December 9, 2008

"Tell me, why are you so good to me?"

This past Thursday, a movie night was held that holds a special sort of significance for me. Why? Because it was the first time we've held a movie night where more than just regular G.H.I.D.R.A.H. members attended. This isn't actually entirely true as there have been two other instances where this has happened. However, the first time it occurred was when DanteCWB's brother happened to join us because he was oh-so-conveniantly living in the house at time, and the second time was when I did some hard twisting of my neighbor's arm in order to get him to join us for two of the films we were showing that night. Given the circumstances, I don't think either of those instances really count. In this case we had three new faces show up entirely of their own accord, a pleasant surprise for Josh and I both, the only two regulars present.


The movie was Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959), the classic thriller starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. If you aren't at least familiar with this film then you should be ashamed of yourself. Very ashamed indeed. If you are familiar with it then good for you but why have you not seen it yet? Both of you, get on that now!

A single frame will never, ever do the hilarity of this sequence justice.

The plot concerns one Roger Thornhill, a Madison Avenue advertising executive who looks strangely similar to Cary Grant. Through an unfortunate case of mistaken identity, our friend Thornhill accidentally gets swept up in an international espionage plot that sees him trekking West across the United States while trying to both clear his name and avoid getting himself killed. Along the way he also becomes romantically entangled with a Miss Eve Kendall, played by the lovely Eva Marie Saint.

And that's all I'm going to tell you.

Awkward.

No, seriously! If you've already seen the film then you already know the plot and if you haven't seen it then I'd hate to spoil a movie with so many excellent twists and turns. It's rare these days that I watch a movie almost totally unspoiled and the experience was absolutely wonderful. Come to think of it, I was the only person in the room who'd ever seen the whole movie all the way through but it was so, so long ago that my mind could only remember tiny fragments of scenes - essentially I was watching it for the first time. Again. Josh realized early into the film that he'd caught a bit of the beginning on TV once but had never seen the whole thing himself. Otherwise the group was made up of North by Northwest virgins.

"Shall I climb up and tell you why?"

What better way to experience a movie like this than with a bunch of movie-loving people who have either never seen it or can't remember it? Did I mention I run these things on a ten-foot projector screen in our den? It most certainly beats watching movies alone in my room on my little 12-inch Powerbook G4, which is what I mostly did up until September. I love the little thing to death but she's just not cut out for the movie-watching experience.

D:

So take that big screen and project an absolutely fantastic movie onto it - you've got a great night ahead of you. I cannot say enough how great it was to watch this with such a good audience. The uproarious drunk driving sequence had everyone in fits of laughter, the crop duster scene thrilled us as we watched Thornhill narrowly avoid death time and time again, and during the climactic scene atop Mount Rushmore the tension in the room was almost palpable. All of it was expertly paced and tied together with a rousing score by Bernard Herrmann (if it doesn't get your blood pumping then you are clearly not human). It's an experience that watching a movie like this alone is never going to give you.

Oh, she's totally not doing that in heels. --is she?

Actually, if I enjoy North by Northwest a second time around as much as I did this past Thursday then I will proudly state how easily it made it into my top twenty films of all time. It's that good. I'd say everyone else agreed, too, a couple of people saying how surprised they were by just how much they enjoyed the movie. One of our guests told me earlier this evening how she'd liked it so much that she got an .MP4 copy to watch on her Zune whenever she felt like.

Now if you decided to be lazy skip all of that then I'll summarize it all nice and succinct here for you:

North by Northwest is excellent. Watch it with friends.

Finally, here is the trailer for your viewing pleasure:



Thanks to everyone who made this night so great. I truly hope you all join us for many more movie nights to come.

Hope everyone is enjoying the articles!

-DaiKamonohashi (is not about to get himself slightly killed!)

December 7, 2008

G.H.I.D.R.A.H. W.U.R.F. IV: "Drop Your Cynical Brainwaves into the Dimensional Gap"


It's time again for the monthly G.H.I.D.R.A.H. Wholesale Urban Renewal Festival!

So a bit of background for the confused: G.H.I.D.R.A.H. (Georgia's High-Interest Daikaiju Radical Appreciation Homies) is a group of four giant monster fans from Georgia (including myself and fellow Let's Watch Movies! contributor DanteCWB) who like to get together and geek out about our favorite past-time: watching giant monsters smash shit. To further support this we created the Wholesale Urban Renewal Festivals, W.U.R.F.s for short.* Basically they are movie nights where we get together and watch a bunch of giant monsters. Smashing shit. Oh yes.

* Because our second favorite past-time seems to be creating silly acronyms.

Anyway, this weekend (Saturday, the 13th of December) we will be holding our fourth monster movie night! Let's take a look at what we'll be watching this month, shall we?

Godzilla
Gojira (1954)


Opening the night is the Toho classic that started the Godzilla series: the original, Japanese Godzilla. This film is markedly different from the twenty-seven films that would follow in its wake. While they exhibit a variety of tones ranging from serious and straightforward to silly to downright bizarre, Godzilla is a somber, tragic story that speaks out against the horrors of war and the dangers of atomic weapons. It is inspired both by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as by the Lucky Dragon No. 5 incident where a fishing boat caught in the fallout of an American Hydrogen bomb test in 1954 resulted in several cases of radiation poisoning and the release of irradiated tuna onto the Japanese fish market, causing a nationwide panic.

If you only ever see one Godzilla film in your life, make it this one. If you have any interest in the genre, Japan's first-hand experience with the atomic age, or Japan in general, see this film. We mean it.

You can read an even more in-depth article about my thoughts and feelings on this film here.

Starring:
Akira Takarada
Momoko Kochi
Akihiko Hirata
Takashi Skimura

Written by:
Ishiro Honda
Shigeru Kayama
Takeo Murata

Music by: Akira Ifukube

Special Effects Directed by: Eiji Tsuburaya

Directed by: Ishiro Honda


Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster
San daikaij├╗: Chiky├╗ saidai no kessen
(1964)


Following Godzilla we're showing the classic 1960s-era film that first introduced Godzilla's famous arch-enemy (and our namesake), the golden-scaled, three-headed King Ghidorah*! While this installment features a Godzilla far removed from the nuclear destroyer of the previous selection and the gloom and doom of the original film is nowhere to be found, the creators have instead ramped up the sheer fun and creativity that make us love these movies so much. Here you will see science fiction, political intrigue, aliens, assassins, shoot-outs, and a beautiful musical number performed by the Peanuts in their last appearance as Mothra's Shobijin (tiny beauties). To top it all off, the climactic final battle features not one, not two, but three giant monsters duking it out against King Ghidorah in defense of the Earth.

* called Ghidrah in the American dub.

It's my personal favorite of the loose "trilogy" formed by Mothra Vs. Godzilla, this movie, and Monster Zero so you know I recommend it and it comes with hearty approval from the rest of the G.H.I.D.R.A.H. members as well.

Starring:
Yosuke Natsuki
Yuriko Hoshi
Hiroshi Koizumi
Akiko Wakabayashi
The Peanuts (Emi & Yumi Ito)
Akihiko Hirata
Hisaya Ito


Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa

Music by: Akira Ifukube

Special Effects Directed by: Eiji Tsuburaya

Directed by: Ishiro Honda

The War in Space
Wakusei Daisensou (1977)


War in Space is a bit of a wild card here in our lineup as none of us have ever actually seen this one. It was made in 1977 to capitalize on the impending Japanese release of Star Wars. Since George Lucas' space opera wasn't slated to open in Japan until the following year but was already extremely well-known through magazines and word-of-mouth, Toho thought to rush their own version into production. I want to say that the main production for this film lasted for all of two months but I could be wrong. In any case, it made a killing at the box-office.

Reviews for this one are generally unflattering but then so are the reviews for G.H.I.D.R.A.H.'s personal favorite Godzilla movie, Godzilla Vs. Gigan (1972), so we're not really sure what to expect on this one. Our best guess is that it will probably be ridiculous fun, if nothing else.

Starring:
Kensaku Morita
Yuko Asano
Ryo Ikebe
Masaya Oki
Hiroshi Miyauchi
Goro Mutsumi

Written by:
Shuichi Nagahara
Ryuzo Nakanishi

Music by: Toshiaki Tsushima

Special Effects Directed by: Teruyoshi Nakano

Directed by: Jun Fukuda

* * *

G.H.I.D.R.A.H. W.U.R.F. IV: "Drop Your Cynical Brainwaves into the Dimensional Gap" will be held Saturday, December 13th, with the first film starting at around 7 or 8 PM. We're flexible.

It is a private affair so I'm not going to be announcing the location of it here. However, if you are interested (and we hope you are!), live in Georgia, and can somehow get in contact with the parties involved, please feel free to drop one of us a line by instant message, private message, e-mail, comment, Facebook, MySpace, phone call, etc. because we'd love to have more people join us. Keep in mind though that space is limited - even with the makeshift balcony seating we've implemented.

Well I think that about covers everything that needs to be said. Here's to a successful W.U.R.F.!

- DaiKamonohashi

December 5, 2008

THEM!

In color?


THEM! is another film by the same director who did The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. It was made in 1954 along with several over classic films. THEM! is basically The Beast except with ants and a better origin story.

The setup to the film is done very mysteriously. It's an awesome film to watch when you have no idea that a shitload of ants are going to come later in the film. The characters at first think a torn apart trailer and general store are the work of some homicidal maniac that just has a strange taste. They find that someone is stealing shitloads of sugar and using formic acid as a weapon.

Mysterious hole in the wall.


The origin of the monsters in this film is that an atomic bomb testing in '45 has given off a significant amount of radiation and mutated a mound of desert ants. These ants have gotten progressively bigger and the radiation has caused a significant change in a lot of their biology along with just making them huge.

The writer obviously did his homework on ants. One of the first encounters with one of these ants is dealt with by shooting the antennae and disabling it's senses. THEN someone unloads a machine gun into it, proving that they're not really that invincible.

That's a big fuckin ant.


As the film goes on, the characters find and attack a nest full of these bastards and then invade it to check and make sure that everything's dead. These scenes are actually about as gripping as they should be. And for 1954 American special effects, well done.

After this, the ants are GONE for what seems like a very long time until essentially the end of the movie when there's a quite impressive standoff between the military and a bunch of ants. The lack of sheer number of ants is excused by the period in which the film was made, but I would like to have seen more of the buggers.

Flame throwers: better than a magnifying glass.


As far as the rest of the film goes, there's not much to it. I learned some cool info on ants through the mini-documentary that they have in the middle of the film. This definitely showed that the idea had plenty of badass points. However, I still raise the same complaint to this film that I had with The Beast. There needed to be more meat on the bones of this film.

As a film bearing shitloads of monsters and another random light romance, this is a good film. And this film should be seen due to it's classic-ness. I was the only person in the room of about sixty film students to get a joke someone made about this film that was hilarious. Everyone else suffice to say missed out because they didn't check this out. Give it a watch just for the 'cool' factor.

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms!

Oh fuck yes.


This was a fun movie to watch.

Ray Harryhausen's special effects really got big with this movie. The Beast is the earliest monster movie that I know of. It was made in 1953 and the effects of the monster rival that of Godzilla with Harryhausen's stop motion genius.

The movie starts off with a nuclear explosion in the arctic. After checking some meters in the area afterward, the scientists/explorers bump into 'The Monster' within a few minutes of the movie's beginning.

Afterward the explorer who saw the monster isn't taken seriously, and much of the film is the main character (who is a physicist) trying to prove that he's not insane by tracking down what the monster could be. Meanwhile there's reports of a 'sea serpant' attacking ships and the reports are slowly moving southward.

Ima eechuu!


The Beast's city attack takes place in Manhattan, which is honestly a great city for a monster on the loose film. The actual monster's special effects are well done. And the storyline behind the monster was well constructed. But it's origin story was that it was an oversized dinosaur that was set free by the atomic bomb. Apparently it had been frozen solid for over 100 million years.

As far as the origin story was concerned, Godzilla beats The Beast. Godzilla is an old radiated dinosaur with a beam (which explains why he's so beefed up), whereas The Beast is an old dinosaur fresh out of the microwave.

As far as comparing The Beast with Godzilla and other Japanese monster flicks, Godzilla takes the cake as far as depth of the film. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was a comparatively shallow film and mirrors a lot of the same problems that Varan The Unbelievable has with its story, such as not having much to the plot other than the monster.

One thing happened with The Beast that I wasn't counting on. The creators of The Beast brought to the table that the monster on the loose could carry a disease. It's obvious that the makers of Cloverfield were inspired by this part of the film. As these are the only two monster movies I'm aware of that this plot device is used. And especially because there is apparently a screenshot of The Beast attacking Manhattan in the film somewhere.

For all monster movie fans, this film is a must see simply because it's classic. The monster is an amazing creature. The rest of the film, however, is a B movie plotline complete with random romance. Overall, however, worth the 79 minutes it takes to watch it.

Twilight: I'm revoking Hollywood's Vampire License.

The Bane of my Existence.


Everyone involved in the making of this movie needs to be killed by vampires.

I've heard about the recent craze about a vampire book a few years ago. I heard that it was the new Harry Potter. Now I never read the Harry Potter books, but I have seen the movies and I think that it's a good story and it does justice to wizards. The story is intricate, detailed, classic, and just overall awesome for pretty much anyone that doesn't hate it with prejudice. I have little criticism of the films.

With all this in mind, I had high expectations for the Twilight series. I took it in stride the same way I took the Harry Potter books. Listening to the craze but not really taking part in it. When I saw the trailers to the film, I turned skeptical.

Things were happening in daylight.

I was confused.

As any diehard vampire fan knows... daylight doesn't agree with vampires.

Finally, I went to see the film because there was a required showing at my film school. I got a good seat, and watched.

I was wracking my head the entire time at the shitty dialogue that happened throughout the beginning of the film. When this Edward Cullen character WALKS UP TO Bella and says "I think you should stay away from me." I hit the floor with laughter as did the rest of the theater of film students who are used to seeing stuff that's actually good.

THEN this stupid chick responds with "What if I don't want to?" Now keep in mind, this guy has been acting like a creepy stalker thoughout most of the film. So I deduct that the character Bella is either stupid, shallow, or both.

A few scenes later the two characters are head over heals in love with one another. Completely and totally irrationally and unjustifiably. No effort was made to get the audience to get in the relationship with these characters. They just suddenly confessed their love to one another as if it were literally on first sight.

You'd think that someone who's been a vampire for 90 years would have a somewhat mature understanding of love.

So after this they're running around with more shitty dialogue. This dialogue is not only shitty, it takes eons to get out. I swear there were scenes between these characters that were just there to take up time. About seven minutes would pass and about six two-word lines had been said. Beyond that, this movie contained the longest forced kiss I've ever seen on film.

In all of this, I summed up the film to a crappy little emo-girl vampire fantasy of living her oh-so-shitty life (cries) and is then whisked away by a vampire on some pre-pubescent wet dream fantasy of a limitedly attractive pale 'dream boy' devoid of personality.

A modern vampire that is still an actual vampire.


But what pissed me off the most about this film wasn't the shitty acting, shitty story, or shitty writing... but how this movie treated the vampire. Legends of vampires have been around for centuries and the story behind what they are varies with the exception of a few things. They always have fangs, and they always die if they get in the sunlight (speeds vary, but the rule is the same). There's an exception to Daywalkers, but those are only the most powerful of vampires.

John Carpenter's Vampires: Explode into flame when they get in the sunlight.

Dracula: Burns in the sunlight.

Underworld: Skin slowly burns off.

Let The Right One In: turn into an inferno.

Anne Rice Universe: Turn into ashes.

TWILIGHT: ...

VAMPIRES SPARKLE!!! (and have no fangs)

And then the pretty ponies and unicorns come out and celebrate. A vampire just went into the daylight!

Sparkles!


Stephanie Meyer has just revealed that all of her Vampires are not only supercharged in strength and speed, but are ALL DAYWALKERS!!!

All of her vampires are now practically invincible. Nothing can kill them. Absolutely nothing. Every Vampire character in this series is Over Powered to an insane level. Vampires are threatening and evil enough of an enemy as they are, but now we have 100% daywalker from birth vampires.

Bullshit.

Vampires cannot survive in daylight for an extended period of time. Twilight vampires only become obvious.

This film does no justice or respect to the traditional vampire. The vampire is a dark nighttime creature that is nearly invincible but can be killed by the simplicity of the Sun. Even if it's cloudy. It's what makes them poetic. It's what makes them real and identifiable. They have a weakness and that weakness adds to the character.

Stealing this weakness can either take away or add to the character. In the case of Daywalkers, (John Carpenter, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Anne Rice's Lestat) it makes for a badass invincible vampire that is a force to be reckoned with BECAUSE he lacks the usual weakness.

But in the case of Twilight, it fucks up the whole concept by making ALL vampires invincible and logically impossible for a human to kill. Every single one of these vampires are on par with Lestat and Dracula even if they haven't lived beyond even 100 years as a vampire.

This is essentially babying down the vampire. Stephanie Meyer has stolen the real darkness from the vampire by liberating them from the night. They still get the pale skin because they avoid direct sunlight for no logical reason other than self-pity, but they lack the prison of night that so affects the vampire psychology.

In the entire cast of vampires from Twilight, I saw vampires hiding from essentially nothing. They have a power that is very corruptible with no weakness whatsoever, but they hide with the same fear we've seen of vampires before us. If you want to make all vampires Daywalkers, run with it. Make them monsters. Don't pussy out. If a human lives for more than 100 years with no weaknesses and a constant thirst for blood. Someone's going to get power-hungry.

Fail.


I'd have less of a problem with this insanity if it wasn't so damn popular. Everywhere I look I see girls (and some guys) running around with their Twilight paraphernalia and talking about how hot Edward Cullen is. I even heard a review saying that Twilight is what a vampire movie should be. It saddens me that someone has babied down the vampire and is getting a positive reaction.

I wholeheartedly disagree.

Vampires have been influential in my life all the way back to the classic black and white Dracula. There's plenty of crappy vampire movies out there. But this one is the worst that I've ever seen, and I've seen some shitty vampire movies. But the reasoning behind the shittiness for this one for me is that it spits in the face of everything that came before it.

This movie is by far the worst of the recent crappy releases to come out of Hollywood. It is sitting on my present shitlist next to Smallville.

December 4, 2008

Children of Paradise

I saw this film on the big screen on a print. It was showing at my school and I figured... foreign film (french), B&W, made in '44... I'm game. It's also apparently ranked no.5 or something among the greatest french films ever made.

Being recently interested in French cinema, I decided to check it out. Afterwards I found out it was three hours long. I figured... well alright. I've seen movies pour over the normal time limit and do fine. Seven Samurai and Kingdom of Heaven to name a couple.

Apparently it was separated into two movies because the Nazis would not allow commercial films go over 90 minutes. I tend to agree on the Nazis on this one. But not completely. So what the director decided to do was to end the first film suddenly, and then release a second film with the same title subsequently.

The first half of the film is mostly a disconnected plot line with shitloads of people irrationally falling in love with one another. There are several characters that are rather easy to keep up with, but I found that I didn't identify with a single one of them (except probably for one character who I found to be the saving grace of the film).

This guy is awesome.


The film is mainly about a mime (funambul) who has a beautiful girl in love with him who he has no real feelings for. But he falls in love at first sight with this not-so-pretty woman who he has a passing moment with and she smiles at him and gives him a flower or some shit. This is the main plot out of several characters who get intertwined in an intense plot that has everything to do with irrational feelings of love (we're talking maybe three minutes after they met and confessing love for one another).

I found myself frustrated throughout the first half of the film with the illogical actions of the characters. It had it's moments of awesome, but was mostly disjointed and the characters kept getting out of character. Not to mention it ends suddenly on a very random note that has nothing to do with the rest of the plot.

The French are so weird.


The second film, or second part rather (damn Nazis) was much more satisfying. I was thrown aback by the introduction when it summed up the first part of the film up to the completely random ending and then said SEVERAL YEARS LATER.

What?

The ending was so random, I had expected it to jump right back into the story, but no.

I won't give any spoilers about the rest of the movie because it's probably worth checking out for the sake of knowing your French Cinema. And the characters actually stay true to themselves throughout the second part of the film. But there was one awesome character who hates all of society that does some pretty amazing stuff in the second part of the film. Of the entire film I found that character to be the only saving grace of the whole thing.

Overall, I walked out of the theater feeling like I had wasted three hours of my life, but having another classic under my belt and feeling ultimately satisfied with the few minutes of film that mattered. If I had been the editor of this film, I would have cut it down to about 90 minutes and made the Nazis happy as well as future viewers.

November 30, 2008

Godzilla is 2,000,054 Years Old This Month


On November 3rd, 1954, Godzilla rampaged across Japanese movie screens for the very first time. Though critics lambasted the film, it was a hit with the public and this product of Japan's experience with the atomic age went on to become one of their biggest cultural exports ever. Not only did it prompt Toho to make more effects films but it single-handedly began the tradition of Japanese tokusatsu (special effects).

Today, 54 years later, it is still revered as one of the best films created in Japan, often considered to be second only to Akira Kurosawa's untouchable masterpiece, Seven Samurai. Though his popularity is waning along with the popularity of the kaiju genre in general, Godzilla still remains a huge icon of pop culture.

Now I'm not going to delve too much into the minutiae of the production or symbolism of this film very much here because not only have those subjects been beaten to death many times already, there are many people far more qualified to talk about it than I am. They have, actually -- I'd recommend picking up issue #10 of Japanese Giants if you're even the least bit interested as it is a fantastic read and probably the most comprehensive English-language material on the production of this film.

Allow me, instead, to reminisce a bit.

When I was three I was huge into dinosaurs. I mean really huge. I lived and breathed them, played with them, slept with them, ate with them. My dream for several years of my early childhood was to become a paleontologist, actually - something that's probably pretty standard for childhood fans of giant monsters. I remember one day in particular when I'd accompanied my mother to the video store and I recall insisting for her to let me check out - ah, some cartoon. Anyway, she decided instead that Godzilla King of the Monsters would make the better weekend entertainment. I, uh, kind of pitched a fit.

. . . Until we sat down to watch it and I was totally transfixed, mesmerized by this strange new beast I was being exposed to. Given how obsessed with Godzilla I would become. . . I think my mom has regretted that decision ever since.

Later I would get my first chance to see the original Japanese Godzilla in 2004, the year of its 50th anniversary of release - on my birthday, no less! Needless to say, I was blown away. It was possibly the best birthday present I've ever gotten.

Re-watching this film again a couple of weeks ago, I was struck by the raw, emotional power it has. I often get incredulous looks from people when I admit that Godzilla makes me cry and while I understand the uneducated response (Godzilla makes you cry?!), the film is filled with moments that really tear you up inside. This is doubly true for me now that I have visited Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum. While the movie may ostensibly be about a giant monster on the loose in Japan, take the monster away and you're left with an eerie recreation of a firebombed Tokyo or ground zero after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts. The scenes depicting the dead and dying in makeshift hospitals look less like they were staged and more like they were lifted directly out of photographs of the ruined cities. The effect of all this is both tragic and frightening.


Toho never made another film quite like this one. Don't get me wrong, Rodan (1956), The Mysterians (1957), and Mothra (1961) are excellent, excellent flights of fantasy with strong themes all their own but Godzilla is something else entirely. None of their other films have the same raw emotion or the same gravity that Honda's pleas for peace instill in Godzilla. This is further augmented by the stark, black and white cinematography, as well as Akira Ifukube's bleak, driving, lo-fi score - in my opinion a scored he never topped. Yes, he wrote better stand-alone tracks for future films but as a single, unified score, none of his others come close. Godzilla's theme is thunderous and frantic, the military's brassy and proud, and the "Prayer for Peace" that plays over the sequences depicting the smoldering wreckage of Tokyo is nothing short of heart-wrenching.

Later, of course, our radioactive friend would slowly morph from this terrifying destroyer into a hero, defending the planet from a plethora of colorful adversaries. Some may find these later films silly and a large part of them are - but so much fun! Still, they certainly don't appeal to everyone. That said, I do feel that everyone ought to at least give the original Godzilla a watch, regardless of how they may feel about the rest of the series. It is a fantastic film that deserves more recognition.

Happy birthday, Godzilla.

- DaiKamonohashi


* * *
By the way, you can pop over to my personal blog, An Empire Generic, and check out the art I drew in celebration of my favorite movie star's birthday. And that one was actually finished on the right day too.

Author's note: A thousand apologies for this being so late.