Monthly Archives: September 2003

BUGGING OUT

A Video Review of “Godzilla vs. Megaguirus” also known as “Gojira X Megagirasu” or “Gojira tai Megagirasu: Jii Shometsu Sahusen” or “Godzilla vs. Megaguirus: The G Annihilation Stragedy”

Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker

Coming after Godzilla 2000 one should hope Godzilla vs. Megagirus would be better. It is, it’s a breath of fresh air. There is hope for the Godzilla franchise after all.

The Godzilla suit used is the same one from the previous movie which of course was a big departure from tradition. He was green which contrary to popular belief was the first time Godzilla had ever been that color. He was always a bluish charcoal gray. The new look is also more reptilian and snaggle-toothed in the face and his back spikes are more jagged than usual and prismatic in color. It’s a different look but at least it’s better than the American version from 1998.

The opening sequence is both brilliant and bothersome. This new G is refilmed into scenes from 1954’s Gojira. The black and white scratchy film is a nice touch. Director Masaaki Tezuka seems to be aping many classic shots Godzilla destruction from previous films in this opening.

Japanese defense forces create a super weapon called the Dimension Tide to use against Godzilla. It creates a black hole from which nothing can escape. Unfortunately while testing the weapon they mutate a giant dragonfly thought extinct. How’s that for dumb luck?

It begins to multiply. These bugs -the meganula- flood the city in order to multiply more. They begin to swarm over Godzilla and feed on his radioactivity which they return to their queen. The queen further mutates into a super giant meganula, a monster called Megaguirus. The new monster seeks out its radioactive food supply on its own, hilarity ensues.

The monster battle is hampered by frequent slow motion interrupting the flow and bugging (pun intended) the heck out of me. It was however an unexpected treat to see Godzilla against a different type of opponent. Megaguirus moves very fast and uses its stinger to attack and feed. G on the other hand has a few new tricks in his repertoire as well. He grabs the big dragonfly with his tail and also uses his back spines to slice a limb off the bug.

Other highlights include one particularly cool scene has humans sneaking up on a swimming Godzilla in order to plant a transmitter on his enormous back. Godzilla vs. Megaguirus is much better than I would have thought and much much better than Godzilla 2000.

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THE GRITTY TRUTH

A Video Review of “True Grit” (1969)

Copyright 2002 Glenn Walker

John Wayne got an Oscar for this one but it was obviously for body of work and not for this particular performance. True Grit is not the Duke’s best but it’s not his worst either. Wayne plays a cartoon essentially as U.S. Marshal and bounty hunter ‘Rooster’ Cogburn. He’s the grizzled old gunfighter who knows his stuff and bothered no end by these young ‘uns who think they know better.

The story has city girl Mattie Ross hiring Cogburn and a Texas Ranger to hunt down the men who killed her father in dangerous Indian country. This was based on the Charlie Portis novel and directed by Henry Hathaway a pro of various genres who had been working since the silents.

Glen Campbell as Texas Ranger Le Boeuf is saccharine sweet ‘til the end where we get to see his true colors in a frightening sequence in a rattlesnake infested cave. Dennis Hopper, Jeff Corey and Robert Duvall as some of the bad guys are good (or is that bad?) as well. Blink and you’ll miss Jay (Tonto) Silverheels as the hanged man.

That damned Kim Darby, oh boy. She’s near perfect as Mattie Ross. But I can’t think of how many movies she’s ruined for me but her whining here is a triumph of character. If the whining is her best quality no wonder so many people rooted for the gremlins to kill her in the made for TV Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.

The guns in each hand and reins in his teeth scene is phenomenal and one of Hollywood’s most amazing images. To me it defines the John Wayne tough-guy-never-give-up policy. Also amazing is the fact that Wayne against the wishes of the director did his own stunts. Other trivia abounds in True Grit. Supposedly Wayne chased ‘that damned hippie’ Hopper around the lot with a loaded gun.

The film features one of Elmer Bernstein’s finest scores. That and the sweeping western landscapes deserve equal billing. The majestic scenery aided by Lucien Ballard’s cinematography is breathtaking.

This truly a classic not to be missed. Give a pass to both its sequel ‘Rooster’ Cogburn and its 1978 TV remake but definitely don’t miss the original. True Grit is probably one of the best westerns ever made.

This is a revised version of a review that appeared earlier elsewhere.

WINK WINK NUDGE NUDGE

A Video Review of “Shrek”

Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker

Remember the old Warner Brothers cartoons? When you were a kid you’d laugh at the antics of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig and then as an adult you’d laugh for wholly different reasons. They worked on two different levels. This is what Shrek is like.

Shrek was one of the first projects from DreamWorks which included the former CEO of Disney. This might be the reason for all the shots at Disney classics in this flick. The whole film is one big nasty twist on fairy tales, Disney’s stock in trade. For any hardcore Disney fans the in-jokes will either piss you off or be utterly hilarious. You decide.

This story of an ogre blackmailed into rescuing and delivering a princess to a corrupt ruler is nearly secondary to the touching love story. It’s all quite unbelievable when you consider none of it is real. I’ve seen more than my share of animation, computer or not, and it’s rare that you can care for the characters. Hell, it’s rare in regular movies.

The voice cast is excellent against all odds. Michael Myers’ ‘humor’ runs hot and cold with me and here using his Fat Bastard/ Scotch Tape store Scottish voice he’s actually entertaining. John Lithgow who I haven’t liked since he took on comedy is also good. Speaking of comedy I have to say Eddie Murphy is funnier as a computer animated donkey that he’s been in real life for over a decade.

I really enjoyed Shrek and was looking forward to the sequel. It’s a shame that from all indications Shrek 2 is going to be a rift on the horrible Meet the Parents. Regardless Shrek is a classic.

How Ron Howard Stole My Christmas


A Video Review of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”

Copyright 2002 Glenn Walker

In the immortal words of the Pet Shop Boys, “What have I done, what have I done, what have I done to deserve this?” What sick twisted demon from hell possessed Ron Howard and made him create this big budget major motion picture based on the wonderful Dr. Seuss work? Surely this could only be the work of the devil.

The 1966 half-hour cartoon by Chuck Jones narrated by Boris Karloff with that song by Thul (Tony the Tiger) Ravenscroft is perfect. Why was there a need to do this?

Jim Carrey in his hideous make-up as the Grinch is nowhere near as scary as the citizens of Whoville who all resemble the monsters from “The Twilight Zone” episode Eye of the Beholder. Ron Howard made this for his kids? Why haven’t the authorities taken those kids away for cruel and unusual treatment?

The real story has very few characters but apparently the writers felt this had to be fleshed out and added a dozen or so irrelevant characters including the Grinch’s old girlfriend (hello?). Screenwriters Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman (who also had a hand in destroying the big budget motion picture version of the brilliant Wild Wild West) should have their pencils broken, their typewriters smashed and their word processors melted down.

The ending is horrendous. Apparently Christmas doesn’t come in a box, it’s not about giving at all. It’s all about money money money, materialism and greed, gimme gimme gimme. I hate Jim Carrey. Damn you, Ron Howard. This is easily one of the worst three movies ever made.

And take off the frigging hat.

Rating -*

***** Must see
**** Worth seeing
*** So you have eight dollars you want to throw away…
** Is Adam Sandler in this mess?
* A bullet would be quicker.

The above previously appeared at Project Popcorn.

Satan Met a Lady

STRIKE TWO

A Video Review of Satan Met a Lady also known as The Man in the Black Hat

Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker

This was the second try at making a film version of Dashiell Hammett’s classic The Maltese Falcon. The first attempt was the wonderful Dangerous Female from 1931. This 1936 version features a young Bette Davis in a story where the names and plot devices have been changed to prevent any confusion with a really good film.

At first glance Satan Met a Lady is a lark. It’s almost a tongue-in-cheek parody of the genre. It is a lot of fun, yes, but more than meets the eye in some places. Perhaps the best way to describe this one is The Maltese Falcon meets Bringing Up Baby. And if that sounds good to you, you’re expecting too much.

The story, which might sound slightly familiar, has private investigator Ted Shayne hired by a Valerie Purvis to follow a Madam Barabbas who in turn hires him to locate a jeweled ram’s horn. Substitute some names and stuff and you got The Maltese Falcon. Hammett even got a credit as in ‘based on a book by.’

William Warren as Shayne is no Humphrey Bogart and he definitely ain’t no Sam Spade. He is highly entertaining however with an almost Clark Gable-esque slickness. Warren was renowned as one of the best villain actors of the 1930s. Bette Davis is adequate but not doing her Bette Davis best. Blink and you’ll miss Arthur Treacher also collecting a check just like Miss Davis.

The highlight of Satan is Marie Wilson as Shayne’s secretary Miss Murgatroyd. She is an absolute delight. Marie is such the perfect ditsy blonde that she puts rank amateurs like Marilyn Monroe and Suzanne Somers to shame.

Satan Met a Lady lives up to its literary origins in a few places but not many. This is only worth watching for its novelty value and of course Marie Wilson.

BLOOD GROOVE

A Video Review of “Blade”

Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker

Blade is a minor character (or at least was) created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan back in the 1970s during Marvel Comics’ ‘horror boom.’ The Comics Code Authority had loosened up on the restraints they had placed on the EC horror comics back in the 1950s and Marvel was taking advantage of it. They began publishing a multitude of horror books with vampires, zombies, werewolves, Frankensteins – everything they’d previously been prohibited. Out of this time came Blade the vampire slayer.

On the screen Blade is brought to life by noted comic book fan Wesley Snipes (Rising Sun, Demolition Man, Passenger 57) and written by comics and screen writer David Goyer (Dark City, The Crow: City of Angels, Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the highly acclaimed JSA comic book). Blade, as the product of both human and vampire heritage, has the best abilities of both parents and uses them to rid the earth of its demonic vampire scum.

The villain, Frost, is played with evil glee by Stephen Dorff, formerly the voice of Child’s Play’s Chucky. He is the perfect counterpoint to Blade, believing mankind is vampirekind’s food and should be ruled and rationed. Kris Kristofferson (A Star Is Born, Convoy) and N’Bushe Wright (Dead Presidents, “I’ll Fly Away”) are also very good as Blade’s companions. A highlight is the evil turn by Donal Logue from Comic Book Villains and The Tao of Steve.

The action scenes are some of the best done for the American screen and obviously influenced by the Hong Kong cinema of which Snipes is also a big fan. These fight sequences are Hong Kong perfection. Especially compelling (and gruesome) is the opening sequence of a vampire blood rave featuring Traci Lords which is raided by Blade.

The DVD of Blade is well worth checking out. The audio commentaries by Snipes and Goyer are enlightening. If you’re a fan of the comics or just action or vampire flicks in general this is a not miss.

The above review also appears at the comic book review website

Comic Widows at

http://www.comicwidows.com

Dangerous Female

THE ORIGINAL BLACK BIRD

A Video Review of “Dangerous Female” also known as “The Maltese Falcon” (1931)

Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker

Really no one but film buffs know that Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” was made into a motion picture twice before the famous 1941 classic starring Humphrey Bogart. Bette Davis starred in Satan Met a Lady in 1936 but Dangerous Female was the original.

The story sticks pretty close to the Hammett novel. Private investigator Sam Spade seeks both a rare jeweled statuette and the murderer of his partner unaware the cases are related. Dangerous Female is classic film noir from Hammett, the original master of the literary genre.


The cast for the time is phenomenal. As Sam Spade is Ricardo Cortez who was originally considered to be Rudolph Valentino’s successor. While this is an interesting turn from his usual smirking Latin lover routine he makes for an entertaining if most un-Bogart-like Spade. It is harder to get past his bizarre cigarette gestures than the idea of a Hispanic Sam Spade. This is however ironic because Cortez is actually Austrian. That’s right, he’s more Arnold Schwartzenegger than Jennifer Lopez.

Bebe Daniels who plays Ruth Wonderly worked with Harold Lloyd as a teenager but is probably better known for her parts in classic musicals like Rio Rita and 42nd Street. Otto Matieson as Cairo proves he is no Peter Lorre here in a bad bit of casting. Dwight Frye, most infamous as Renfield in the 1931 horror classic Dracula, shines as the baby-faced but menacing Wilmer Cook. Longtime character actress Una Merkel plays a nice counter to Cortez’ Spade as secretary Effie. She’s a treat in any role.

As Iva Archer, the widow of Spade’s dead partner, is the beautiful Thelma Todd. This blonde bombshell also known as ‘Hot Toddy’ is a Hollywood legend. At the peak of her success she was also a businesswoman and one of Tinseltown’s brightest stars. She did however have a tendency toward bad boys. It is believed her relationship with mobster Lucky Luciano led to her being found dead at the wheel of her car in her own garage. As you can see from this role it was quite a loss.

Despite the cast Dangerous Female is stagy in places and seriously lacks a proper soundtrack although soundtracks were rare at the time. Other than the 1941 Bogart classic this is the best version of “The Maltese Falcon.” If you can find it definitely check it out.

PLAYING IT STRAIGHT

A Video Review of “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein”

Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker

I must have seen Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein from 1948 dozens of times when I was a kid back in the 1970s. It was a Sunday afternoon tradition around my house. We’d get home from church just before noon and that was when the now defunct channel 48 out of Philadelphia would broadcast the Abbott and Costello movies. They showed them all from Buck Privates to The World of Abbott & Costello, maybe four or five times each. When they replaced them with the considerably less entertaining Ma and Pa Kettle movies viewer complaints got the A&C films back on. Those were good times and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein was one of the best.

Lou Costello (who for those not in the know was not the idiot portrayed in the movies but in reality the brains of the pair) originally didn’t want to make ‘that crap’ regarding the film. He said his baby daughter could write a better script. Costello caved when his partner Bud Abbott and director Charles T. Barton (who directed some of the best of the A&C movies as well as coincidentally the “Munsters” TV series) had already signed on. The $50,000 advance didn’t hurt either.

The trivia involved in this picture is almost mind-boggling. According to Universal Studios Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein is the official sequel to 1945’s House of Dracula and the next in their Universal monsters continuity. Bela Lugosi almost didn’t get to play Count Dracula in this one because the studio thought he was dead. Walt Lantz of Woody Woodpecker fame did the animation on the opening credit sequence as well as Dracula’s bat transformations.

The casting is Universal monster classic. As mentioned Bela was Dracula who along with Lon Chaney Jr. reprising his Larry Talbot role including one of the more convincing Wolfman transformations and Glenn Strange doing his Frankenstein’s monster round out the trio of fiends. Foreign beauty Lenore Aubert is serviceable as the nefarious Dr. Mornay and watch out for the Invisible Man at the end voiced by Vincent Price.

The simple story of freight movers stumbling into Dracula’s plans to find a suitable brain for Frankenstein’s monster moves along well. The madcap Bud and Lou meld seamlessly into the world of Universal horror. What really makes this work is that the monsters all play it straight. The horror actors are all deadly serious. It’s a good contrast to the capers of A&C.

This one also contains one of the best Lou Costello lines. When Wolfman Larry Talbot says “You don’t understand. Every night when the moon is full, I turn into a wolf.”

Lou replies “You and twenty million other guys!”

See Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. It’s one of the best.

HOPE FOR THE WORLD

A Video Review of “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”

Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker

Although I am a veteran of fantasy role-playing games I have to admit to having never getting through J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. In high school I read the first book (on which this film is based but is very fuzzy in my memory so you won’t find any book-to-film comparisons in this review) and struggled to start “The Two Towers” and failed during my college days. Tolkien is unfortunately very dense (at least to me). I file him along with H.P. Lovecraft. They are both amazing concept men but as writers they are dreary and nearly incomprehensible (to me at least – if only to avoid the slings and arrows of smarter people).

Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is completely accessible which I think surprised everyone especially the casual moviegoer and those evil Hollywood critics who both shun fantasies at every turn. Perhaps there is hope for this sad sad world yet if concepts like good against evil, responsibility and friendship still resound in people’s hearts.

The story revolves around a powerful ring of great evil in a long ago fantasy land. A conglomeration of different races elects a band to take the ring to be destroyed in the place it was forged. Hilarity ensues, as they say.

It all begins with hobbit Bilbo Baggins skillfully played by Ian Holm (Alien, The Fifth Element) and his birthday party in Hobbiton. It’s a happy bright occasion that slowly devolves into darkness. The conversion is handled well and the viewer is easily led to understand the peril encompassing all of Middle-Earth. It is this subtlety that makes TLOTR so accessible to the mainstream. The show rather than tell is the key.

The cursed ring is put into the hands of Bilbo’s nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood of The Good Son and The Faculty) and along with friend Samwise (Sean Astin of Rudy) and wizard Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) they set off the have the ring destroyed. This is probably one of McKellen’s best roles and performances and that’s saying a lot. He is one of the world’s finest actors. In Gandalf he reflects many facets and emotions from leadership and bravery to fear and mystery. He’s not your average everyday wizard.

The rest of the cast is remarkable as well. Christopher Lee is back doing what he did so well in years past – playing believably evil villains. His Saruman is both motivated and emotionally impenetrable. The battle between him and Gandalf is stunning and powerful. Speaking of evil, Cate Blanchett brief evil turn as Galadriel tempted by the ring is spellbinding.

Young cocky boys that they are, Viggo Mortensen as Strider and Orlando Bloom as Legolas insisted on performing their own stunts that resulted in broken ribs and teeth. They’re also pretty good as actors too. The all too brief moment shared by Strider and Arwen (played with remarkable and unexpected skill by Liv Tyler) shows a chemistry and electricity I would have liked to have seen more of, if not in the TLOTR trilogy than in any other film.

Of course the real star of the film is the special effects. From the minor forced perspective shots to make full-sized actors into three and four feet tall hobbits and dwarves (John Rhys-Davies is a particularly difficult trick into the dwarf Gimli) to the fiery Balrog to the stunning matte paintings and CGI armies the special effects in Fellowship are truly among the best ever done.

The New Zealand locales, especially Hobbiton which was built a full year before shooting began so that it would look old and lived in, are amazing. This is due in part to the unparalleled skill of cinematographer Andrew Lesnie but mostly to the breathtaking landscapes of the region itself. The original music score of Howard Shore only enhances the sheer majesty of the film itself.

Unlike myself writer director Peter Jackson has read the “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. He knows what it’s about, and he has nothing but love and respect for the work and its creator. The project for Jackson began as a pitch to make “The Hobbit.” After seeing his superior accomplishments with this film I can’t wait for the next two and hope he gets to do the original one. See The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. It’s truly one of the best films ever made.

RUBY SLIPPERS

A Video Review of “Like Mike”

Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker

Just click your heels together three times and say, “There’s no place like home.” Oh, the beauty of magic footwear. That’s what Like Mike is all about. A orphaned kid gets electrocuted trying to get Michael Jordan’s old sneakers from a telephone wire and guess what? He is imbued with Michael Jordan’s super powers, I mean, his athletic ability at basketball while wearing them. Lame as it sounds it’s really quite good.

Lil’ Bow Wow, while not one of my favorite pre-teen rappers (I’m more of an Aaron Carter man myself), he has quite a movie career ahead of him should he choose that path. The boy just oozes charisma as Calvin Cambridge. Morris Chestnut is great as Tracy Reynolds the pro basketball player who is saddled with mentoring lil’ Calvin when he is drafted into the NBA.

The chemistry between the two of them is better than most buddy cop movies of the last decade. Lil’ Bow Wow and Morris Chestnut are absolutely magic in the scenes where Tracy teaches Calvin to rap like DMX and explains room service and triangle geometry. Not necessarily a sequel but I would love to see them work again some time.

Always creepy Crispin Glover is our villain this time around. How about that? Crispin Glover playing a creepy villain, whodathunkit? He is the evil owner of the orphanage that exploits the kids even before he realizes what a goldmine he has in young Calvin. He continues to exploit Calvin when he becomes an NBA star. When adoption may take his little moneymaker away Glover steals the sneaks and bets against Calvin’s team. As one might expect, hilarity ensues.

This is a terrific movie. It’s not complicated so don’t think too much. Yes, it does carry the nostalgic stench of The Bad News Bears and Angels in the Outfield but that’s a good thing; they were both good films too. Don’t miss Like Mike.