REVIEW: GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019)

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GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019)

Sequel takes place five years after the events of Godzilla 2014 with Godzilla keeping a low profile and being monitored diligently by the Monarch organization. Other creatures, or “Titans” have been discovered across the globe and the military wants them all destroyed, while Monarch believes they represent a balance in nature. Eco-terrorist Colonel Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) feels the Titans should all be freed to restore that balance and plans to steal the Orca…a device capable of communicating with, and possibly controlling the monsters…to accomplish this. He kidnaps Orca creator Dr. Emma Russell (Verga Farmiga), her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) and her invention and thus sends Monarch and Emma’s estranged husband Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) in hot pursuit. But Jonah gets more than he bargained for, when he uses it to release the three-headed space monster Ghidorah from his icy prison and the beast challenges Godzilla for the title of King of the Monsters. Add in the Queen of the Monsters Mothra and the fire demon Rodan and earth soon becomes a monster sized war zone.

Trick r Treat director Michael Dougherty takes over from Gareth Edwards and seems to have a far better grasp of the material. He also does script duties along with Zach Shields, from a story by they and Max Borenstein. What we get is far closer to a Toho Godzilla film than the 2014 flick and one that is a lot more fun. Sure the plot is a bit goofy, but no goofier than an alien race building a robot Godzilla or a creature created completely from pollution. It’s filled not only with tons of fun references to Godzilla flicks of the past, but we get all the traditional story elements like devious villains, stalwart scientists, brave military types and a smarter than the adults kid. Not only are all the tropes proudly paraded out for those familiar with the series, but it has some of the most spectacular monster battles ever presented, as Godzilla, Ghidorah, Rodan and Mothra all converge to duke it out and destroy everything in their paths. The final showdown in the city of Boston is absolutely amazing and Yankee fans might even get a giggle over Godzilla and Ghidorah throwing down in the middle of Fenway Park. It’s also a true popcorn blockbuster, so even those not too familiar with the Big G and his 65 year history, can still enjoy the flick on a purely entertainment spectacle level and monstrously entertaining it is. Not to mention, the film’s final image is something every Godzilla fan has wanted to see from day one. On a technical level, the SPFX are amazing, the monsters are truly titanic and majestic and their destruction is on a totally massive scale. The score by Bear McCreary is far more fitting than Alexandre Desplat’s ho-hum score for Zilla 2014 and delightfully mixes in some of Akira Ifukube’s classic Godzilla themes to add a nice touch of nostalgia to the film.

The cast are good and all of them get the material. They play it seriously…but not too seriously. Leads Farminga, Chandler, Brown and Dance all do well in essaying their roles. Vera Farming as the scientist with a personal reason to get involved, is solid and helps us understand her decisions, even when they are the wrong ones. Chandler is fun as the father and husband trying to get his estranged family back. He’s a good lead and his old fashioned character fits this kind of movie well. Charles Dance is impeccable as ever as the villainous Alan Jonah, who like Thanos, thinks he is doing the right thing by trying to unleash these creatures. Millie Bobby Brown is especially endearing as Madison and in many ways is the emotional center of the flick. The supporting cast are all good, too, especially Ken Watanabe returning as Dr. Ishirō Serizawa and Zhang Ziyi playing Dr. Ilene Chen, a character who pays tribute to a familiar Mothra trope in a very fun and clever way. A good cast that even give some very corny dialogue a little dramatic weight.

Overall, this was a really fun and action packed sequel to a film widely criticized for skimping on the monster action. It has monster battles to spare, but still gives us some people time along with a very Toho-esque storyline. Michael Dougherty keeps the 132 minute flick moving very fast and pays loving tribute to the classic Godzilla flicks in some fun and very clever ways. Stay through the credits for not only an end credits scene, but for some amusing interwoven news items that echo what is to come. A gargantuan blast of a good time!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) King of the Monsters.

 

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GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS GETS KAIJU CHARACTER POSTERS!

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GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS GETS KAIJU CHARACTER POSTERS!

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A new trailer recently landed for the highly anticipated Godzilla sequel, now we get character posters for all the creatures featured! Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla : King of the Monsters arrives in theaters on May 21st, 2019!

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REVIEW: KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017)

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KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2014)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

This new version of the King Kong legend takes place in 1973 at the end of the Viet Nam War when an uncharted island is discovered by satellite in the center of a perpetual storm system in the South Pacific. The monster hunting Monarch organization from Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla wants to send an expedition in, with the hopes of getting there before the Russians find out about it. Agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) heads the expedition team, including former SAS tracker, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), combat photographer, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and a military escort lead by Lt. Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Immediately upon reaching the island, they find a hostile environment populated by hostile creatures and manage to piss off the ruling predator, a 100 foot tall ape the local natives and stranded WWII airman Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) call Kong. After a confrontation with Kong that leaves the military escort decimated and the expedition stranded, the group begin to plan their escape from the island…all but the vengeful Packard, who wants to finish what he and the enormous simian started. Little do they realize, that there is a greater threat living beneath the grounds of Skull Island and Kong may be their only hope of surviving it.

The entire reason this reboot exists is to set up the eventual collision between the giant ape and Godzilla, now that Warner Bros has the rights to both and is starting their proposed Marvel-esque “Monster-verse”. In a way it shows, as this flick is directed somewhat by-the-numbers by Jordan Vogt-Roberts from a script by three writers, no less, including Godzilla scribe Max Borenstein. This new interpretation is a fun monster movie that is loaded with action and filled with an assortment of critters, but by removing the tragic elements and the Beauty and The Beast angle from the original story, the makers remove the parts of the tale that resonated the most and gave it emotional depth. Now it’s just a routine monster movie and while it does entertain, it is also a bit forgettable once the credits finish rolling. Vogt-Roberts moves things fast enough, but never succeeds in giving the film a sense of wonder or an emotional center. Even Kong seems more of a generic monster here, though a bit of a noble one and we don’t endear to him like previous incarnations. The film is still a fun time, but not much is going to stick with you after it’s over. The FX are top notch and the monster scuffles are fast and furious, but the film lacks the heart and soul that the original classic…and even, to a lesser extent, Peter Jackson’s remake…had that made them memorable and endearing. Aside from re-introducing Kong in order to set up another movie with The Big G, there really isn’t a point to this version and despite the monster menagerie and some likable characters, it’s a bit shallow, when all is said and done.

The cast are all good, though and overcome some stale dialog to make their characters enjoyable to watch, aside from the big CGI ape. Hiddleston is solid as former military man Conrad and proves again he is leading man material. Here he plays a tough guy with a heart and does so very well. Brie Larson is also very charming and likable as seasoned photographer Mason Weaver. She can scrap and battle monsters with the boys and hold her own with both Kong and Samuel L. Jackson and not loose her girl-next-door appeal. She conveys a strength and grace that should bode well for her upcoming MCU turn playing Marvel super-heroine Captain Marvel. Goodman avoids the clichés that come with government operative characters and gives his Bill Randa a boyish sense of wonder at what he has found on Skull Island. While the character did keep secrets, he is never portrayed as a villain. Samuel L. Jackson is dead-on as the battle-hardened warrior who is not going to let a giant ape get away with wiping out his squad, especially after a disappointing exit from the Viet Nam conflict. Jackson’s bravado and intensity does make him a suitable adversary for the gigantic ape. Rounding out the leads is John C. Riley, who gives the film a little comic relief and some heart as a man who has been stranded on the primordial island since WWII and has bonded with the natives and learned how to survive it’s beastly population. His Hank Marlow provides us with some important exposition about Kong and his homeland, too. The supporting cast are all fine, as well and the strong cast helps make this as fun as it is.

Overall, this is a fun Saturday or Sunday matinee monster movie with plenty of creatures and numerous monster brawls to pass the time. The solid cast elevates a routine script and some stale dialog and the film is fast paced enough to keep us from thinking too much about things. The tragic soul of the original story is lacking and while there is a brief bonding moment between Kong and Larson’s Mason Weaver, the epic Beauty and the Beast element is missing as well. This Kong never gets to see New York or fall in love, but if he is still a growing boy as Hank Marlow seems to suggest, he should be big enough to lock horns with Godzilla as Warner Brothers plans them to do in 2020…which is the entire reason we got this movie. A fun, but forgettable monster mash.

Be sure to stay through the credits for a Marvel-esque post credit sequence that reveals Godzilla’s “co-stars” in the upcoming Michael Dougherty directed sequel Godzilla: King Of The Monsters due in 2019.

-MonsterZero NJ

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REVIEW: SHIN GODZILLA (2016)

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SHIN GODZILLA (2016)

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Shin Godzilla…meaning “true” Godzilla…is a reboot of the classic Godzilla series from Toho Studios and the imaginative minds behind Neon Genesis Evangelion, Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi. In this new incarnation, Godzilla starts out as a mysterious tadpole-like creature that appears in Japanese waters causing structural damage to it’s Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line before making landfall. It cuts a path of destruction as the Japanese government flounders over what to do. As they struggle over how to handle this unprecedented event, the creature mutates growing larger and more destructive as it does. Worse still, this beast, the prying U.S. government calls “Godzilla”, is a walking nuclear reactor heading into the heart of Tokyo.

In this new incarnation of the long enduring classic character, Godzilla is a true monstrosity as it has the power to mutate itself at will, as it returns to Japan, no longer content or satisfied with feeding on the nuclear waste the Asian nation dumps into it’s oceans. There are hints that he is a nuclear created amalgamation of all sorts of sea and other life that now has formed into an ever changing leviathan in search of nuclear fuel. The creative duo also use the creature as a metaphor for the recent earthquake and typhoon disasters that struck Japan in 2011 and the Japanese government’s mishandling of it, due to being mired in bureaucratic red tape and politics. They also take some jabs at the United States prying into Japanese affairs and being a bit of a bully towards the island nation in bending to it’s will. This works for the most part, though if the film has an achilles heel, it’s that it allows it’s political satire to get a bit heavy-handed and overloaded in the second act, while we wait for an immobile Godzilla to recharge after battling a U.S. bomber attack with it’s new version of the atomic heat ray. The film does drag a while before it’s impressive but over-too-quick climax, at a point where it should be ramping up. Having Godzilla dormant for a good chunk of time after a fairly action-filled first half, really slows the film’s momentum. That and the points made here were pretty much the same made in the first half and it starts to get redundant. On a technical level, the FX are mixed. There are some truly spectacular sequences of destruction unlike any seen in a Godzilla film, including the multimillion dollar American flick from 2014. In contrast, there are some weak CGI FX that hinder the impact of some scenes, such as Godzilla’s creepy amphibious first form and some shots during his overall impressive unleashing of his new nuclear capabilities. Tonally, the film takes itself fairly serious, though there is some humor and plenty of satire. The last half could have used more tension instead of talk and after a spectacular battle with U.S. B2 bombers, it’s off-putting to see Godzilla just stand there for so long, allowing Japan to re-group. The traditional Godzilla gave little rest for the weary. Fans will be pleased that the film does use some of Akira Ifukube’s classic Godzilla music for mood and nostalgia and there is also an effective score from Shirō Sagisu as well.

The cast, for the most part, perform well with lead Hiroki Hasegawa standing out as Rando Yaguchi, a young Deputy Cabinet Secretary who sees the flaws in the system and how they are negatively effecting Japan, especially in a crisis. Beautiful Satomi Ishihara plays Kayoko Ann Patterson, a U.S. born senator’s daughter who is the envoy to Japan during Godzilla’s attack. She could have been a bit stronger in a smug role and the fact that her english is terrible, doesn’t bode well for her playing a U.S. born character to an American father. Other than that, the cast all get the tone of their parts and balance the satirical humor with the more serious facets of the story fairly on-point. As for Godzilla, he is for the first time really creepy. He has nuclear energy glowing from points under his skin, like the burning Godzilla from Godzilla vs. Destroyah and actually evokes Hedorah, The Smog Monster, in the way it evolves from a disturbing reptilian-slug thing to a creature that resembles a giant walking, grinning zombie dinosaur. It is a startlingly original take on this iconic beast and his new way of unleashing his nuclear power was shocking and impressive. Too bad a few shots suffered from weak CGI as this sequence was one of the most powerful in the film.

Overall, this was a very interesting, entertaining and sometimes disturbing new incarnation of one of film’s most classic characters. It is still the Godzilla we know, yet with some daring new characteristics and a more contemporary origin. The film is more moderately paced than these movies usually are and comes with a lot of political commentary on Japanese government and it’s relationship with the U.S. It does stumble a bit with a very talky second half and by getting a little too heavy-handed with it’s messages, though it does recover somewhat with an impressive, if not a bit too quickly resolved finale. A bold new start for a franchise and a character that has endured for over 60 years and one of the most unique films in the series.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Godzillas.

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“ASH VS. EVIL DEAD” SEASON 2 GETS A FULL TRAILER and “GODZILLA RESURGENCE” GETS A NEW ONE!

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New trailers for Ash vs Evil Dead season 2 and Godzilla Resurgence!

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Starz’s Ash vs. Evil Dead series (click HERE for our season 1 review!) is set to return this fall for a second season. The adventures of Ash, Pablo and sexy Kelly will continue on 10/2/16! For now, here’s a full NSFW trailer sampling some of the bloody fun!

 

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Toho Studios has released an all new trailer for their upcoming Godzilla reboot! Check out the latest chaos and carnage as the Big G returns to Japan in Godzilla Resurgence! Flick opens in Japan 7/29/2016!

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BARE BONES: 22 JUMP STREET and RAGNAROK

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22 JUMP STREET (2014)

21 Jump Street turned out to be a hilariously fun surprise with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum teaming up as Schmidt and Jenko, two misfit cops who get sent back to high school on an undercover assignment, a la the 80s TV show. Not only did Tatum show a gift for comedy but, the two really had a great chemistry and the flick was really funny. Two years later we are back for a sequel that this time finds the duo going to college to investigate a new drug that has already cost one student their life. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are back too and while this flick is not nearly as fresh and funny as the first film, it is still entertaining and their are still plenty of laughs. Hill and Tatum continue to be a really tight comic team and the fun they are having together translates to the screen and gets us through some of the more stale bits and more tired jokes. Overall, I was entertained by this second entry, in what appears to be a franchise in the making, but, the recently announced third installment is going to need some freshening up to keep us in our seats for more.

3 star rating

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RAGNAROK (2014)

Heard some good buzz about this Norwegian monster movie but, those annoyed at Godzilla’s lack of screen time will really be frustrated with this one. Family style film finds a Norwegian archeologist (Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen) taking his kids and colleagues to Finnmark to a no-man’s-land of former Soviet territory to find evidence of the whereabouts of a lost Viking tribe. Instead he finds the horrifying truth of the reason for their disappearance in the form of a massive serpent that lives within a lake. Written by John Kare Raake and directed by Mikkel Braenne Sandermose, the film is well made but, takes over an hour for our CGI creature to appear and then it’s further appearances are briefer than Gareth Edwards Godzilla. In between we get a lot of Raiders of the Lost Ark cliche’s Norwegian style and while it isn’t boring, when all is said and done, not a lot happens and what does is nothing we haven’t seen before. An OK flick to pass the time and the Viking lore was an interesting angle but, too familiar and uneventful to be memorable.

2 and 1-2 star 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.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: GODZILLA vs. KING GHIDORAH and GODZILLA vs. MECHAGODZILLA

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My Godzilla retrospect continues with this week’s double feature putting together two of my favorite of the 90s Hensei Godzilla series. Although the enjoyable Godzilla vs. Mothra comes before our second feature chronologically, I paired these two because Mechagodzilla is a direct sequel with technology from the Mecha-King Ghidorah used to construct the Mechagodzilla robot and, obviously, they both feature Godzilla battling a mechanized opponent…

 

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GODZILLA vs. KING GHIDORAH  (1991)

This might be my favorite of the 90s Hensei Godzilla series. Kazuki Omori returned to write and direct and once again he takes the traditional elements and goes outside the box with them. Sure the plot borrows very heavily from The Terminator, but like Godzilla vs. Biollante that preceded it, Omori shakes things up a bit like showing us Godzilla in dinosaur form for the first time and pimping-out the classic King Ghidorah as a cyborg for the epic battle finale. The story has a strange ship appearing over Japan. It is revealed that it is a time machine carrying three emissaries (Chuck Wilson, Richard Berger and Anna Nakagawa) from the future who claim to be from the 23rd century. They also come with dire news that in the future Godzilla will destroy Japan utterly and they have come to change that. Their plan is to go back to 1944 where Japanese troops claim to have seen a dinosaur on a pacific island, that they are certain would become Godzilla ten years later during the hydrogen bomb tests there. With Godzilla researcher Terasawa (Kosuke Toyohara), Professor Mazaki (Katsuhiko Sasaki) and psychic Miki Seagusa (Megumi Odaka) they go back in time and accomplish their mission. But modern day Japan has been deceived. The emissaries from the 23rd century have removed the Godzillasaurus, but replaced it with three of their own creatures who fuse together into the mighty King Ghidorah when the hydrogen bomb hits. Their plan is not to save Japan, but to use the three headed dragon under their control to destroy it, to keep it from becoming the ruling nation in the future. But the futurians have miscalculated in two areas. One, their own Emmy (Nakagawa) is Japanese and rebels when realizing the true depth of their wicked plan…and the other, that fate sometimes will have it’s way regardless and Godzilla is created anyway and by more powerful, modern nuclear energy. The new Godzilla is larger, stronger and far more vicious and it has two objectives in mind…lay waste to Japan and destroy King Ghidorah, who is trespassing on his turf.

Back in the day, G vs. KG caused some controversy here in the States as it was viewed as anti-American with it’s scene of the Godzillasaurus slaughtering a platoon of American troops in the 1944 set sequence, but sparing the entrenched Japanese soldiers…and the fact that two of the three futurians are Westerners out to destroy Japan. Personally, I think the most offensive thing the film contains is a really awful Steven Spielberg reference which is meant to be funny. Omori shows some growth as a director here with the film having some fun scenes and some very intense monster battles, his direction seems more relaxed on his sophomore film. There is still a little sloppiness here and there, but that also could be a result of an ambitious script and a low budget. He has a lot of fun with his Terminator borrowed story and the movie is a lot more energetic than Biollante. The two main battles between Godzilla and his triple-headed opponent are some of the best Godzilla battles in this modern series with some real intensity as Godzilla first fights the villainous Ghidorah as an anti-hero, then Omori cleverly switches the sides as Godzilla starts to destroy Japan and Emmy reconstructs King Ghidorah as a mechanized cyborg in the future and returns to 1992 Japan to stop Godzilla, who is now become the villain. It’s a fun switcheroo and Kawakita’s excellent (for these kind of films anyway) model and visual FX well represent the destruction and carnage. The cast are also much livelier and better directed this time especially American actor Robert Scott Field who appears to be having a blast as Android M-11, who Emmy reprograms to be an ally when she turns on her comrades. Another reason to love this movie is classic Godzilla composer Akira Ifukube returned to do the score after a 16 years absence and his work is as powerful as ever.

Cyborgs, robots, douche bags from the future, time travel, bad Steven Spielberg puns, some well orchestrated wholesale destruction and two epic monster throw-downs…what more could you want from a Godzilla flick? Sure it has flaws, Godzilla takes almost an hour to show up, the plot, with it’s time travel elements, is even more far-fetched than usual, but this is a series about a giant radioactive monster, so the ludicrous ship sailed a long time ago. It’s a lot of fun and was refreshingly bold in toying with the series conventions and adding some new twists, even if they were borrowed from other movies. It gave us one of the most powerful and cool looking Godzilla incarnations in the entire series and gave him not one but two knock-down drag-out fights with what might be his greatest opponent…And Anna Nakagawa was totally adorable and crush-worthy. One of my all-time favorites and a lot of fun.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Godzillas.

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GODZILLA vs. MECHAGODZILLA (1993)

This, Godzilla’s 20th adventure seems to skip over the events of the more fantasy oriented Godzilla vs. Mothra and opens with scientists examining the mechanical head of the Mecha-King Ghidorah from Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah and using the future technology to make anti-Godzilla weaponry. One, a flying battleship called the Garuda and the other, a robotic replica of Godzilla himself loaded with weapons and protected by diamond encrusted armor. The plan is simple…next time Godzilla attacks, destroy him. And that time may come soon as the discovery of an infant Godzilla on a remote island is certain to lure the adult into a trap, but the appearance of a giant Pteranodon dubbed Rodan, may complicate things somewhat as it seems to have adopted the baby Godzilla as it’s own. Can Japan survive if Rodan, Godzilla and Mechagodzilla meet to fight it out at the same time?

Written by Wataru Mimura and directed by Godzilla vs. Mothra director Takao Okawara, this entry’s plot is less convoluted and the style more down to earth than when Omori wrote and directed. While I liked Omori for thinking outside the Godzilla box, Okawara is more traditional in his approach and that is fine too. The film is filled with action and has some of the biggest battles and destruction scenes in the series. Except for some of the Rodan effects, Kawakita and crew are at the top of their game as Godzilla and his mechanical double go head to head in the middle of a large city .The destruction is on a massive scale, but Okawara doesn’t forget his numerous characters who are caught in the middle. The film goes back to a slightly more serious tone after the lighter Mothra, but not quite as somber or dire as King Ghidorah or Biollante. I wasn’t all that happy with them adding Baby Godzilla to the mix. I always disliked the character and the Disney-ish silliness it brought to the series, but his design is less cartoon-ish (thought that would sadly change in the next film, Spacegodzilla) and it is handled as best it could, considering. Rodan is also a slight disappointment as he seems a bit too small to be considered a worthy opponent to either Godzilla or Mechagodzilla, but he holds his own when facing both and does have character. Mechagodzilla has the least interesting design in the character’s history, but makes up for it with some real destructive firepower and some truly spectacular battle scenes with Godzilla and Rodan. Again the FX are quite impressive here for this kind of movie. The human cast is fine and seem to be having fun with the material, though they treat it with respect and none go over the top. Psychic cutie Miki Seagusa (Megumi Odaka) returns for her third go around and Masahiro Takashima makes a likable hero in pilot Kazuma Aoki. Kenpachiro Satsuma appears for the fifth time as Godzilla and does another great job making him fierce and formidable. Akira Ifukube agains scores and it is one of his best in the 40 years he has been associated with the series. But it is the epic battles that really fuel this fun time and the film has a lot more Godzilla then the last three flicks, as it should be.

Overall, this is one action packed flick and it’s flaws can be overlooked by the sheer spectacle of the battles and the top notch SPFX that they are realized with. Okawara gives the film a somewhat faster pace, too and it helps that Godzilla shows up early and only disappears for short periods of time before returning and causing more carnage. I love that he is still an anti-hero here and despite the fact that Mechagodzilla is being piloted on the side of good…though he does represent man’s arrogance…we still want to see Godzilla make junk out of him. A fun and very action heavy installment in the 90s series.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Godzillas.

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