Monthly Archives: October 2003
TURNING THE GENRE ON ITS EAR
A Video Review of “Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack” also known as “Gojira, Mosura, Kingu Gidora: Daikaiju Soukougeki” or “Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: The Giant Monsters General Offensive”
Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker
Writer director Shusuke Kaneko finally tries his hand at Godzilla after revitalizing the Gamera franchise for Daiei. It was bits like the absurd idea of naming the monsters that clued me in to this movie’s real intent – to turn the kaiju eiga genre on its ear. Rethink it and create something new. Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack does just that.
Most surprising right away is the opening sequence which acknowledges the original 1954 Gojira as its only prequel yet also refers to the 1998 American Godzilla as being in continuity as well. Wow. Or more appropriately, oh no.
Now I’m not sure how I feel about the idea that this is all new. Mothra, Baragon and King Ghidorah have never appeared before and they are possessed by the spirits of Japan’s war dead. I don’t buy it but okay, I can deal with it.
These three ‘guardian monsters’ have returned to stop Godzilla from destroying Japan. That’s your plot. Throw in a plucky girl reporter along with a few masterfully directed monster fights and that’s the movie.
Baragon is a nice update of the underground monster from Frankenstein Conquers the World, a gone but not forgotten Toho classic from the 1960s. Mothra’s larva form has been made fiercer and a bit scarier. King Ghidora this time around is rather short and stocky, traditional gold in color and the wings seem small and rather useless at first. Its final form is the King Ghidora we all know and hate.
The reworking of Godzilla is different from its Millennium predecessor. Nasty empty eyes and an old school design highlight this decidedly evil creature bent on destruction. It’s a while before we actually a look at this new Godzilla probably to increase the suspense.
Writer director Shusuke Kaneko has a good vibe on how Godzilla and giant monsters in general should work. The big G is frequently filmed from below to accentuate his enormous size. Puns aside, yes, in this genre size does matter. When Godzilla uses his breath trees fly through the air in his inhalation. The camera shakes with his footsteps. The only bad parts are where he walks like Barney but we won’t mention that. Kaneko knows how to induce size and danger in this type of flick. His Godzilla rocks.
Chiharo Niyama plays Yuri the plucky girl reporter. She’s quite possibly the first likeable human player in a G film in a long time (even Miki Segusa wore on me after a while). She works for a tabloid TV station specializing in the paranormal – an excellent conduit for daikaiju reporting. I can’t help but notice the parallel to “Ultra Q.”
When Baragon first shows up folks think he’s Godzilla – last seen fifty years prior – when the real G appears they understand how deep their sh!t truly is. He towers over Baragon. The battle between Baragon and Godzilla is among the best I’ve seen in some time. The smaller kaiju displays all the scrappiness he did in his original cinematic appearances.
The Mothra transformation from larva to imago is among the most uninteresting I’ve seen however. The queen moth is just a big bug here. Yawn. When she does appear in full glory as a moth though she flies low over a crowd including twin sisters who glance at each other knowingly. Nice touch.
Godzilla vs. Mothra. Again as with Baragon, size matters. As I said, she’s just a big bug. It would have been a very boring fight had King Ghidora not shown up. Unfortunately Godzilla dispatches them both easily.
There is some beautiful miniature work as a suspension bridge goes down toward the end. That might not sound like much considering the scale model building effects haven’t improved all that much since the 1990s but the bridge scene is superior.
The musical score, although missing the familiar marches of the legendary Akira Ifukube, is just as incredible by Kow Otani. He has a definite ear for how a kaiju eiga should sound.
This off the wall Godzilla flick that stands alone and knocks the genre on its butt is one of the best. Definitely check GMK out.
A Video Review of “Heavenly Creatures”
Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker
Heavenly Creatures is based on the true-life murder of Nora Parker in 1954 Christchurch, New Zealand. This horrid murder was committed by her daughter Pauline and her best friend Juliet Hulme and triggered one of the most scandalous trials in New Zealand history.
The girls, here played by Melanie Lynnesky and a young pre-Titanic Kate Winslet, as outcasts with vivid imaginations form an intense relationship. The two are fast and inseparatable friends who obsess over Mario Lanza, Orson Welles in The Third Man, the Biggles books and a world they create for themselves. One of their mothers believes the girls have developed an ‘unhealthy’ (that’s fifties-speak for homosexual, folks) relationship and tries to keep them away from each other. Pauline and Juliet retaliate with a plan to kill Pauline’s mother.
This is the film that introduced both Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynnesky. We all know what happened to Miss Winslet but why haven’t we seen more of Miss Lynnesky? They are equally Oscar-class actresses here. In my opinion neither actress has matched their performances as the deeply disturbed young women in Heavenly Creatures since.
Other cast standouts are all small parts. Stephen Reilly as Mario Lanza is memorable and Jean Guerin as Orson Welles is unmistakable. The highlight however is Clive Merrison, a Peter Sellers lookalike who also remarkably looks like the real Henry Hulme who he plays.
Peter Jackson’s direction is flawless. His fantasy sequences are breathtaking. All the locations are authentic. That and the locations for the Lord of the Rings trilogy show Jackson’s love for New Zealand. He also co-wrote the screenplay based on the real events and excerpts from Pauline Parker’s diary. All of the voiceovers are read directly from that diary.
Heavenly Creatures is one of the best most underrated movies of the 1990s. See it as soon as you can. It’s well worth it.
***** 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 is a longer version of a review that previously appeared at the now defunct and sadly missed Project Popcorn.
A Video Review of “Bonnie and Clyde”
Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker
Warren Beauty worked long and hard to get this film made and as with other projects he put his heart and soul into (Bullworth, Dick Tracy) the result is nearly flawless. Hollywood was dead set against Beatty’s vision. He was bringing unwelcome European sensibilities to the United States. Some might say he was the Orson Welles of his time.
The performances are near perfect; Faye Dunaway at the peak of her career and Oscar-nominated work by Beatty, Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Michael J. Pollard, director Arthur Penn and Estelle Parsons who won for supporting actress. Parsons’ hysterics and Hackman’s disturbing death scene are among the finest in the film.
There are so many good performances in this film, too many to count almost. There is Pollard’s adoring C.W. Moss, Denver Pyle’s vengeful Texas Ranger and Mabel Cavitt’s haunting portrayal of Bonnie Parker’s mother. Longtime character actor Dub “Cannonball” Taylor has the role of his life as C.W. Moss’ father, in my opinion the finest of his career.
We watch Bonnie and Clyde’s romance through the ups and downs of the Depression era anti-heroes. And as dysfunctional as it is Bonnie and Clyde is still a love story. From their meeting in the first few minutes to their grisly end we know they love each other no matter the absurd obstacles. Beatty and Dunaway are incredible. Because the characters are so well defined we love them and root for them so hard it hurts when the end comes.
There are so many good scenes here, poignant and humorous and violent. Who can forget the humiliation of the Texas Ranger? Or the kidnapping of Gene Wilder and his girlfriend? Or Flatt and Scruggs’ “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” accompanying the chase scenes. The ending is both breathtakingly and bloody. Its slow motion finality definitely influenced John Woo in his Hong Kong action films.
This is probably one of the best gangster movies ever made, I can watch it over and over again.
A shorter and less interesting version of this review previously appeared at Project Popcorn.
I COULDN’T MAKE THIS UP
A Film Review of “Spirited Away” also known as “Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi”
Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker
Hayao Miyazaki is a genius. He brought us Princess Mononoke and Kiki’s Delivery Service as well as one of my personal favorites Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Prior to those he worked on “Lupin” and “Nausicaa” for Japanese television. The animation is second to none – vastly superior to anything Disney (who distributed this feature in America by the way) has done lately.
Spirited Away is the story of a little girl named Chihiro who wanders away from her parents at an abandoned amusement park and becomes the workslave for spirits and demons in an extra-dimensional bathhouse. Did I mention her folks have been turned into pigs? No. Really. I couldn’t make that up.
It comes off as an anime version of Alice in Wonderland meets The Wizard of Oz. The fun stuff comes when Miyazaki takes the idea of the lost little girl in another world and then throws in everything including the kitchen sink. We get every kind of spirit, demon and monster you can imagine and more. Really.
In the world of Japanese legend they are known as yokai or spirits who can transform and our little heroine encounters many in her time at the bathhouse. The most memorable are the radish spirit, the stink spirit and Master Haku who becomes a flying Chinese dragon. My favorite is the unfathomable No Face. He switches from lonely to hungry to dangerous to friendly with the randomness of the wind.
The voice talent involved is unequaled. Michael Chiklis (“The Commish”) and Lauren Holly (“Picket Fences”) cameo as little Chihiro’s parents. Suzanne Pleshette is delightfully menacing as the evil bathhouse mistress Yubaba. John Ratzenberger (Cliff from “Cheers”) however is the comedic highlight as one of the frog foremen.
Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is a wild ride and a fun ride (long too, your butt will get numb). It doesn’t always make sense to the uninitiated but it’s definitely worth the price of admission. And besides it’s always a thrill to see anime on the big screen.
The above is a revised version of a review previously posted elsewhere on the net.
THE BEST MOVIE OF 2001
A Video Review of “Josie and the Pussycats”
Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker
This was the best movie of 2001, forget the first installments of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, this was it. I enjoyed this a lot more than most of the crap out there.
Based on the Archie Comic created by Dan DeCarlo and by association the more widely known and popular Saturday morning cartoon series it follows the adventures of an aspiring all girl rock band and their friends. The cartoon was very Scooby-Doo, derivative in that the kids were always stumbling across mysteries and dastardly villains and putting things right by meddling.
The movie kicks ass because not only does it stick close to its source material while updating itself to the 21st century it never once -never once- takes itself seriously. This is the work of co-writer/co-director team of Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont. They were also responsible for other underrated flicks like A Very Brady Sequel and The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas. They even take a shot at the critics regarding their other work Can’t Hardly Wait in this one. Their Josie and the Pussycats is just a fantastic non-stop roller coaster ride.
The satire is thick as the plot involves music being used to subliminally brainwash the youth of America to use certain products. To drive home this point the whole movie is punch drunk with on-screen advertising and product placement (particularly hilarious is Melanie taking a shower in her McDonald’s decorated bathroom). It’s everywhere, everywhere, you can’t get away from it and therein lies the joke.
Kaplan and Elfont prey on this in their own unique wink-wink way. The music industry, especially the pop music industry, is all about advertising. It’s true and you know it. I know it too. If I see N’Sync pushing baby back ribs from Chili’s one more time I’ll puke. Britney for Pepsi at least makes sense, but baby back ribs??!?
The primary roles are taken by Rachel Leigh Cook, Rosario Dawson and Tara Reid as Josie, Valerie and Melanie. As in the comics and some of the roles are reversed, here Josie is the smart one and Valerie is the sexy one but Melanie is still the ditsy one. All are played to a tee. Melanie of course gets all the good lines.
Alan Cumming is, as always, amazing as Wyatt the uber-manager who engineers the Pussycats’ miracle rise to the top. Everyone else plays their parts to perfection including the wonderful Parker Posey who finally stars in a film that didn’t go straight to video. Also the short conspiracy promotional film starring Eugene Levy which stinks of a 1950s science filmstrip is hilarious.
My favorite character in the film is Carson Daly who plays Carson Daly as an automaton – in other words, himself. Aries Spears of “Mad TV” is also good as the ‘other’ Carson Daly. The fight sequence where the two Carson Dalys try to off Valerie and Melanie is particularly amusing because of the dialogue between Daly and Reid who were dating at the time.
The songs, music and videos are incredibly played like MTV in an MTV movie designed to mock MTV. Marvelous. Vocals on the Josie songs are by Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, surprisingly backed up by Cook and Dawson.
My favorite dialogue in the flick (and probably of all time) comes when super-manager Wyatt asks Alexandra why she is with the band. Missi Pyle, done up in perfect skunk hairdo, deadpans her answer: “Because I was in the comic book.” I just love it.
The movie is wall-to-wall fun. Don’t miss it and remember, blue is the new red. Rent this video, buy this video, enjoy this video.
The above revised from previous versions appearing elsewhere on the net.
HERO VERSUS VILLAIN AND VICE VERSA
A Video Review of “Dillinger” (1973)
Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker
Written and directed by John Milius (Conan the Barbarian, Farewell to the King), this is a tribute to the anti-hero. Milius obviously studied Peckinpah (or at least Bonnie and Clyde) because his style of cinematic violence is the flavor of the flick. It’s subtle but always in your face. Dillinger is also interspersed with odd romantic vignettes and country music videos using black and white stills. Some work, some don’t.
Highlighted by the flawless acting of the late Warren Oates in the title role we see John Dillinger portrayed as a hero of the people, likable, popular and not the murdering criminal he really was. Warren Oates does Dillinger with the same down home flair of Andy Griffith as Lonesome Rhoads in the classic A Face in the Crowd. This is Oates’ finest performance. It’s sad we lost him so young.
Ben Johnson is thrust into the ironically villainous role of G-man Melvin Purvis. If John Dillinger is the hero of the piece Purvis is surely the bad guy. Johnson plays his part with quiet cool and confidence, unperturbed by Dillinger’s violence and close calls. He knows he will win.
Richard Dreyfus is quite amusing as the obnoxious brat ‘Babyface’ Nelson. His clashes with Oates are priceless. When I see Dreyfus here and in things like Jaws, it occurs to me that he does a lot of phoning in performances, because here is solid proof he can actually act. Michelle Phillips is adequate. Harry Dean Stanton is superb. Also look for Cloris Leachman as the notorious lady in red.
Despite the lack of fact it’s a great movie. It’s one of the best of the new wave Depression era gangster films. Check it out.
The above previously appeared in a much shorter form at Project Popcorn.
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