Category Archives: kaiju eiga

Funky Forest

Funky Forest – The First Contact ~ I love Japanese television, film, and comics, but admittedly, a lot of what I like is genre specific. Superhero, giant monster, etc. That might be part of the reason I just didn’t get this.

Even with subtitles I don’t believe I could even tell you what it’s about. Imagine an extra long episode of “Kids in the Hall” in a language you didn’t understand and you’ll begin to get a vibe of what this movie is like.

It looks very much like something I might like but it is indescribable and I don’t get it. There are some very neat make-up, animation and CGI effects in it though. Just don’t ask me what it’s about.

The best explanation I can offer is it’s a sort of Amazon Women on the Moon… on crack. Watch at your own risk.

Advertisements

Monsters

Monsters ~ When I saw this line of hype in the description of this flick OnDemand, I was intrigued. It read, “Best giant monster movie I’ve seen in years.” I was sold. It’s written and directed by Gareth Edwards, who has been chosen to helm the new American Godzilla movie – so I definitely had to see it.

The story – six years ago a space probe sent to search for alien life crash lands over Mexico. It brought ‘creatures’ and the area was walled off as the “Infected Zone.” Expecting District 9 meets Cloverfield meets Toho’s Monster Island, I happily order it, no matter how high the price.

A magazine photographer is sent to collect the boss’ daughter from Mexico in the Infected Zone. After losing their passports, they have to walk. Yeah, what’s that writing rule about what’s the worst that can happen? Yeah, that’s what happens. They walk home through the Infected Zone.

The two main characters are thankfully not typical horror movie stereotypes, but we get to know them as well as we would such characters – very peripherally. They are still placeholders in the storytelling process, but just different ones. The male lead reminds a lot of a young Adam Baldwin, but that’s neither here nor there. Some of the dialogue is painful, especially most of it falls into the “What are you doing?” and “Where are all the people?” territory.

The cardboardness and predictability of the two leads is what makes the ending so unfulfilling when it comes. I wanted a monster movie with a human story as a backdrop like most traditional kaiju eiga and got was a bad human story with monsters as the backdrop. At least the monsters got one pretty intense love scene. And no, I’m not kidding.

The monsters are rarely seen clearly early on, just in fuzzy pictures and staticky news footage, and later we hear them, but when they do finally show up… hello, pretty scary. They are sorta giant squid meets preying mantis meets Martian war machine with just a bit of Cthulhu thrown into the mix for good measure. The wreckage and destroyed buildings are stunning, as they are not CGI in the traditional sense, but greenscreened in – they are real destroyed buildings from earthquakes, fires, etc., so it looks, and is, very real.

There is not as much commentary on the current US/Mexico immigration problem as one might think from the summary of this flick, but it’s in there. There’s not much, but then again, no one ever says the word ‘apartheid’ in District 9 either and that’s like a brick to the head.

This was a fairly entertaining movie though, for what it is, a little long and I would have loved more monster stuff – but all in all, Monsters did not live up to the hype. Regarding Gareth Edwards’ future with the American Godzilla franchise, I really am at a loss as to what to think. It may well be visually stunning, but I worry about the story… and the love scenes…

Bookmark and Share

Sherlock Holmes Destroy All Monsters

Sherlock Holmes ~ Yeah, this is the other film called “Sherlock Holmes” that came out in 2009. This one, from The Asylum, has been nicknamed in genre circles “Sherlock Holmes Destroy All Monsters” because of its plot involving giant monsters overrunning Victorian London. It’s also been alternately known as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, not that that helps much. For those not in the know, The Asylum specializes in making near-beer copies straight-to-DVD of blockbusters currently in theatres.

While it’s more Jurassic Park than Destroy All Monsters, it is an interesting entry, told from Watson’s point of view some forty to fifty years after the fact, and old Watson himself hypes it as Holmes’ “greatest and least known achievement.” Holmes is played by a relative unknown named Ben Syder, while young Watson is Gareth David-Lloyd of “Torchwood” fame. Villain of English legend, and the villain of this piece as well, Springheel Jack is brought to life by Domenic Keating, late of “Enterprise.” Both, while being quirky genre favorites disappoint here.

The movie moves painfully slow and neither lead has the charisma (at least here) to keep viewers interested. I seriously believe that Ben Syder may be the worst Sherlock Holmes ever, and must surely be related to someone involved in the production. Gareth Davod-Lloyd looks alternately bored and sedated, nowhere near as cool (or even uncool) as his “Torchwood” character Ianto – but at least he is more engaging than Syder.

When it does get exciting (it’s rare, but it happens) the action comes off like a flavorless episode of the old “Doctor Who.” There’s even a weird Cyberman-like episode that wants so badly to be Russel T. Davies-ish, it’s painful. And, now that I think of it, this flick probably owes more to the Who episode “The Next Doctor” than it does Sherlock Holmes. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss the badly CGI-ed dinosaurs, and the giant robots. Believe me, it’s nowhere near as cool as I just made that sound. Give this one a miss, and go see the other Sherlock Holmes movie again. You’ll thank me.

Bookmark and Share

Avatar

Avatar ~ Movie fans have waited a long time for a new film from writer/director James Cameron, and I’m sure many haven’t been disappointed with his newest reputedly $280 million offering Avatar.

This is a good movie, a really good movie, but I think the hype may have killed it for me. I had friends rave when they initially saw the trailer. I read much about the money spent and the effects process involved. I was impressed, yes, but I’m unsure if the product really lives up to the hype. Based on box office (phenomenal, but surely not as phenomenal as the producers might have expected, or wanted), I have to wonder if I’m alone.

The plot has Cameron taking a pseudo-political stance, and its preachy bits are one of the places where he loses me. The human race in 2154 is strip-mining the planet Pandora where the indigenous population is psychically linked to every living thing on their world. A paraplegic takes on the role of one of the genetically created inhabitants to live among them and learn more about them – and eventually leads them against the human oppressors. I’m not giving much away, as predictability is one thing Avatar excels in. That’s not bad though, there’s a lot that makes up for it.

Other nitpicks would be that the deus ex machina at the end is a literal deus ex machina, which is a bit of a letdown. I like to see characters triumph against impossible odds on their own – after all, that’s what makes them heroes. And the prayer scenes almost made me break out in laughter as I was reminded of old kaiju eiga – the way they were chanting I kept waiting for Mothra to show up.

It’s not all bad though, by no means at all really. Visually, Avatar is stunning. The special effects of having actors shine through their CGI forms is mind-boggling. Truly alien constructs display and react as the real actors would and look like their puppet masters flawlessly while maintaining their fantasy forms. The backgrounds like the floating islands are staggering. I wouldn’t recommend not seeing this film in IMAX or 3D – it must be seen in full effect.

This is an outstanding film, a definite must-see for the eye candy alone, but the battle sequences go on much too long and my eyes really started rolling when the it got preachy. It’s no Terminator or Aliens or even Titanic. I’m glad I saw it, but in hindsight, I wish I’d seen Sherlock Holmes Christmas night instead, or maybe even The Squeakquel.

Bookmark and Share

Return of the Giant Chicken from Mars

Monster X Strikes Back: Attack at the G8 Summit ~ If you’re going to make a sequel to one of the silliest kaiju eiga, and do it with a straight face, the best way is probably to just make a comedy. That’s what the producers of 2008’s Girara no gyakushû: Tôya-ko Samitto Kikiippatsu did with this insane sequel to 1967’s The X from Outer Space. No apologies, no explanations, just balls out screwiness with Guilala, the monster that looks like a giant chicken from Mars.

In the midst of the G-8 Summit in Japan, Guilala returns from space. There is no reference to the first movie despite the film’s title and the fact that the name (and the lame monster suit) has not changed. One of my favorite scenes comes when a little kid, looking like he walked right out of a 1960s Gamera flick, wanders into the military staging room and provides a name for the monster, insisting he needed one. Each of the G-8 members spends the rest of the film trying hair-brained scheme after hair-brained scheme in attempts to destroy the creature.

Silliness on a Spaceballs scale follows throughout, though the humor rarely reaches beyond the fifth grade or the 1960s. Even Guilala has a laugh while dancing around his small soundstage that he seldom leaves. Beat Takashi makes a crazed appearance as a Daimajin knock-off late in the film, but it’s well worth the wait.

This is more fun that it should be, and funnier than it deserves to be, but worth a peek for kaiju eiga fans – but remember, don’t take it seriously.

Bookmark and Share

Boy Meets Turtle

Gamera the Brave ~ Boy meets turtle. Boy feeds turtle. Turtle grows. No, really, turtle really freakin’ grows. Monster attacks Japan. Turtle fights monster, saves Japan. Boy (and Japan) happy. That could be it, but there’s a lot more to it.

Gamera the Brave, or Chiisaki yusha-tachi: Gamera as it is known in its native land, is not your average Gamera movie despite the above description. It was marketed as a children’s film, which it most certainly is – like the original Gamera film series of the 1960s but unlike the more violent and dark 1990s flicks. Except for the opening few moments which harken back a vague memory of Gamera fighting several Gaos, this is pretty much all kids fare – and it’s delightful stuff.

The little boy Toru finds his pet turtle Toto is a little more interesting than most other turtles, flying and spitting fireballs. This secret he shares with his best friend, little girl next store Mai. It’s just fun. And it’s not annoying. As any Kaiju fan will tell you when they hear a kid is involved in the plot of the movie, he’s going to be annoying – especially if it’s a Gamera flick. Not the case here at all.

This could easily be an afterschool special with a bit of kaiju eiga nudge-nudge thrown in. It does eventually turn into a Gamera movie though, so take heart, fans of the spinning flame-spitting turtle – you won’t be disappointed. There’s even a Guiron reference that is in there just to make the fanboys grin. Fun is what the kids’ part of this flick, as well as the adults’ part, is all about.

When bad monster Jidas shows up, we see that the special effects are cutting edge, at least as far as the genre goes. Toto plays Gamera (although I wish they would have kept his original roar) and takes on Jidas, a prehistoric spiked iguana-like kaiju with a mutant tongue – don’t ask. The fights that ensue are spectacular, and that is the reason I like kaiju eiga, but I gotta tell you – as engaging as the monster battles are, the relationship between little Toru and little Toto is moreso.

I waited months for this on NetFlix, and it was worth the wait. Fun for the kids, fun for the monster fans, fun for the adults, just fun.

Bookmark and Share

Negadon

Negadon: The Monster from Mars ~ Also known as Wakusei Daikaijû Negadon, this is a loving homage to the great Japanese giant monster movies of the 1960s and 70s. Writer/director Jun Awazu utilizes computer models and animation to construct this kaiju eiga for the 21st century.

At just under a half-hour we get the full story of an anguished scientist, the terraforming of Mars, a giant monster destroying a city and the giant robot that saves the day. All the elements are there, done in wonderful detail. Well worth seeing for not only fans of the genre but anyone interested in special effects or computer animation. Excellent.