November 26, 2009

Gamera the Brave (2006)

Gamera the Brave
(Chiisaki Yuushatachi: Gamera; 2006)

There's a lot of hate out there for this film that I don't really get. I mean, I kinda know why - it's not made in the same mold as Shusuke Kaneko's acclaimed reinvention of the character in his 90s Gamera trilogy - but I think this view is pretty stupid. Taken as a totally different kind of film it is a very solid and enjoyable monster romp with a lot of heart.

Basically, the film is about a young boy, Toru, who has just lost his mother in a car accident, resulting in his relationship with his father becoming rather distant and a little tense. One day, he swims to an island just offshore the beautiful seaside village he lives in and happens to find an egg, which quickly hatches into an adorable little turtle. An adorable little turtle that also happens to grow at an alarming rate, starts hovering in midair and breathing adorable little fireballs.

You know you wish this happened to you as a kid.

Meanwhile, fishing vessels offshore mysteriously start to disappear and eventually a vicious giant monster, Zedus, makes landfall to feast upon the populace. Amidst this, Toru's father and friends begin to suspect that his adorable little turtle may actually be the juvenile progeny of the legendary monster Gamera and whether or not he might grow enough in time to defend Japan from this new threat!

Yeah, the film stars a bunch of kids and it's definitely a family film. That said, most all of the children are competent actors and the film never panders to its audience. I mean, when was the last time you saw a children's film that shows monsters devouring people like it's nothing more than Sunday brunch? Om nom nom.

The effects work does not reach the same glorious heights of the aforementioned 90s Gamera films but is still very solid and provides several nice visuals. Additionally, the slightly smaller scale of the monsters in this film allows for more detailed miniatures than are usually seen your standard giant monster production. One really cool practical effect was a full-sized, 1/1 scale model of one of Gamera's smaller forms, built for a scene in which he is wounded and carried through the streets on a flatbed truck. It's pretty great.

My only big complaint with the film is Gamera himself. I don't hate the cuter design like a lot of fans do (it suits the tone of the film) but I DO hate hate HATE the new roar they gave him. Gamera is well known for having a very unique roar but someone working on this film decided instead to give him an alarmingly generic stock roar. Especially baffling is the fact that they would do such a thing in the film made in celebration of Gamera's 40th anniversary! What gives, guys?

Overall, it isn't the best tokusatsu production to be released in recent memory but it's definitely a standout for being as solid as it is. Even if it is a little unremarkable, it has a lot of heart and a fairly unique story that puts it a head above most of Godzilla's recent entries into the genre and it is well worth watching. I'd definitely recommend it.

Sadly, the film bombed in Japan (giant monsters aren't really "in" anymore) so it's unlikely we'll ever see a sequel as originally intended.

October 7, 2009

A Num Num on Elm Street, Part 2

I lived in the south for oh, 17 years, and in those years me and my family did a lot of roadtripping. I've always found long, deserted southern highways to be the definition of creepy. It's the perfect setting for a horror film, and when Jeepers Creepers begins, it takes advantage of it at full throttle. The concept, the setup, it's just so brilliant in its simplicity: You're on this lonely highway and you see something you shouldn't have, and it sees you too. Nobody else is around to save you. Whattayagonnado? Well if you're the director of this movie, you're going to ruin everything good you've got going for it once the first act is over. The middle act manages to coast on the success of the beginning, but it's coasting steadily downhill. The minute the sibling protagonists get off the highway and go to the police, the scary sensation of isolation is gone. Introducing other characters may have given the filmmakers an excuse to increase the body count, but it's poorly handled. And then the anticlimactic reveal of a creature that looks like the bastard child of a rubber duck and Mr. Scrooge, some random crazy black lady acting like the Oracle on a bender who is trying to explain what this creature is and failing spectacularly without even offering the protagonists a cookie, and somehow all of this has to do with that old song that goes "jeepers, creepers, where'd you get those peepers?" I'd compare the finale to a car accident but that would suggest some pretty gnarly explosions and twisted metal. It's more like a car that takes a wrong turn and runs out of gas out in the boonies and sputters to a dry, wheezing halt.

A Num Num on Elm Street, Part 1

So… horror movies. That's what we're all here for. What are they if not nightmares we can visit during our waking hours with our good friend Orville Redenbacher? (I just googled Orville Redenbacher to check the spelling on Redenbacher and discovered they do a jalapeno popcorn now. That sounds potentially revolting, has anybody had this junk? Is it good?). Ok so what are they if not that? A lot of times they usually become unintentionally hilarious comedies. And that is why A Nightmare on Elm Street is such a perfect movie to kick off this year's horrorpalooza with. It's a straight-up horror film that plays with the line between what we percieve as reality and what we percieve as dreams. And it spawned a series of sequels so goobery they remind me more of romantic teen comedies (albeit gory ones) than they do genuine horror movies.

Of the Holy Trinity of slasher franchises (Halloween, Friday the 13th and Elm Street), Elm Street has been my favorite place to visit and revisit each year for the last four or five years. I'm beyond reasoning when it comes to this series… they are all my children (hoho). I'll be talking about all the others in due time, but for now let's go back to the Wes Craven original.

Here's the funny thing: even before he started cracking one liners, Freddy himself was never really scary. It's the concept that's scary: dying gruesomely in your sleep at the hands of your very own dreams. Unless you're a lucid dreamer, you're pretty much screwed unless you can manage to wake yourself up before it's lights out. This makes something as simple as taking a cat nap a life or death ordeal, a fact that's not lost on final girl Nancy, who caffienates the heck out of herself to keep from zonking out until she can figure out how to outsmart Krueger. Craven puts these ideas to good use, creating a sleepy atmosphere around the "waking" scenes that makes it difficult to discern where the real world ends and where the nightmare begins. Which makes even more sense when the film later reveals its big twist. It's a great vibe, and it's even more effective if you watch it when your eyelids are starting to feel a bit droopy too.

If I have one complaint with the film it's the tacked on extra surprise ending that New Line forced on Craven. I still don't get why they made him slap it on, it totally contradicts the logic of the film up until that point. Nancy vanquishing Freddy wouldn't have negated a sequel at all. She kicked him out of HER dream. All the audience needs to know is that Freddy was visiting the dreams of some other unlucky teenagers. Oh well, whatever. I still love this movie dearly.

Horrorpalooza '09 Kick-Off

I've watched a lot of movies over the years and I've lost a lot of feelings in the process, but I can still feel fear, I can! Horror movies frighten me, they really do. Even a lot of the old ones, maybe even especially the old ones. I've become a junkie for the genre, addicted to the rush I get from having my pants scared off. And for the last few years, around this time of year, I overdose on horror. 31 movies. 31 reviews. Let the screaming start. Or something. Yes. So without any further ado, let's watch horror movies until we can't feel feelings anymore!

September 29, 2009

Body Heat (1981)


Just watched it a few minutes ago. Very 'normal' early 80s thriller type movie with Kathleen Turner and William Hurt. I don't really know the history of this genre, so I don't know how ground-breaking it really was. But it didn't seem all that fantastic.

Basic review: Lot's of good sex scenes. I mean dear Christ there were a lot of good sex scenes. But that's all it really had to offer. The plot surprised me every once in a while but at the very base was simply predictable. New plot points would come out of the blue and then everything that stacked on top of it was predictable. Performances were good, and everything was believable...

It honestly felt like a waste of time with some good sex intermixed.

I'd say more, but there's not much to say about this film.

March 15, 2009

Atlanta: Here there be Monsters…

The best kinds of moviegoing experiences are those that feel like a huge, celebrated event. When you’re a kid, everything is bigger, so going to the movie theater was a big deal - serious shit. Some of the magic dissipates as you grow, however. The screen never seems as big (unless you do the whole Imax thing, which I have never experienced). Perhaps that’s how it is for most people, especially those who may have only seen a big-screen film on occasion during their childhoods. What makes a night out at the movies really special, however, is if there is extra anticipation attached to the event. Perhaps the film is one the viewer has been looking forward to for quite some time. Or, perhaps it is only part of an all-night lineup of activities or even other movies. For this particular event, both were the case. Whatever the reasons, when a night out at the movies elevates itself above passive entertainment, something wonderful called rediscovered youth happens.

You do not want to look out your window and see THAT.

Our youth is hardly lost, but for tonight, we had an opportunity to take our usual monthly monster film fests and give them a shot of growth hormone. The name of the medication has only three letters: G, M, and K. That is, Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, the most popular, highly-anticipated and greatly hailed of the 2000-era Godzilla movies. And, a really big deal for us Godzilla freaks. In fact, Jared and I kept referring to the night’s showing as “GM-fuckin’-K.” Out of the blue, Jared discovered that Atlanta’s Plaza Theatre was doing their usual “Silver Scream Spook Show” feature, and that our favorite film icon was at the center. We had previously seen the original Mothra at the Spook Show, and unfortunately missed a showing of Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster. There will likely be many more Japanese monster movies at the Plaza, but we just couldn’t pass this up. GMK. GM-fuckin-K.

Why is GMK such a big deal? The answer is obvious for most Godzilla fans (I say most because the film is in fact a divisive issue among G-fans, a fraction of them asking the very same question from the beginning of this paragraph). GMK came on the heels of a “not-bad” revamp movie and a so-so follow-up. Godzilla was back, but not with much of a bang. In comes Shusuke Kaneko: instant marquee value and not a bad director, either. While he’s done work on nearly every genre imaginable (even soft porn), Kaneko is known among fans for taking Gamera, everyone’s favorite flying, fire-belching, kiddy-loving turtle, and throwing him into a trilogy of films with effects and storytelling that trumped the Godzilla movies of that time. Part three is also notoriously dark in tone, and transformed Gamera, though still a good guy, into a hideous, terrifying nightmare. When Kaneko was announced to direct GMK in 2001, the thought on everyone’s mind was: “imagine what this guy can do for Godzilla.”

If you’re in a room full of Godzilla fans, this shot would bring applause

GMK is also the first of the “Millenium” Godzilla movies to bring back old foes. Mothra and King Ghidorah added even more marquee value (the original script called for more obscure monsters), and though some fans disliked the obvious shoehorned roles, there was excitement to see these two creatures “done right,” as they’ve never looked better than when special effects master Eiji Tsuburaya brought them to life in the 1960’s (until now!) The real excitement about the monster cast, however, was Baragon. An underdog fan-favorite. Everyone wanted to see Godzilla through the eyes of Shusuke Kaneko as well. During pre-production, the director unveiled the design for the creature, which was stylized in the old-school 1960’s fashion, but with bleached-white eyes to emphasize Godzilla’s new supernatural angle (he is said to be the conglomeration of the souls of all the World War II dead). The Godzilla suit was also touted as the largest in the series: over seven feet.

Even though the film was followed by three more, including the hugely marketed 50th anniversary film, GMK is still considered by many the best of the new Godzilla movies. In fact, the host of the Spook Show, “Professor Morte,” told the crowd that this was the 2nd best Godzilla movie ever. Not every Godzilla fan may agree with that, but it definitely shows the enthusiasm that went into the event.

“Betcha I can shoot down that helicopter!”

So, the usual G.H.I.D.R.A.H. crowd, myself, Jared, Clayton, and Jae, as well as two brand-new people along for the ride, Sadie and Stephanie, made our way to the Plaza theater after a quick dinner at Manuel’s Tavern (us guys had “Dogzillas,” appropriately).

The Plaza sits on Ponce de Leon Avenue next to The Righteous Room. While not a huge venue, it’s marquee is hard to miss, especially when the word Godzilla is on it. The theater only recently began to develop its focus on live events to compliment its films. Established in 1939, the theater originally catered to the upscale shoppers of the Briarcliff Plaza Shopping Center. Times changed, and so did the types of films, and in the ‘80s the theater was bought by Georgia Lefont, who turned the balcony into a second screening room. In 2006, Lefont sold the theater to Jonathan and Gayle Rej. Immediately afterwards, events such as “Splatter Cinema,” “Flicks and Giggles,” and the much-appreciated Spook Show were implemented. Thanks to the Plaza’s new owners, movies are now being transformed into memorable events.

The Plaza is made for cult movie fans, if this marquee doesn’t prove it already.

As before, when Jared and I saw Mothra, memorabilia was set about; issues of G-Fan and the Dark Horse Godzilla comics were displayed on a table in the lobby as prizes for a drawing, and a mural of Godzilla reaching out to his fans hung near the main screen entrance. As we found our seats, music from King Kong vs. Godzilla played over the loudspeakers (from one of the “Best of Godzilla” CDs).

The “Spook Show” acted on the stage before the film almost made the night. When Jared and I saw Mothra, we were anxious for the movie to get started. For GMK, the show perfectly complimented the film and raised everyone’s spirits. Professor Morte and his assistant began the night by first introducing the film, which they were also clearly excited about. Since the film was about giant monsters, they decided to make some of their own, turning a piece of sushi from Publix (“ooh, that’s scary!” Morte’s assistant commented) into a huge fish roll, and transforming a shrimp into Godzilla’s nemesis Ebirah, who then ran off with the sushi. A Mothra-themed song-and-dance number followed, with two schoolgirls in “I love Mothra” shirts wrapping their professor in a cocoon.

[I might want to note a suspicion of mine regarding the Spook Show staff’s Mothra obsession. Besides this recurring dance number, all three of the latest kaiju movies shown at the Plaza feature Mothra. This, of course, narrows down predictions for their next showing.]

The most ingenious portion of the show, which took a nod of the hat to GMK’s plot, followed next. A woman with an exaggerated Asian accent arrived with an ancient map and a warning: giant monsters were at this very moment sleeping under “Atranta.”

“Atranta?” asked Morte’s assistant. “Atranta” she confirmed.

They then traveled to different parts of the city, via imaginative backdrops, to keep the monsters asleep with a mega-dose sleeping pill. The best part was when they traveled to Lake Lanier, which was portrayed with blacklights and a moving sheet. The monster of the lake? An effective fluorescent-painted tentacle rising from the depths. On their way back to the city, the assistant exclaims that they have to travel through Piedmont Park. Immediately, “It’s Raining Men” came over the loudspeakers and scantily clad “gay guys” began swarming over the group.

The risqué humor and the homages to the genre made the stage show thoroughly enjoyable, but it would only get better. Turns out, the sleeping pills given to the monsters must be taken with food, or else they would awaken with “extreme irritability and hunger.” This is usually a good thing for monster fans. Luckily, they hatch Mothra (or a leather-clad woman with Mothra wings) to help out. Mothra and “The Giant Bigfoot” (a reference, I think, to Georgia’s Bigfoot hoax that made national news), then proceeded to have a WWE-style smack down amid a stage of model buildings, complete with Jerry Lawler-worthy commentary.

Mothra dispatched Bigfoot, but the only monster capable of downing Lake Lanier’s sea monster was Godzilla. So, they got him! Perhaps the biggest and best surprise of the night, an actor in an admirable Godzilla suit marched down the aisles to face his foe, with the famous Godzilla march playing. Stopping for the occasional roar or wave to his fans, Godzilla approached the monster, which was portrayed via an actor inside a giant slimy eyeball, attached to which were several wire-operated tentacles. Compared to the brawl between Mothra and the Bigfoot, this one was kind of lackluster; Godzilla stood and roared while the sea monster cowered from the scene. Not that that mattered. Just seeing a surprise appearance by “Godzilla” was worth it.

Almost got him on his way out, but Godzilla is in fact camera-shy.

After the crowd calmed down and the show’s cast made their final bows, it was time to start the real event. Now, as a Godzilla fan I must admit, I’ve probably seen GMK close to a dozen times (“What? That’s all?”). It’s actually not one of my favorites (gasp!). The damn-near perfect 1960s films and the unbelievably goofy and fun ‘70s movies rank pretty high on my scale. I even enjoyed all three follow-ups to GMK a little bit more than this film (Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla, Godzilla: Tokyo SOS, and Godzilla: Final Wars). Still, I liked it when it came out, and I recognized and appreciated the extra effort that went into it. And, it seems that I appreciate it more and more every time I see it, which is why I always look forward to watching GMK. And what better way to gain appreciation for it then on the big screen?

One of the coolest shots in the film. It holds up in motion, too.

The only significant letdown of the presentation that night was the fact that the film was dubbed. For a die-hard fan, dubs can completely ruin a film. I can admit, however, that there are some great dubs out there. The 1960’s films (here I go praising them again), featured dubs by professional actors from Titra and American International Pictures, who interjected wit and intelligence into what would otherwise be a flat translation of the Japanese dialogue.

My disappointment in the GMK dub is not a fan-driven bias; the dub is utterly horrible. Part of the unfortunate ranks of “international dubs,” quick translations done in Hong Kong for distribution purposes, with no intent for actual commercial use, the GMK dub flip-flops character traits on a whim, changes the meaning to lines, and features voice actors that are not, by professional trade, actors. Characters with gruff or deep voices trade off for feminine, little boy voices. Attractive female characters with button-cute faces borrow the misplaced gruff voices, making the audience wonder if someone forgot to take their estrogen. I could go on, but this is an event review, not a rant. Long and short of it, the dub sucks, but I can see why it was used. GMK had two showings: a matinee and a late-night showing, so it’s understandable that children attending the matinee would benefit from spoken lines.

“I’ve heard of a prison break, but this is ridiculous!”

Our group and the entire audience were still jazzed up from the stage show, and our spirits were too high to let a dub ruin the night. In fact, everyone visibly (and audibly) enjoyed the hell out of the movie. In the pre-credit sequence, Godzilla makes an eerie entrance, glimpsed swimming at the bottom of the ocean with his glowing back spines illuminating the scene in blue. At this, the audience broke out into applause, and would continue to do so for many moments during the film, such as a later scene when a dog, previously seen at the mercy of cruel teenagers, is revealed to have survived.

Toho and Godzilla veteran, the great Eisei Amomoto, in his last role.

Many fans of Shusuke Kaneko were looking forward to GMK as being one of the “darkest” Godzilla films, and to this day credit it as such, but when you actually watch the film, you wonder if perhaps they need to curb their enthusiasm a little. The film is a hoot. This Godzilla is the meanest and scariest of them all, that much is true, but he’s contrasted by Baragon, a big, loveable monster with every intentional resemblance to a puppy dog. There are many minor characters in the story that exist solely as comic relief. Such as the young military officer who is a closet monster-freak, energetically telling his superior that the monsters need names.

The intentional light-heartedness is an aspect not overlooked but ignored by a lot of fans. Kaneko, in fact, penned a much darker story about an astronaut returning from space, transforming into a horrible monster, and doing battle with Godzilla. The astronaut never returns to his natural form and goes on to live in personal exile for the rest of his life. Kaneko changed his mind about the script when he realized the film was to be released on New Years, which called for a higher-spirited story. So, he conceptualized GMK’s, which was meant to inspire audiences against selfishness and remember the importance of family and country. The current events referenced are dire and the message is brutally honest, but the final outcome has a light at the end of the tunnel (yes, there’s a happy ending, sorry to spoil it), and the humor does not feel out of place.

He has “oh shit” written all over his face.

None of this intentional humor was lost on the night’s audience, and they fully appreciated GMK for what it is and was intended to be, more so than some over-enthusiastic Godzilla fans. The only aspect the layman could not appreciate about GMK is the fact that its themes and references deal with current social issues in Japan, namely the festering ignorance and disrespect towards the country’s history and traditions amongst its population. But then again, enough of the theme shines through, even in the dub, that it strikes a chord with American audiences. After all, this is the country where Jay Leno can ask a “man on the street'” who the President was during the Civil War and receive “Richard Nixon” as an answer.

“Betcha I can shoot down one of those submarines!”

GMK has several moments of sheer shock and power that knock the viewers on their asses. When Godzilla’s fire breath is unveiled for the first time, the only carnage seen is a mushroom cloud rising in the distance, complimented by deep silence and a low rumble. At this, many “oohs,” “aahs,” and “holy-shits” were uttered.

The audience’s excitement was cranked up to “hop up and down in your seat” by the time Baragon faced off Godzilla, which is pretty much unanimously touted as the high point of the film. Thanks to the fantastic composites and miniatures, the rough and physical fight itself, the pure drama of how overmatched our “good monster” is (he’s a third the size of Godzilla!), coupled with the comic relief provided by two reporters treating the whole scene as a giant wrestling match, the audience could not stop “oohing” and “aahing.”

I’d pet him if I could reach him.

Like I said, though, this is the high point of the film, and I noticed as we approached the climax that the audience seemed a little less enthusiastic than before. Perhaps they were fully involved in the plot by this point, but I figured they had experienced what I have always noticed with GMK: that after Baragon and Godzilla’s titanic struggle, all the biggest and best fun has been had. The story may have a conclusion to meet, but the roller coaster has already been through the biggest loop. Not to say that what follows isn’t good. The drama still holds its own, and there are plenty of more “ooh and aah” moments in the final third (and the audience did voice their approval at these times), but the first half of the movie seems to have more spirit poured into it. Maybe it isn’t all my imagination; the climax was actually scaled down from what was originally scripted, due to time and budget. Godzilla was apparently intended to face a whole arsenal of futuristic Japanese military hardware, including a fleet of “maser” tanks and the super flying submarine, the Gotengo (which coincidentally, was featured in a film we watched earlier that afternoon, Atragon).

The climax may have been scaled down, but it is real electrifying.

Still, GMK deserves its status as one of the “best of the best,” and it passed the test that night: the 375-seat theater was completely sold out. While there were a few people that got up and left before the credits rolled (no doubt to get home and into bed before two in the morning), the theater was still nearly packed at the end of the night, filled to the brim with enthusiastic fans and moviegoers chatting over the spectacle of giant monsters smashing shit that they had just seen. Some went home with their raffle prizes (not me, I didn’t enter), and some grabbed last-minute photo opportunities next to the Godzilla mural or, better yet, with Godzilla himself (this, I did do!)

Whether or not we see another Godzilla movie from Kaneko (I sure hope we do!), we’ll definitely see another kaiju film at the Plaza, which obviously has staff members that love and appreciate the movies and their creators.

January 24, 2009

Night of Suspense Part II: "Why do I have to be the champion blind lady?"

It was just an hour shy of midnight when our merry little group began our second film, “Wait Until Dark.” How appropriate. I almost didn’t stay for it, but I’m glad I did. One member of our group did have to leave, unfortunately, though she tried her best to get off of work for the next day. She sure missed out. After Rear Window, we were all laughing and talking about how much of a damn fun ride we’d had. When the end credits rolled for Wait Until Dark, we were definitely more apprehensive.

Hepburn smells a rat... in a trench coat.

I will say here that any potential viewer would definitely benefit from not knowing anything about Wait Until Dark before seeing it. I’d never even heard of it before. When I inquired about the plot, Jared simply told me to wait and see. I’d say this would apply for nearly any movie. Wait Until Dark doesn’t have any mind-bending plot twists, but going in completely fresh made all the small surprises and tense moments much more engaging.

So, I would recommend than anyone who has not yet seen this film stop right here and go rent it now. Come back later. I’ll wait.

Reminds me of Freddy.

Ah, screw it. While not rich and diverse enough to completely trump “Rear Window” (that movie is so well rounded, as I’ve said), Wait Until Dark gripped me and pulled me down into the lightless world of the blind protagonist, played by Audrey Hepburn. The film is based on a play, and besides the opening and a few minor scenes, the entire plot unravels in Hepburn’s apartment.

The story begins with a heroin-filled doll on its way to the States. When the woman responsible for the doll discovers an unfriendly welcoming party upon her arrival (a lone villain played to the hilt with extra slime by Alan Arkin), she entrusts the doll to a man she met on the plane, who unknowingly takes the smuggled drugs into his own house with his wife (Hepburn). When the two parties come to claim the doll, Hepburn is thrown in the middle of what becomes a terrifying struggle to survive. Any movie featuring characters at their wits’ end against an insurmountable enemy, any tale centering on survival in the most hopeless situation, is embodied in this minimalist film and magnified ten times when the protagonist’s ability to see her tormentors is taken away.

"Yah, we're bad..." Roat (Arkin) seems to be the only one who enjoys it.

Fortunately, Hepburn’s character isn’t alone in her struggle, as one of the neighborhood kids who helps around the house becomes entangled in the battle. Two women, one blind, and one a child, against three hardened thugs; it’s a classic story of brains over brawn.

There isn’t much more I’d wish to say without taking away from the film’s many tense situations. More so than in Rear Window, all of us were on the edge of our seats. Even though we knew nearly every move the thugs made, the suspense lied in seeing Hepburn slowly figuring out the situation. There are moments when her disability keeps her from seeing danger that is right under her nose that left us breathless, not knowing what to expect next.

Just because she's blind doesn't mean she can't turn the situation to her advantage.

Hepburn’s performance shines here; every wrenching expression of fear is put on display, and the viewer can’t help but feel her terror. We definitely did. One particular scene caused all of us to shout out loud (one person squeaked, while I found myself nearly jumping out of my chair with a booming “Goddamn!”) For those who've seen the movie, you'll know what scene I'm talking about.

Why would anybody ever wear horn-rimmed glasses?

Wait Until Dark is every bit as good as Rear Window, though in slightly different ways. Both plots are constructed with the same gleefully sinister intent to leave the viewer drowning in suspense. However, while Rear Window’s story is backed up by the colorful apartment complex full of life, the setting of Wait Until Dark is barren. This is part of what made the film - for me, at least - more terrifying. It’s just the protagonist, a child, and three ruthless bad guys who have every advantage. There is no one else for Hepburn to turn to, and she is completely isolated in her own home.

No one does "terrified" like Hepburn.

As I said before, to be a great movie, a film must excel in many levels. Besides the expertly constructed plot, Wait Until Dark has a downright foreboding soundtrack that, on the very first note, lets the audience know they are in for a very dark tale. The performances are also award-worthy. As mentioned before, Hepburn’s fear and desperation are palpable, and the main villain is so smugly evil that he seems to enjoy it (Arkin seems to enjoy his extra roles in the movie even more; you‘ll see).

"What's that you say? Wait until dark? It's already dark! What? You're blind? I knew that."

So, as the credits rolled, we again wiped our brows, only this time catching our breaths, which had been held up to this point. Again I stepped outside and the layers of fog than inspired light-hearted contemplations of the evil beyond now brought true dread: real slime slicks the streets every night. And now, it was past four in the morning, the prime time for the world’s evil to prowl. It was at this point that I felt the need to make sure my car doors were locked.

Original poster. I love the typography.

G.H.I.D.R.A.H. W.U.R.F. V: "For We Are Many"

Since the practice came about last fall, I've found that I tend to arrange roughly two and a half kinds of movie nights. Roughly. One is the impromptu, "Ho! I have the house to myself tonight!" movie night where I call up a couple friends and we hang out and watch whatever sounds good at the time. It's nothing fancy and we all get to bed early enough to make it to our respective schools and workplaces early the next morning.*

* This is the official story but God knows we're still up into the wee hours of the morning.

The "half-breed," as it were, is sort of a mix between the preceding and proceding examples - we invite a bunch of people (whether they come or not) and make an event of it but the film selection isn't limited to the antics of irate, city-destroying monsters. These include the screenings of North by Northwest, Rear Window, and Wait Until Dark that you may have read about here on LET'S WATCH MOVIES! UNTIL WE CAN'T FEEL FEELINGS ANYMORE! and if you haven't then you ought to go do that now.

And then there is is the all-powerful, ultra-absorbant dorkfest that is the Wholesale Urban Renewal Festival or W.U.R.F. for short. The tricky thing about W.U.R.F.s is that we insist that all four primary G.H.I.D.R.A.H. members be involved in their planning, plotting, and implementation and even though we're all very flexible it can get to be very confusing sometimes. This particular W.U.R.F. has been pre-planned, planned, re-planned, cancelled, reinstated, re-cancelled, had its philisophical merits debated, reinstated again, totally made-over, totally un-made-over, re-scheduled, re-re-sceduled, boiled...

...and at some point we wound up with this. I'm not sure how much it resembles its original form at this point but whatever, here we are.

But that's not actually important at this particular moment. The point is that for better or for worse it's come to be that time of the month again - that time of the month where we all gather together and watch giant monsters smash the crap out of each other while copious amounts of dazzling pyrotechnics explode around them. Oh yes.

And without further ado, here is this month's line-up, complete with a slam-bang, awesome addition that none of us saw coming! Read on to find out more!

Kaitei Gunkan (1963)

Not everyone is a huge fan of Atragon, stating that it is full of wasted potential or Manda just isn't in it enough or something. I respectfully disagree - I love Atragon. The ship itself is one of the coolest Toho vehicles ever, this side of the Maser Cannon. I mean, it's a super-submarine that not only drills underground but it freaking flies!! It's pretty damned tough to top that.

The plot concerns the forgotten undersea empire of Mu and the one man who may be the only person able to stop them from destroying all civilization on the surface. The problem is that as far as anyone knows, he's dead.

Yeah, maybe a few more sequences of wanton destruction on the Muan's part or a longer battle with Manda could have added some neat things to the film but to me it is primarily about the transformation of Captain Jinguji - played by Jun Tazaki, turning in what is possible the best performance of his career (though I still can't help but wonder what Toshiro Mifune would be like in the role). In this respect the film is about perfect and the drama plays out excellently, particularly between Jinguji and his estranged daughter.

The effects work - especially the signature destruction of Tokyo at night - is of Eiji Tsuburaya's typically high standards and the film is very well put together for having had such a short production time (only six months!). If you've never seen a classic Toho film, you could do a lot worse than to start with this one.

Tadao Takashima
Yoko Fujiyama
Yu Fujiki
Ken Uehara
Jun Tazaki

Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa

Music by: Akira Ifukube

Special Effects Directed by: Eiji Tsuburaya

Directed by: Ishiro Honda

Gamera 2: Advent of Legion
Gamera 2 Region Shuurai (1996)

Now let's turn the clock all the way back to G.H.I.D.R.A.H. W.U.R.F. II. As Dante had never seen Shusuke Kaneko's acclaimed 90's Gamera Trilogy we kicked off the night with Gamera Guardian of the Universe (1995), an excellent film that completely trounces Godzilla's offering for the same year, the famous Godzilla Vs. Destoroyah (1995). Now after going several months constantly postponing the second film in lieu of other selections, we're finally going to be showing the stunningly epic sequel, Gamera 2: Advent of Legion. Maybe.

No, we really are! I for one cannot wait.

Advent of Legion picks up a year after the events of the first film when a freak meteor shower brings with it a mysterious swarm of insect-like alien invaders. In a fairly unprecedented move, director Kaneko has Gamera and the military form an uneasy alliance to defend the Earth from annihilation. Correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think an alliance quite like the one presented in this film had ever been shown in a kaiju movie up to this point. The story is one of the most epic in the genre and Shinji Higuchi's effects work is top-notch, putting Toho to shame once again.

Amazingly enough, Gamera 3 still managed to top it but that's another story...

Akiji Kobayashi
Toshiyuki Nagashima
Miki Mizuno
Ayako Fujitani

Written by: Kazunori Ito

Music by: Ko Otani

Special Effects Directed by: Shinji Higuchi

Directed by: Shusuke Kaneko

BUT WAIT! There's more!


Yes! The wonderful folks over at Sci-Fi Japan tipped us off a couple of weeks ago that as part of their monthly "Silver Scream Spook Show," Atlanta's very own Plaza Theater will be showing...

Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters' All-Out Attack!
Gojira Mosura Kingu Gidora DaiKaijuu Soukougeki (2001)

Friggin' GMK!

No, not this GMK. I don't even know what that is.

This is the GMK that takes place in an alternate reality from the rest of the Godzilla series - where Godzilla was apparently killed by the military some fifty years before. Now there are strange occurances beginning to occur all over Japan - an earthquake with a moving epicenter, a giant cocoon appearing on the surface of a lake - and a mysterious old man says that Godzilla's return is imminent.

I cannot express how excited we are for this one. Also directed by Shusuke Kaneko, it's easy to see why he's considered one of the best directors in the genre today. Giant Monsters All-Out Attack is not without its flaws but is is a fairly solid film and easily the best Godzilla movie made in the past twenty years. Much like Gamera 2, it is an excellent blend of fun, fantasy, and serious drama, hearkening back to the best Toho films of the 1960s. Contrary to what many a fanboy might tell you, this is not the dark, end-all, be-all Godzilla film for the ages - it ranges from giddy fun to a serious commentary on Japan's ignorance of their war crimes in WWII but it never ceases to be good entertainment that practically anyone can enjoy. Effects-wise the picture scores another win and Kaneko continues to excel at combining monster action with human drama.

And guys, Baragon is adorab-b-ble.

Chiharu Niiyama
Ryudo Uzaki
Hideo Amamoto
Masahiro Kobayashi

Written by:
Kei'ichi Hasegawa
Shusuke Kaneko
Masahiro Yokotani

Music by: Ko Otani

Special Effects Directed by: Makoto Kamiya

Directed by: Shusuke Kaneko

And hell, if that's still not enough for you a few of us are planning on watching a bunch of Ultraman episodes the next morning.


G.H.I.D.R.A.H. W.U.R.F. V: "For We Are Many" will be held Saturday, January 31st, with the first film starting at around 2:30 PM. Be there around 2:00 for bests results.

The main showing at my house 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 at the house is limited - even with the makeshift balcony seating we've implemented.

The Plaza Theater is not nearly so limited so you should definitely join us at the GMK showing even if you can't make it for Atragon or Gamera 2. If you're joining us for the other films, we're planning on carpooling to the theater from my place afterwards. The show starts at 10:00 PM and I think we're going to try and stop somewhere for food beforehand.

Hope to see you there!

- DaiKamonohashi

January 18, 2009

Night of Suspense, Part 1: "What did you do with her, Thorwald?"

So, it was a rainy, foggy night (dark, but not stormy) when us young bucks gathered around and, after hours of lively conversation, started our first movie for the night, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.” My mom always said I should see Hitchcock’s films. To a contemporary filmgoer, his movies are clichéd. That’s because, of course, he did it first and others copied off him! To boot, Hitchcock does it good. Real good.

The only other Hitchcock film I had seen at this point was “North by Northwest,” a precursor to today’s non-stop action thrillers, but a hell of a lot more gripping and funny. For “Rear Window,” I was prepared for more first-class thrills, but I was also looking forward to a particular actor’s performance. No, not Jimmy Stewart, but Raymond Burr, who I was quite familiar with from “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!” and “Godzilla 1985.” I had never thought of Burr as one to play a scary role, but he creeps it up for Rear Window as the suspicious neighbor who may or may not have killed his wife and snuck her body out of his apartment… in small pieces. He starts out normal enough, but the more we see of him, the more sinister he becomes.

Jimmy Stewart plays L.B. Jefferies, an action photographer for a magazine. As the story begins, Jefferies is stuck in a wheelchair with a broken leg after getting too close to a tumbling race car. An action man with nothing to do, he sits in his apartment all day and stares out at the courtyard and the windows of other peoples’ rooms. He takes particular interest in an arguing couple, becoming alarmed when the wife suddenly disappears and the husband leaves the house on late-night excursions. Too bad nobody else shares his suspicion. Or his interest.

Stewart gets snoopy

The plot to Rear Window is suspenseful but simple. One might liken it to one of today’s thrillers. But what makes the film good isn’t just the plot, but everything about it. From the performances, the cinematography, and the use (or lack of) music, the film is rich. This is true of all movies; it does not matter what the plot concerns, or if there are great special effects or an awesome soundtrack. A truly good film excels at many or all aspects. Rear Window is then truly a great film. Jimmy Stewart is likeable and funny, cutting it up with both his nurse (Thelma Ritter) and would-be wife (Grace Kelly) in clever and witty dialogue that is apparently a Hitchcock trademark (I can only assume this, as “North by Northwest” contained much of the same sharp banter between its main characters). A particular line that lives in my mind is when Stewart’s character fails to convince his detective friend of the murder. The detective, on his way out, asks if there’s anything else he can do, to which Stewart replies, “Yah, bring me a better detective.”

It's a bitch when you can't reach your itch.

The stand-out quality of Rear Window is definitely, however, the incredible set - the only one used in the film - and how Hitchcock uses it to paint a lively and diverse world within Jefferies’s apartment complex, full of characters, and each with their own very personal story. As the film opened, my friend Jared pointed out the elaborate set. I was impressed; the camera started at a busy city street (which, later in the film, is doused in a deep red sunset that could only exist in filmland) then panned inward through a courtyard bustling with activity: a middle-aged woman catching the afternoon rays of the sun; a young sexy lady dancing half-naked in her living room with the blinds up; Raymond Burr’s character tending his garden; a woman lowering a basket carrying her dog from the top floor. Then the camera travels inward more, through the window of Jimmy Stewart’s apartment, past a smashed camera on a table, past a picture of a race car, past a picture of a race car in flames, then to a leg bound in a cast bearing the message “Here lie the bones of L.B. Jefferies,“ and then to a full view of Stewart himself, sitting in his wheelchair and looking painfully bored. All of this is done in only a few shots; the only cuts are merely used to establish the setting and the situation. There is no need to cut away to avoid revealing the end of a stage, because the whole world of Rear Window is all right there in that intricate set.

Only a small part of the massive set - even the waning sun and cityscape are props!

What a way start the movie! Not only was the opening a technical achievement, but it told enough stories to fill a whole book in just one minute, the final tale being how Jefferies ended up in the wheelchair in the first place, and without a line of dialogue. Now that’s filmmaking for ya.

Along with Stewart, we are constantly staring out the rear window at the going-ons of his residence. We see a man exhausted by his newlywed wife who is constantly demanding more bedroom time, a musician living in a studio apartment who is always inviting over company, including a group of guys competing for the half-naked dancer, a woman on the bottom floor who is driven mad her desperate loneliness, a couple that enjoys sleeping under the stars on the fire escape, and a husband who is so fed up with his nagging wife that her sudden absence from the daily activities seems more than a little suspicious.

"Well George, it's big and terrible!"

The action and suspense builds up gradually, never going over the top and remaining steady enough to hold the viewer’s attention. We were glued to our seats. We laughed at the banter between Stewart and his nurse (Ritter injected a so much wit and humor into her character that it's a shame she is often overlooked in this film) and were engrossed in the mini-stories happening all over the courtyard, and gripped when the one sinister plot began to gain momentum. Small moments built up into a final crescendo, never missing a beat. When we peered into Burr’s pitch-black apartment to see only the burning glow of his cigarette, we couldn’t shake the feeling that he was watching us. And as Kelly and Ritter become interested in Burr’s activities, we got excited with them.

Even the nurse gets interested in invading the privacy of others.

It was in these tense scenes that I recognized moments from more contemporary films. When Stewart calls Burr’s apartment to tell him he knows about the murder, we see Burr’s reactions through the lenses of a telescope, and I was reminded of a nearly identical scene in the Nicolas Cage thriller “8MM.” When the only sign of an approaching killer was the sound of his footsteps and his shadow blocking the light under the crack of a door, I was reminded of the 2007 Academy Award Best Picture winner “No Country for Old Men,” and it was here that I realized that Hitchcock has laid the groundwork for the pictures that hold our attention today, whether we or the filmmakers know it or not.

By the end of the film, we all felt fulfilled by this short and effective thrill-ride. We were as much invested in the outcome of the lonely woman as we were the main murder plot, and in the end we were wiping our brows, now safe in the house. When I stepped outside to get some fresh air before our next film, the dense fog filtered the light from neighbors’ windows, and I could only wonder what was going on behind them. Yep, we had seen a great film, because it stayed with us.

Quintessential '50s Hollywood glamour

Rear Window as a “fun” type of scary; our spirits were high at its conclusion. For me, the streets wouldn’t seem nearly as sinister until we finished our second film, “Wait Until Dark,” which was nearly devoid of humor and left me wondering if I should check the back seat of my car before driving home. In the thirteen years that passed from the filming of “Rear Window” to “Wait Until Dark,” Hollywood became much more dark and gritty, and ever more gripping.

January 15, 2009

The Good Stuff Appreciators (Enter The Mondo Boss)

"We can't feel feelings anymore!"

Let’s get this straight - I’m a genre fan. My preferred type of film has giant monsters, plenty of urban renewal, and is made in Japan. Extending from this, I love a good horror film. Before I started kindergarten, I was raised on TBS’s “Super Scary Saturday” and movies like “Jaws,” “Piranha,” and “Orca” (I suppose I had an affinity for all things aquatic). I was a film enthusiast in the making, and my mother always stressed that I should “branch out” from the usual fair and appreciate other genres. She had to drag me to “Forrest Gump” when I was ten years old, but I ended up enjoying it.

I have branched out, though I still generally prefer movies with city-smashing in them. I am now able to enjoy dumb action movies and serious dramas equally on their own merits, and I am thankful for that.

Most of my friends appreciate the mainstream or lowbrow stuff, however. One of the last movies I got together with friends to watch was “Meet the Spartans.” Definitely wouldn’t make mother proud. The Scary Movie/Epic Movie/etc. spoofs can hardly be considered films by any stretch of the imagination. Unfortunately, movies for the “mainstream” don’t aspire to much, and the loyal moviegoers seem to have become desensitized to the trash. I tried to get a good friend of mine to watch “Shaun of the Dead,” but two minutes into it, she had to stop. She didn’t get it.

“I thought this was a spoof of “Dawn of the Dead,” she said.

“It’s not a spoof, more of a tribute,” I explained. “It stands on its own merits; you don’t have to see any of the “Dead” movies to enjoy it.”

That is true. My mom loved “Shaun of the Dead,” and she is barely familiar or enthusiastic about George Romero’s other films. My poor friend was expecting “Shaun” to be just like “Scary Movie,” and that’s a shame. Like I said, I’m glad I have that appreciation of the “good stuff.”

Luckily I’ve made friends with other Goof Stuff Appreciators, a fraction of which also share the appreciation of Godzilla and his destructive friends. More often than not, we’ll have a “Wholesale Urban Renewal Festival” of giant Japanese monster films. Lately we’ve been branching out ourselves, and have been watching some damn good movies (not to say that the monster movies aren’t good. In fact, the films from the 1960’s, especially those by director Ishiro Honda, are awesome movies that stand up to the “good stuff”).

Just recently, five of us got together for a double-feature of two great films, a perfect subject for my first review: Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and Terence Young’s “Wait Until Dark.” Not exactly the usual selection that a group of young people would choose to sit down and watch, but we’re the “Good Stuff Appreciators.”

Up next: Peeping Toms and Blind Women