HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: BIG ASS SPIDER! (2013)

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BIG ASS SPIDER! (2013)

L.A. exterminator Alex Mathis (Greg Grunberg who also produced) is about to have the case of his career as a spider bite on a routine job sends him to the hospital where, at the same time, a corpse containing a gestating, genetically-altered spider has been accidentally shipped there by a military snafu. Once the spider breaks free and bites a doctor, Alex sees a way out of his own medical bill and vows to hunt it down. But, as he and hospital security guard Jose (Lombardo Boyar, who steals every scene he’s in) chase the large arachnid through the vents and lower levels, the military show up, including hard nosed Major Tanner (Ray Wise) and sexy Lt. Brant (Clare Kramer), and lock down the hospital to ensure the re-capture of their experiment with alien DNA gone awry. But, the spider is not only intelligent but, getting larger with each victim and soon escapes into the sewers. Now Alex, who’s become smitten with Lt. Brant, vows to stop the ever growing arachnid and save the day but, the Big Ass Spider has other ideas as it attacks L.A. in search of prey.

As directed by Mike Mendez (Gravedancers, The Convent), from a script by Gregory Gieras, this giant arachnid on the loose flick is a fun B-Movie that decides to take it’s premise and have a good time with it. At no time does it take itself seriously as it rolls out the kind of nature run amok story that has been done since the 50s. Mendez directs a lively cast who have fun with their parts but, take them seriously enough so it’s not a total joke. Grunberg gives us the typical legend-in-his-own-mind lead and makes a good team with Boyar who has a blast as the Latino security guard who wants to be a hero. Ray Wise plays his part very straight and it works that his soldier is able to talk about giant spiders and alien DNA with a completely straight face. Clare Kramer is fun as the tough-as-nails but, still sexy Lt. Karly Brant and she also has good chemistry with Grunberg. Sadly a plot device puts her in peril and the two are separated for most of the last act. It would have been nice to see her go all Ellen Ripley instead of web ensnared damsel. Add a cameo by Lin Shaye as one of Mathis’ eccentric customers and you have a fun cast having a good time with the outlandish material. As for our star, the CGI FX portraying the spider are serviceable enough as is the depiction of it’s carnage, especially when it goes all King Kong to lay it’s eggs at the top of a skyscrapper. The film is not perfect. The slapstick humor doesn’t always work and sometimes clashes with the more serious attempts at horror and one wonders if maybe Mendez should have taken a page from the Corman book and played this a bit more serious and let the material provide the fun, it might have flowed more smoothly. I like Mendez as a director, he has a cool visual style,  but, will admit his attempts to mix humor and horror sometimes provide mixed results and an uneven tone. At least here he maintains the tone fairly well and only dips into horror when he needs to give his monster menace.

Overall, Big Ass Spider is fun but, not as loopy a good time as the infamous Sharknado. The FX do the job well enough and the cast seems to be having a good time and so it translates to the audience. Not a great or memorable movie but, it is a fun throwback to the 50s giant bug movies with a modern sense of humor and you could do far worse for a night on the couch. Too bad they stuck to a PG-13 rating as this could have been a fun, gory mess had they really took the 8 legged ball and ran with it.

3 big ass spiders.

big ass spider rating

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RANDOM NONSENSE: NEW MUSIC VIDEO FROM LACUNA COIL!

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I am a big fan of the band Lacuna Coil and they finally have released a music video for a track on their awesome new album Broken Crown Halo (review here), “I Forgive (But I Won’t Forget Your Name)”. Check  out this great track from Cristina Scabbia and the boys!…

 

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FULL GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY TRAILER ARRIVES!

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The full trailer for Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy has landed and I will admit it has raised my interest a bit in this flick. Never seen the comic or heard of it till they planned to make a movie of it and despite liking director James Gunn, what little I heard or saw of it so far has failed to grab me. Still not 100% sold but, I am warming up to the idea of seeing it. Opens 8/1/14.

source: CBM/Youtube

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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: GAMERA 3: AWAKENING OF IRIS (1999)

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GAMERA 3: AWAKENING OF IRIS (1999)

Shusuke Kaneko returned for his third and final Gamera film and delivers simply one of the best giant monster epics ever made. Not only does Gamera have to once again battle his old enemies The Gayos, but a new and far more powerful foe with an apocalyptic agenda.

The story opens with the return of the Gyaos due to the weakening of the Earth’s energy as a result of Gamera’s draining it to defeat Legion. Not only have the Gyaos re-emerged, but another more highly evolved creature has awakened as well. Encountered by troubled young girl Ayana (Ai Maeda)…who harbors a hatred of Gamera, as she blames him for the death of her parents…the creature she dubs Iris bonds with her and uses her hatred to aid it in it’s quest to destroy Gamera and thus be free to feed on the life energy of all living things on Earth. Adding to the mounting crisis is that the bond between Gamera and Asagi (Ayako Fujitani) was broken during the battle with Legion and he is now once more seen as a potential threat against humanity after an encounter with the Gyaos leaves thousands of people dead. Can Gamera stop the hordes of Gyaos appearing all over the world and also this powerful and evil new being that has been unleashed upon humanity, while once again being targeted by the military?

As co-written, with Kazunori Ito, and directed by Kaneko, Gamera 3 really delivers an intense and powerful kaiju movie like none that has come before it. The mood is apocalyptic and thick as the world and Gamera himself seem on the brink of destruction and Kaneko does not give his hero any quarter as his battle with Iris is almost shocking as to the punishment the flying turtle is willing to take to battle his opponent. Not only is Gamera at his fiercest here in look and actions, but Kaneko’s villainous Iris is a creature of true malevolence and is given a sinister personality that oozes evil to go along with it’s starkly unique design. There are some truly spooky and beautiful visuals surrounding Gamera’s new foe. There is also intrigue on the human side of the story with a mysterious pair of occultists who seem to want to see Iris win and the world plunged into chaos. They work to hide Ayana while Asagi and a returning Mayumi Nagamine (Shinobu Nakayama) seek to find her and free her of Iris’ grasp. Working with a modest budget Kaneko chose to stage only two battle sequences, but makes them massive in scale and spectacular in scope. The first against two Gyaos in Shibuya and then the finale against the monster Iris in Kyoto are masterpieces of monster battle action and the FX by Shinji Higuchi are as good as any big budget Hollywood film at the time. Shibuya is left a smoldering ruin and the confrontation between Gamera and Iris that is fought INSIDE the Kyoto train station is simply a masterwork of model building and subsequent destruction. The cinematography by Junichi Tozawa is breath-taking and the film contains one of my favorite all-time scene transitions as Kaneko uses flame to dissolve between Gamera, Iris and Ayana as the three enter a stand-off before the final battle. Simply amazing filmmaking. Kow Otani also returns to compose the music and delivers one of his best with a powerful and haunting score to accent all the other goodies. The result is a monster movie on a a whole new level and it is still one of the best monster movies one can see.

Again, Kaneko gets good work from his cast with Fujitani’s Asagi and Nakayama’s returning Mayumi both showing a maturity and growth since we last saw them and they make a formidable team of heroines fighting on a human level on Gamera’s side. Maeda gives a very strong performance as Ayana whose deep rooted hatred for Gamera blinds her to the fact that she is playing host to a virtual devil in Iris. The flashbacks of her parents death during the first Gyaos attack from Gamera 1 add a lot of insight to her feelings and help one understand why she hates Gamera so much, though misguided. Senri Yamasaki and Toru Tezuka are both very effective as the villainous occultists who feel it is Gamera who must be destroyed and Iris who must prevail and they reminded me of an anti-Mulder and Scully from the X-Files. And, of course, the delightful Yukijiro Hotaru returns as Osako, now a homeless man living on the street who once again gets in the middle of the monster mash.

All in all, this is a powerful and spectacular kaiju movie. There may only be two main action sequences, but they are truly awe-inspiring and very intense and the final battle with Gamera and Iris will leave you breathless. What occurs in between keeps one interested and intrigued as well. There are flaws, but that are easily forgivable considering how much we get here. In true Kaneko fashion, the film’s final frames end on a daring note that resonates far better then any more traditional conclusion. A simply great monster movie…no…a great flick period.

Click HERE for my review of the first two flicks in this incredible series!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Gameras.

gamera rating

 

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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES MAY 16-18

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Complete estimates are in and a legend smashes his way to the top!

1. “Godzilla (2014)” $93.2 Million

2. “Neighbors” $26 Million

3. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” $17 Million

4. “Million Dollar Arm” $10.5 Million

5. “The Other Woman”  $6.3 Million

6. “Heaven Is For Real” $4.4 Million

7. “Rio 2” $3.8 Million

8. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” $3.75 Million

9. “Legend Of Oz: Dorothy’s Return” $1.95 Million

10. “Mom’s Night Out” $1.9 Million

 

source: box office mojo

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE and GAMERA 2: ADVENT OF LEGION

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Still being in a ‘kaiju’ mood, I decided to revisit Godzilla’s cinema rival Gamera, and take a look back a Shusuke Kaneko’s epic 90s Gamera Trilogy. When Toho revived Godzilla for the 90s Hensei series to much success, Daiei Film responded by reviving their giant monster, Gamera. But, gone was the kid friendly, silly adventures of the 60s and 70s, Gamera was back in an intense and very maturely written trilogy expertly directed by Kaneko and highly regarded as some of the best giant monster movies ever made, even today. Here are the first two installments for our Saturday Night Double Feature with the third film being covered on Monday…

 

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GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE  (1995)

The first in this new trilogy not only brought top notch SPFX to a series renown for it’s cheesy models and creatures, but also revamped Gamera’s origins changing him from another prehistoric creature awaked by H-Bomb testing like Godzilla, and turning him into the genetic creation of a doomed ancient civilization. A guardian, left here to protect the Earth from forces that would do it harm.

The film starts out with a ship encountering a strange floating atoll drifting across the sea. At the same time a small pacific island appears to be plagued by attacks from some new species of large predatory reptilian birds. Pretty young Ornithologist Mayumi Nagamine (Shinobu Nakayama) travels to the island to investigate this dangerous new species while scientist Naoya Kusanagi (Akira Onodera) investigates the mysterious floating island. Unknown to them, their fates are destined to meet as these vicious flying predators, the Gyaos, are the out of control product of genetic experiments from a long dead civilization brought out of dormancy by man’s polluting of this planet…and the mysterious floating island is actually that civilization’s last attempt to right their wrongs and keep the Gyaos from destroying the Earth, the giant turtle-like monster Gamera! But can Gamera stop the rapidly reproducing Gyaos before the misguided military blows him out of the sky?

As Directed by Shusuke Kaneko, from a script by Kazunori Ito, Gamera: Guardian Of The Universe is a fun blast of a monster movie with some of the best Kaiju battles seen in quite some time. Kaneko gives the story some very strong dramatic weight and takes it very seriously, despite it’s far-fetched nature. But he doesn’t take it too seriously that we don’t have a good time watching the misunderstood Gamera battling his numerous winged foes while being henpecked by the military. He creates a very real and down-to-Earth Japan and then put’s monsters in the middle of it for a far more realistic approach than the Godzilla series which tends to present a more fantasy version of Japan filled with laser cannons and flying battleships.  Kaneko also gives his monster stars equal personality to his human cast and we really root for Gamera as he appears outnumbered and outmatched. The script uses the clever plot device of Kusanagi’s daughter, Asagi (Ayako Fujitani, who is 80s icon Steven Seagal’s daughter) who forms a empathic bond with Gamera and relays his motivations to us, as well as, also feels his pain in battle. This connection helps us identify with the monster even more. The SPFX by Shinji Higuchi are some of the best seen in a Japanese Kaiju flick, up to this point, and the battles and the model city destruction are spectacular and fast paced. The monsters are expertly realized and look far more real then they have before, though Gamera still has a little bit of a bug eyed look to keep him kid friendly in contrast to the scarier looking and extremely vicious Gyaos. The music score by Kow Otani is memorable and exciting and adds to the drama and atmosphere and really helps as the glue to lock all these expertly done pieces together.

The cast all create strong characters. Onodera gives Kusanagi and noble strength and conviction yet, shows his caring, nurturing side when it comes to Asagi. As Asagi, young Ayako Fujitani shows far more depth than her martial arts star father and makes Asagi a very endearing character who would appear in all three 90s films and would provide far more of an emotional center for Gamera than psychic girl Miki Seagusa in the Hensei Godzillas. Pretty Shinobu Nakayama creates an intelligent and resourceful heroine in her Mayumi Nagamine and the character’s dedication to her scientific interests never overshadow her compassion as a human being thanks to her performance. Also in the mix is handsome Tsuyoshi Ihara who makes a solid hero as Yoshinari Yonemori, a Marine Officer who first discovers Gamera and is drawn into the events. He is an honorable young man and is very likable for his committing to helping his new allies and country overcome this crisis. Also stars Zeiram’s Yukijiro Hotaru adding a touch of humor, as he always does, as Inspector Osako, a cop who can’t quite handle monsters.

All in all, this is a Japanese monster movie treat that pushes all the right buttons. It’s fun, has some epic battles, strong dramatic impact, endearing characters and a lot of respect from the filmmakers for the material. It’s one of the best examples of the genre and this coming from a rabid Godzilla fan. This series would only get better with the following two sequels…

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Gameras.

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GAMERA 2: ADVENT OF LEGION (1996)

“My name is Legion for, we are many.”- Mark 5:9

Gamera: Guardian Of The Universe was fairly successful and spawned an even better sequel that upped the ante by having Gamera face a terraforming insect from space and her swarm of minions in the most action packed entry in this new series. The story, again written by Kazunori Ito, starts off with the classic falling of a meteor to earth and strange events that begin to occur soon after. It’s not long before a bizarre and large swarm of insect-like creatures begin causing havoc and have taken up residence in the Sapporo subway system and an enormous plant sprouts from under the streets… a plant that begins to effect our atmosphere. Gamera, who has been licking his wounds from the battle with the Gyaos, rises from the sea to destroy the monstrous plant and is swarmed by the insect creatures now known as ‘Legion’ after the Biblical quote referring to demons. He fends them off in a spectacular battle and destroys the huge plant, but not before being wounded and not before the enormous Queen Legion erupts from the ground and flies off. An examination of the plant’s activities bare frightening news…the plant’s purpose is to change our atmosphere to allow the ‘Legion’ to inhabit the planet. They are organic nuclear weapons and the space creatures plan to transform our Earth into a world they can exist in and we certainly cannot. Now, mankind’s only hope is that guardian Gamera can destroy the massive and seemingly indestructible Queen Legion and her swarms of subjects, before she and her kind take over the planet as their own.

Kaneko and his creative team return to the series and present an even more spectacular sequel giving the heroic and noble Gamera an even more fearsome opponent in the huge and uniquely designed insectoid Queen Legion and her smaller swarm of soldiers. The human drama and characters are as strong as before with Asagi (Ayako Fujitani) returning along with some new characters, such as pretty science teacher Midori Honami (Miki Mizuno) and handsome military officer Colonal Watarase (Toshiyuki Nagashima) entering the mythos. As usual Kaneko and Ito give us human and monster characters of equal depth and strength. The drama is strong surrounding the numerous battles and once again we get the portrayal of a realistic and down-to-earth Japan battling an otherworldly threat. We get three spectacular and really intense throw-downs between Gamera and the Queen Legion and/or her swarm, including a lengthy and edge-of-your-seat final battle in the suburbs of Tokyo. Kaneko is not afraid to put our gigantic shelled hero in harm’s way and Gamera suffers some really nasty injuries including having pieces of his shell blasted off and being caught in the nuclear explosion of one of the terraforming plants. This entry is intense and a bit darker than the last and to illustrate that this is a more serious affair, Gamera’s design has been altered to make him look more like a monster, more mature, if I may say. He is given a massive multi-armed and clawed opponent in Queen Legion, who is armed with weapons of her own to thwart the fireball-breathing turtle. She is impressive and the SPFX scenes of both creatures are once again masterfully executed by Shinji Higuchi and his staff. The battles are even better then last time and the Queen Legion is given a sense of great destructive power and poor Gamera is made to feel the effects of this power and as he is so likable and noble,  we feel it along with him, much like Asagi. Watching the battles here, it’s hard to believe Shinji would outdo himself again in the following Gamera 3. Kow Otani returns to compose the music and once again gives us a strong score that highlights the already strong drama and intense action.

The cast are good here once again. Kaneko directs actors well. Fujitani gives Asagi some nice maturity and growth as she now has come to handle the responsibility of being Gamera’s link to the human race…and has come to care about the gigantic creature/hero. Miki Mizuno gives us another smart and resourceful heroine in teacher Midori. Kaneko and Ito seem to like their female characters damsel free as they are all smart and can handle themselves when the city begins to crumble around them. They are the strongest characters in the trilogy. Nagashima also makes a solid hero and gives some nice personality to a military character. Kaneko also humanizes his military characters far more than the stick-in-the muds that sometimes populate the Toho flicks. Yukijiro Hotaru returns as a retired Osako, now a night watchmen who encounters the Legion soldiers in a warehouse. Poor Osako can’t escape monsters and again provides some unobtrusive comic relief.

Overall a superior sequel to an already far above average monster movie. Kaneko transcends the Kaiju genre and delivers a damn good movie, period. A solid Sci-Fi story, strong drama and some really intense and spectacular battles make for solid entertainment. Best of all, he took a silly character in Gamera and makes us not only take him very seriously, but makes him an endearing hero as well. And things would get even better in the trilogy finale Gamera 3: The Awakening Of Iris. Though the following film is overall the best of the series, this one may still be my favorite as it is almost non-stop action and despite it’s more serious tone, is still tons of fun.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Gameras.

gamera rating

 

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REVIEW: GODZILLA (2014)

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GODZILLA (2014)

HARD TO REVIEW THIS WITHOUT SOME DETAILS SO, THERE MIGHT BE SOME VERY MINOR SPOILERS HERE, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. 

I have been a Godzilla fan since seeing my first Godzilla flick… Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster… on TV in the late 60s. And one of the things I have always wanted to see was a big budget Godzilla with all the bells and whistles that come with it. After being horribly disappointed by shlockmeister Roland Emmerich’s awful attempt in 1998, I was really looking forward to this new reboot attempt by Monsters director Gareth Edwards. And while the film has it’s flaws, I did enjoy the new Godzilla, maybe not as much as I’d hoped but, I did really like a lot of it and at least it was a Godzilla movie.

The film opens with footage from 1954 of a massive creature sighted in the South Pacific and the use of the H-Bomb in an effort to destroy it. This incident was obviously covered up by all governments involved and the beast thought dead. We then cut to 1999 with the discovery of a giant skeleton in an underground cavern in the Philippines and two mysterious egg sacks that are in proximity. One sack vacated, the other appears dormant. Across the Pacific in Japan, seismic disturbances are being monitored at a nuclear power plant emanating from the Philippines and drawing closer. Nuclear physicist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) fears the worst and his fears come true as the plant suffers a mysterious reactor breach and he barely escapes with his life, though his wife (Juliette Binoche) tragically does not. The area is then permanently quarantined. Now in 2014, Joe is still obsessed with finding the answers to what actually happened and it gets him in trouble bringing his estranged son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to Japan to bail him out. But, Joe is persistent and they soon find themselves back in the quarantined zone and incarcerated at the supposed dead reactor. Upon meeting a Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), they finally learn the horrifying truth. Something primordial and quite deadly… designated a M.U.T.O.-Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism… sleeps cocooned around the reactor feeding on it. And when the M.U.T.O. awakens and escapes before their eyes, Godzilla, the massive creature long thought destroyed in 1954, rises again from the Pacific ocean to hunt down the monstrous abomination and it’s even larger mate which has been laying dormant and hidden by the U.S. government in the Nevada desert… with the world hanging in the balance as the three are destined to collide.

I’ll get the negatives out of the way first…The thing that really holds Godzilla back from being the monster masterpiece I have always dreamed of, is the same problem that left me a little cold to Edwards’ first flick… his human characters and drama is weak. It is the same here. I was never bored and I really liked the way Max Borenstein’s script cleverly updated the mythos… though I was not really sold on Serizawa’s insistence that the M.U.T.O.’s awakening would draw Godzilla up from the depths to destroy them, how did he know this?… but, Edwards really doesn’t give the scenes of human drama the strength it needed to rivet us till Godzilla and Mr. and Mrs. M.U.T.O. have their triple threat match in San Francisco. The characters were fine but, weren’t really endearing. Maybe they were a little too down to earth and low key. Except for Cranston’s Joe Brody, no one else seems all that shocked or emotionally distressed that there are now three massive creatures stalking the earth and two are ready to repopulate the planet. Edwards handles much of the film well and has a great visual style but, he needs to get more life out of his cast and add more impact and intensity to the proceedings, Other minor gripes include the relative confidence that the military has that Godzilla is an ally or at least not a immediate threat. Having never faced a creature like this, they seem to be fairly unconcerned with his appearance and it does neuter his badass persona a bit till we get to see him in action. And once Godzilla makes his big entrance, which Edwards does make us wait till the second act for, his first encounter with the male M.U.T.O. is relayed mostly from news footage after the battle is over. We could have used an opening bout to get the audience warmed up for the main event. And finally the hands down weakest part of the film is Alexandre Desplat’s completely generic score. It really is underwhelming and a far stronger score could have helped pick up some of the weaker moments and add even more strength to the stuff that really worked.

Now to the good stuff. First off, unlike the 1998 joke, this is a Godzilla movie. And as with Edward’s Monsters, Godzilla really comes to life when the creatures are on screen. The film is visually spectacular and while I understand Edwards using a slow burn to build the anticipation, he could have given us a few more minutes on some of the earlier monster action scenes because, they really rock and needed more time to resonate. I wish his humans had the personality of his beasties. The thing that really won me over with this flick is the monster stuff and the massive throw-down that takes up the last act of the film. Here we get what we came for and in the last act, I was glued to my kaiju loving chair as San Francisco is laid to utter waste as Godzilla does what the does best in all his atomic fire breathing glory. The battle is massive and the SPFX are top notch as three colossal animals fight tooth and nail between, over and through the buildings of one of America’s most beautiful cities. It was as epic as I’d hoped for and made up a lot for the first 90 minutes not having the impact to make this a real crowd pleaser. Godzilla is excellently rendered and has a lot of personality despite not a lot of screen time… though I just watched the original Gojira and he really isn’t onscreen much in that either and it also takes him an hour to show up in the 1991 Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah so, it’s not the first time he’s made us wait. The M.U.T.O.’s are dangerous and threatening and ooze malice and it adds to their creepiness and effectiveness when they coordinate their attack on the Big G and act as a vicious unit. And the throw-down does get vicious. Their design evokes some classic kaiju but, are still unique enough to be fresh. And the last act battle with Godzilla was worth the price of admission alone.

As for the cast, obviously they all could have used a little life from Edwards. Cranston is the only one that knows what to do and gives his character some passion and fire. He plays a man obsessed but, not crazy, very well. Taylor-Johnson is OK. I didn’t mind him as much as some early word indicated but, he could have simply emoted more like he really was concerned that this wife and child were at the center of a monster mosh pit. He was much livelier in Kick-Ass and hopefully Joss Whedon gets some more out of him in Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Same can be said for Elizabeth Olsen as Ford’s wife, Elle. I have seen her give strong performances especially in Martha Marcy May Marlene. Here she plays the long suffering wife and isn’t required to really do much but, look upset and scared. An underuse of a talented actress. Ken Watanabe is fine but, again, could have used a little passion in his performance. His Serizawa has a lot of exposition and he sometimes seems a bit distant, when his scientist should be more excited/frightened about what is transpiring. Rounding out the main cast is David Strathairn as a navy admiral who is another character that is way too calm and confident despite that giant monsters actually exist and are wrecking some of our most famous landmarks while ignoring military firepower. Again, Edwards needing to inspire his actors to perform with more urgency to get the audience to feel more excited/frightened about what is occuring. It is the emotions of the characters that provoke the audience into sharing in their feelings and the audience I was with was pretty quiet throughout… though seemed to generally like it, once it was over.

So, overall Godzilla is dramatically weak early on, though I did like the story, but, more then makes up for a lot of that with a truly spectacular monster battle last act that is as visually stunning as it is exciting. I only wish the human drama came close, then this would have been an Avengers level entertainment. I did really enjoy Godzilla. It had enough interesting ideas, a larger scale then any other Godzilla production and a unique approach to a monster flick. And when it finally delivered, it delivered big. I’d like to see Gareth Edwards tackle a sequel but, this time don’t hold back on the monsters and give your drama a bit more juice and inspire your cast to emote stronger. I still recommend it highly but, just turn down the expectations a few notches and you should enjoy it. A fun summer flick though I was hoping for more.

A generous 3 and 1/2 Godzillas because I got to see the monster throw-down I always wanted to and Godzilla himself was epic.

godzilla 3 and 1-2 rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: GODZILLA (1954)

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GODZILLA (GOJIRA) (1954)

This is a review of the uncut Japanese version without the U.S. release inserts with Raymond Burr…

Godzilla is a film classic and sits along with the original King Kong as one of the greatest giant monster flicks of all time and introduced us to one of the most famous characters and names in pop culture history. Whether you like these movies or not, most of the civilized world has, at least, heard of Godzilla. Most people associate him with the goofy monster fests that he appeared in later in his career, but more serious fans know that the original film uses the creature as a metaphor for the atomic bomb and the horror and death it caused when unleashed on Japan during WWII and was devoid of the campy-ness and goofy humor later entries in the series would have.

The story finds a series of ship disappearances in an area off the Japanese coast that is causing much mystery and concern. What few survivors are found report of the sea ‘exploding’ and catching fire. The people of the remote fishing village of Odo Island say the cause is a gigantic creature of legend known as “Godzilla”. Paleontologist Dr. Yamane (Takashi Shimura) is dispatched to the island and makes the horrifying discovery that not only does this legendary creature exist, but it is highly radioactive. Yamane theorizes that this species of prehistoric creature has been living peacefully in deep sea caverns in the Pacific and that it has been irradiated and it’s habitat destroyed by H-Bomb testing. Now this creature is loosed upon the world and sees Japan as it’s new hunting ground. Efforts to destroy the creature at sea prove futile and soon it wades ashore and lays waste to the great city of Tokyo causing untold damage and death in it’s radioactive wake. But there is hope. A Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata) has created a weapon that destroys oxygen and it could be the key to ending both the destruction and Godzilla’s reign of terror, but only if he agrees to use it, something he is reluctant to do.

Under the skilled direction of the legendary Ishirō Honda from his script with Takeo Murata…from a story by Shigeru Kayama…Godzilla is a dead serious and sometimes very grim allegory of the horrors of the atomic bomb, horrors the people of Japan know all too well. The film starts off with Honda slowly building the mystery and tension and doesn’t give us our first quick glimpse of Godzilla till almost a half hour in and once we know what we’re in for, it is almost an hour before Godzilla launches his devastating attack on Tokyo which, unlike future installments, is not a fun city stomping romp, but an act of destruction where we are treated to horrifying images of death and those trapped in the creatures path or, victims of it’s radioactive fallout. It is a somber and heart wrenching sequence and meant to illustrate what Japan went through when the U.S. used the atomic bomb in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. And Honda pulls no punches and shows us from a perspective of the embattled citizens what the horrors of such an event have on the innocent. His Godzilla here is no cute superhero or even anti-hero, he is a destructive force and one that causes horrific carnage, a true symbol of man’s irresponsible meddling with destructive power and the effect it has on those it’s used on. The black and white cinematography by Masao Tamai creates stark and powerful imagery especially when the camera movies through the destruction caused by the behemoth and it really gives the film such rich atmosphere to accent Honda’s taunt direction. The SPFX rendering Godzilla and his wrath are well executed by legendary FX master Eiji Tsuburaya and while they may be primitive by today’s CGI standards, they are very effective for the time in presenting the beast’s power and the grim results of his attacks. The film would also mark suit-mation actor Haruo Nakajima’s first portrayal of Godzilla, a role he would play till the last Showa (original series) Godzilla film Terror Of Mechagodzilla in 1975. And wrapping it all together is Akira Ifukube’s brilliant and moody score which would become Godzilla’s trademark theme till this day.

Honda had a good cast and when watched in the original Japanese with subtitles, without the sub-standard dubbing, we get some very good performances from actors who treat the material with the seriousness and respect it deserved. Shimura’s Yamane is a humble man of science who sees the lesson to be learned in Godzilla and despite his destructiveness, thinks he should be studied not destroyed. Momoko Kochi gives a strong emotion-filled performance as Yamane’s daughter, Emiko who is engaged to Serizawa, but falls in love with shipping company owner Ogata (Akira Takarada) and gets caught between those two men. Akihiko Hirata gives a simmering portrayal of Dr. Serizawa, a reclusive but brilliant scientist who has created a weapon with the destructive potential of the H-Bomb and knowing that, refuses to use it even to save his country. And as the man who steals Emiko’s heart, Akira Takarada is effective as Ogata, a working man who rises to hero status when his loved ones and country are in danger. Having lost many ships to Godzilla’s attacks, Ogata tries to convince Dr. Serizawa to change his mind and save his country and people. And as the title creature, Nakajima gives the beast a serpentine menace and an aura of great power. Had his work inside the suit not been effective, the film would not have worked and we wouldn’t still be seeing Godzilla films decades later. A solid cast who give strong performances and are sadly not given the credit they deserve due to being judged by ineffective dubbing which does not honor their work.

Not only is this one of the greatest monster films of all time, it is a great film period. The horrors of war and the devastation of the atomic bomb metaphorically portrayed by the attack of a creature created by meddling with nature and powers best left alone. The film is entertaining, yet also humbling as it never shies away from the result of such overpowering destructive force personified by one of film’s most iconic and famous characters. If he didn’t directly cause death and destruction, his radioactivity did. Something that would be lost in future films. Godzilla would slowly become a monster bashing superhero and sometimes, depending on the era and film, an anti-hero who we still cheer, despite him not being a good guy. But in his first movie, Godzilla was a horror and a devastating one at that and his first feature was a grim story of the negative aspects of science when it’s applications are used to destroy not improve life. And it is a message that is still completely resonant today. A true classic unfairly judged by the sillier films that came later on.

MONSTERZERO N.J. TRIVIA: Godzilla, or more appropriately, Gojira’s name comes from a combination of the Japanese words ‘gorira’ meaning gorilla and ‘kujira’ meaning whale. There are tales that it was a nickname taken from a large and strong Toho Studios employee, but it has never been confirmed and may only be an urban legend. While the Godzilla in future films is acknowledged to be another irradiated animal of the same species, I have an interesting theory…SPOILERS…When Dr. Serizawa demonstrates the oxygen destroyer to Emiko on a fish tank, the fish all dissolve. But when Serizawa is convinced to use the weapon on Godzilla by Emiko and Ogata later on, Honda pans over to a fish tank now filled with fish. Were they replaced?…or was he trying to tell us the effects of Serizawa’s weapon were only temporarily and Godzilla would return? Whatever the answer, Godzilla is now in his 60th year and about to return in a new big budget production. Whether this was the intention or not…Godzilla is a legendary film icon that, like in his films, continues to live on and become known to each new generation.

MONSTERZERO N.J. PERSONAL TRIVIA:  I had the wonderful opportunity in 1994 to meet Godzilla himself, Haruo Nakajima and my signed 40th anniversary edition laserdisc box set of the original 1954 Gojira is one of my most treasured possessions.

4 Godzillas.

godzilla 4 rating

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REVIEW: I, FRANKENSTEIN (2014)

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I, FRANKENSTEIN (2014)

Basically if you took the first Underworld movie and threw it in a blender with Stephen Sommers’ delirious cheese-fest Van Helsing… I, Frankenstein is what you’d get. And that isn’t all bad as I quite enjoyed Van Helsing for it’s audacious ridiculousness. I, Frankenstein is co-written by Underworld co-creator Kevin Grevioux based on his graphic novel and produced by the producers of the series that made Kate Beckinsale and latex catsuits a fanboy dream come true. The story tells of a war waged for centuries between the guardian Gargoyles and Hell spawned Demons lead by their prince Naberius (Bill Nighy). The creation of Dr. Frankensteins’s Monster (Aaron Eckhart) adds a dangerous twist as Naberius and the Demons seek to find out the legendary scientist’s secret of re-animating corpses so, they can create soulless vessels to host the spirits of all the Demons that the Gargoyles have vanquished, thus brining their souls back from Hell. Still with me? Now they have pursued the creature, named Adam by the Gargoyle queen Lenore (Miranda Otto), through two centuries into modern day as the monster has steadily been vanquishing them in return for bothering him. But, now with the help of a naive scientist, Terra (Yvonne Strahovski) the Demons have literally thousands of corpses stored ready for the time when they possess the creature or his creator’s journal and they can unleash their army of possessed corpses upon the world… and that time has come, as the journal is in their possession and Adam seeks to thwart their plans if the Gargoyles don’t destroy him first to keep him from their enemies’ hands. Whew! I think that’s it!

Despite the utterly ridiculous and convoluted plot, the movie can be fun at times especially due to the fact that it is taken so seriously by the filmmakers and cast despite being quite silly. Director Stuart Beattie (who co-wrote with Grevioux) does a really good job almost making you buy the ludicrous premise and stages the action well and keeps the melodrama at a level that doesn’t ever spill over into camp… though it skates close… and actually gives it a bit of weight. The film can be a little too serious at times considering it is about Frankenstein’s Monster caught between Gargoyles and Demons in a centuries old conflict between good and evil. And the film could have used a bit more ‘over the top’. Also, if the film added a conflict within Eckhart’s creature as to which side he should take, it might have been more interesting but, despite his reluctance to take sides, he seems to be leaning toward the anti-demon stance as they do want to take him apart to see how he ticks. Beattie has a really good cast. Eckhart is a proven good actor and he really gives a good performance in a cartoonish role that makes a superhero out of one of the most famous monsters in history. His going along with it and treating it with respect makes his Adam work despite the preposterousness. Nighy once again proves he is simply a great actor by giving strength and majesty to a cartoonish character similar to his Viktor in Underworld. The man can do no wrong in my book and can make any role work as he does here. Strahovski doesn’t do much but, look concerned, bewildered and pretty but, since that’s all she’s required to do, she does it well. Rounding out the cast is Miranda Otto giving regality to a cartoonish fantasy character, that of the Gargoyle Queen Lenore. A classy actress giving her all in a comic book part and she makes it work, too. We also have Jai Courtney in a supporting role as chief Gargoyle warrior Gideon. He gives the role a nobility but, the character really doesn’t amount to much when all is said and done. And, as with Underworld, Grevioux has a supporting role as a bodyguard. The SPFX are well done, there is some weak CGI but, most is quite suitable and the budget is used quite well in giving the film a lavish Gothic fantasy look to support the action.

So, I, Frankenstein was not the disaster that it’s weak box office led one to believe. It is a comic book style movie with a ludicrous plot and has the audacity to take itself very seriously when it could have easily been played for laughs. The story is ridiculous but, has some solid action and a great cast who give the cartoonish events and characters respect and play it straight. And despite the preposterous goings on, the solid cast and more then competent direction almost had me going along with it… almost. Not a great film by any means but, it passed the time and I did have a little fun with it. Not as audacious as Van Helsing but, close and if you were able to chuckle at that, give this a spin.

2 and 1/2 gargoyles

i frankenstein rating

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