tall at the head even when it’s on its belly. These are not stealthy animals! And yet at one point one pops up from underneath a guy who is wading in calf-deep water. Like, straight up from under him! They pop out from the brush and snap up a couple of bikini-clad ladies. They are hilarious.

There’s really not a whole lot more to this movie. It’s not complicated or deep. There’s no meaning here. There’s no message, other than don’t tamper in god’s domain, which is the theme of every man-made monster movie. But what makes it fun to watch is exactly what got us to buy it in the first place: It knows what it is. I think this is key to our enjoyment of movies like this. When they’re made to be cheese, and embracing that, it’s so much more fun. When everyone is on board, from the cast to the crew to the director to the writer, it’s just so much easier to laugh along with the movie. There are monster movies that are sincerely trying to be serious horror action monster movies and when they’re laughable it’s kind of sad and disappointing. But when the movie is not only aware of its nature but playing it up? That’s fun. And including a line about crocodiles and alligators being mortal enemies, with shots of the dinocroc stomping its way down a road while the supergator nabs a snack? That’s some great self-awareness.

August 25, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

The Deadly Mantis

July 18, 2011

The Deadly Mantis

Here’s another movie we bought after seeing it riffed on MST3K. I have always been a fan of fifties monster movies, but I don’t know if I would have added this to our collection if we hadn’t had the MST connection. It’s not quite bad enough to be notable for its laughable qualities (like some of Roger Corman’s movies.) It doesn’t feature actors who went on to be stars in small roles (no Clint Eastwood or Peter Graves.) It doesn’t really stand out in my mind from other movies of the day. It is a great way to look at the tropes of the genre though.

As we watched the movie un-MiSTed for the first time we both commented on the fact that it does kind of require riffing. It starts out so very slowly! I think that the problem is that the movie is trying so hard to make it’s monster plausible. The film makers spend a lot of time trying to ground the events of the film in the real world, which makes things very slow to start.

The first shot of the movie is a very – very – slow pan over a map of the world zooming in on a volcano in the middle of the ocean deep in the southern hemnisphere. Then it pans up to the north pole, where it is implied that the volcanic activity has caused the ice on the edge of a vast glacier to fall away revealing a giant preying mantis encased in the ice. (Presumably this is the same iceberg that let loose the megashark and giant octopus in the Asylum film of the same title.)

Before the mantis can make with the killing and menacing though this movie briefly morphs into a documentary about the radar fences that defend our country from a sneak attack over the north pole. It’s an odd decision that makes the somewhat slow opening of the movie feel even more awkwardly paced.

Now Stephen Spielberg has famously said that in Jaws he built the tension by not showing the shark until the third act of the movie. This movie is evidence that this notion hardly originated with Senior Spielbergo – it’s just common sense in a monster movie. The deadly mantis is slowly built up through a series of attacks where we don’t get to see it in action. It breaks into an isolated radar station in the frozen north and devours a couple of airmen left there to monitor the skies leaving nothing behind but a wrecked shack and a strange clawprint in the Styrofoam snow outside. Then it attack a plane in the sky, again leaving not a sign of the plane’s occupants but breaking off a giant toenail clipping.

Then the movie stops following the mantis’ attacks and instead introduces us to a paleontologist who is brought in to figure out what kind of creature is causing this destruction. The reasoning of the colonel in charge of stopping the attacks, and the crack team of scientists he assembles, is that no creature alive today would leave behind this clipping, so it must have come off of a creature that is thought to be extinct. A paleontologist, they figure, is used to reconstructing a prehistoric creature using only the tiniest scraps of evidence. What’s amazing is they’re perfectly right – this guy figures out exactly what the monster is from just its toenail clippings and so he and his plucky reporter sidekick rush off to the north in search of it – just in time to be there when we finally get a glimpse of the deadly mantis, which wrecks the building they’re having a meeting in.

The enormous insect then proceeds to fly in a generally southwesterly direction, followed by radar, fighter jets and ground spotters who have giant charts of known enemy aircraft (Russian I presume) but no entamological charts. It menaces Washington DC very briefly, then it flies off again – impervious to bullets and missiles, until finally a brave airforce pilot rams it with his plane, and it takes refuge in a tunnel somewhere.

I do have to say that although this movie is strangely paced, kind of bland, and prone to long winded lectures when maybe some action and mayhem would liven things up, it does have a very cool monster. The mantis is a series of well done puppets and a couple shots of a real mantis on tiny models of DC landmarks. (It reminds me a lot of the forced perspective work and locusts on postcards in The Beginning of the End which came out in the same year, but this director doesn’t have Bert I Gordon’s passion for the material.) For the rousing conclusion in the tunnel they even have a parade-float sized version of the monster that waves its serrated fore-limbs about and has an articulated mouth.

It seems that a reasonable amount of actual research went into this movie, or at least the writer read a couple encyclopedia articles while dashing off the script. Certainly the movie misses no opportunity to have one of its characters talk at length about the science behind the creature. In the end though it’s just a kind of bland movie that almost completely failed to keep my attention while it was on. With its odd pacing and constant strange digressions from the main plot of a giant insect crawling around on landmarks and smashing buildings this movie simply begs for riffing. I need to find the tape we recorded the MST episode on now.

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