Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Godzilla’s Revenge (1969)
Cast & Crew
Snarksters love to take a hot shit on Godzilla’s Revenge, but I doubt most of these people have just sat down and tried to treat this like any other movie: by watching it.
Unfortunately having Godzilla in Godzilla’s Revenge only helps confuse the issue.
This movie is generally reviled by people expecting a Godzilla movie, and in some ways you can’t blame them: a Gojira kaiju movie was promised, and instead they get a lyrical, but semi-realistic (bordering on kitchen-sink) tale about a lonely, bullied boy—the quintessential latch-key child, with overworked, often-absent parents—
who seeks help from the fantasies in his head—all of which have been inspired by Godzilla movies….
Angry viewers wanted Destroy All Monsters, and instead, they got the Little Fugitive—
with a touch of Fight Club. [Little Fugitive review below]
That’s right: Godzilla’s Revenge is NOT a Godzilla movie, it’s a movie about a Godzilla fan—that’s why the majority of the Godzilla scenes are stock footage—
Clips from Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, Son of Godzilla, King Kong Escapes and either Atragon or Destroy All Monsters are reused because these are the movies that Ichiro, our lonely little boy protagonist (played by Tomonori Yazaki), has seen.
Ichiro’s powers of imagination are so great, they are almost like astral projections teleporting him to Monster Island, where the kid meets and befriends Minya, Godzilla’s blobby progeny—in the English dubbing, Minya’s given a “hopey-dopey-aw-shucks” hick accent.
Hanging out with Minya and watching Godzilla kick ass, take names and smash up a giant spider, a giant lobster, some jet fighters, and more giant bugs, Ichiro has the time of his life, but—
Little Minya has his own bully issues: a giant electrified goblin who not surprisingly has the same name as Ichiro’s bully, Gabera.
Together, the little boy and the little monster learn to be brave and to stand up for themselves with courage—which helps Ichiro in the real world when he’s taken hostage by bank robbers….
While we’re never shown any movie marquees or a Godzilla movie on TV, not once in Godzilla’s Revenge do I feel that the audience is supposed to believe that this takes place in a world where Godzilla & crew actually exist. This isn’t part of any continuity, this is happening in the “real” world—reinforced by the factory landscape and junkyard wasteland Ichiro’s family lives in (shades of Paper Street in Fight Club—and Eraserhead).
When I first saw Godzilla’s Revenge, I was a kid and I HATED this flick: It wasn’t a Big G flick per se, and hell-to-the-no, I did not want to see a flick about me (a lonely latch-key kid with a hyperactive imagination), I wanted GIANT LIZARD MASSIVE DESTRUCTION.
I didn’t want lyricism and emotional realism—I wanted pre-adolescent power fantasies, where my nihilism is projected onto the Giant Monster destroying Tokyo or Osaka or Kyoto, venting my powerless frustration—my own bit of astral projection.
Godzilla’s Revenge would be better remembered today if:
A) It had a different title, one that doesn’t raise audience expectations so much—
like perhaps “Ichirō no fukushū” (Ichiro’s Revenge), or “Monsutā ga dono yō ni shite taisho suru ijime o oshiete kuremasu” (Monsters Teach Us How to Deal With Bullies) or maybe even “Sei hōkō no kōjō to jiritsu o kumiawaseru koto de sōzō-ryoku” (Imagination Combined with Positive Direction Increases Self-reliance).
B) if the flick had used some other monster, preferably an original one—which would’ve meant 100% new kaiju footage (which means the film would’ve needed a bigger budget—and therefore probably would never have been made…).
Personally, I think a remake of Godzilla’s Revenge would be perfect as a child-friendly coming-of-age story—but only if suggestions A) and B) are followed.
Godzilla’s Revenge is a meta-movie, commenting on itself as a genre as well as its influence on the world beyond what is kept in celluloid, very much like the pleasant and recommended Son of Rambo but it’s not as OBVIOUS as it needed to be for the average viewer to get it.
Toho Studios is notoriously protective of its cash-cows’ images, and may have prevented too much “reality breaking” from occurring in Godzilla’s Revenge—which is why we’re never shown any movie marquees or a Godzilla movie on TV. It’s like some Toho exec didn’t want the audiences to think that Godzilla was only an “imaginary” character.
I will admit that Godzilla’s Revenge came at a strange time for Godzilla and Toho, as the company was trying to find new ways to keep the franchise viable—this film is the transition point where, borrowing a page from the Gamera playbook, Godzilla completely switches from “villain” to “Friend of the Earth and Especially Children.”
Remember, the film after Godzilla’s Revenge was Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (a psychedelic classic!), and then that film was followed by the movies where baseball capped moppets beg the Big Green Thing to save Nippon.
Before that, Godzilla’s films were always combinations: King Kong vs. Godzilla was a kaiju/salaryman comedy mash-up, and Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster was a combo of the Polynesian-surf genre then popular in Japan with big monsters, and even Godzilla vs. Monster Zero combined kaiju with the space invasion genre.
With Godzilla’s Revenge, Gojira became a kid’s show.
Meanwhile, as one of longtime Godzilla director Ishiro Honda’s last films, Godzilla’s Revenge gives him the chance to try something different.
But don’t let that stop you from enjoying this sweet, but hardly saccharine story.
And speaking of films about children that aren’t necessarily kid stories…
Little Fugitive (1953)
CAST & CREW
Stick with this movie; it will grow on you. Little Fugitive is not slick or cool, but it is a genuinely sweet and charming film.
There are comic “bits,” but they always surprised me by going in unexpected directions: set-ups that, in a mainstream Hollywood flick would lead to “whacky hijinks,” are here treated realistically and develop in a more emotionally satisfying manner. (Sorry I’m being obtuse about details, but discovering Little Fugitive on your own is part of its joy.) The first 10 minutes drag, and the acting is unfortunately amateurish at the beginning, but once the plot gets rolling and little Joey finds himself at Coney Island, the movie really comes alive.
Absolutely beautiful cinematography captures life on the Boardwalk and at the amusement parks, and the kid playing Joey is obviously having a blast (when he’s not worried about having “killed” his brother).
Sometimes there’s the feeling that this is some kind of cinema verite-style After School Special, but Little Fugitive never gets moralistic or preachy. This is a film I could recommend as “for the whole family” without reservation—except that kids would probably be bored by the movie’s more leisurely, 1950s pace.
However, you can see how Little Fugitive influenced films like The 400 Blows, and for fans of old New York City, especially Coney Island “back in the day,” this movie is a must-see. (And if you rent this DVD, make sure to watch the trailer, too: it’s hilarious how it misrepresents Little Fugitive while at the same time being quite honest about the film. It’s really smart marketing.)
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Directed by Brian De Palma
Screenplay by Paul Schrader
From a story by Schrader and De Palma
Produced by George Litto
Cinematographer: Vilmos Zsigmond
Editor: Paul Hirsch
Music by Bernard Herrmann
With: Cliff Robertson, Geneviève Bujold, John Lithgow
98 minutes, released by Columbia
As I recall, director Brian De Palma got slammed by many when this came out for being a “remake” of Hitchcock’s Vertigo—but I actually like Obsession more: I prefer De Palma’s sick sense of humor and maxed out cinematic trickery.
Stylish and technically perfect,
Obsession, like so many of his films (like Dressed to Kill or Raising Cain) is much better when seeing it for the second time around—and the “ick” factor increases exponentially when you know what’s the story behind “obsessed” Cliff Robertson and the always beautiful Geneviève Bujold—
Although I would’ve preferred that the movie went all the way with its wrongness (Oldboy, I’m looking at you).
I’m sure De Palma and screenwriter Paul Schrader (another sick fuck if ever there was one) chortled with merry twistedness at some point in Obsession’s production.
[As it turned out, De Palma heavily rewrote and toned down what was in Schrader’s original script, much to Schrader’s chagrin and anger.]
And don’t let me forget to mention Bernard Herrmann’s magnificent score—I’ve got the LP of it, and it’s a wonderful, overwrought, over-the-top doozy, lots of horns and brass and mournful, but bombastic sounds. Genius!
Released in August 1976, Obsession reportedly did well at the box office despite being trashed by some critics, but it was De Palma’s film that was released in November of ’76 that put him on the map: Carrie.
Friday, October 22, 2010
The Incredible Melting Man (1977)
Directed and written by William Sachs
Special make-up effects by Rick Baker
With Alex Rebar, Burr DeBenning, Myron Healey, Michael Alldredge, Janus Blythe, and others
American International Pictures; 84 minutes
While passing through the rings of Saturn, something happens to the crew of the Scorpio Five, and back on Earth, astronaut Steve starts, well, there’s no other word for it—he starts melting, getting all drippy and runny and gooey.
It’s never properly explained, but Steve starts craving human flesh and after escaping from the hospital, sets about devouring a few hapless victims.
(Not that it helps in anyway, but I think eating flesh is supposed to slow down the effects of whatever Saturnian space germ he’s picked up.)
Steve’s affliction is supposed to be a secret, so that’s why the police are never contacted and why security for an ill astronaut is so lax.
(And also helps the film by keeping costs low.)
While the flick is dopey and illogical, it gets big points for letting you sometimes sympathize with the oozing Steve: he didn’t ask to be a liquefying cannibal, and after he kills someone, he seems to show regret.
And the ending (yeah, yeah, yeah, SPOILER) is quietly tragic (while disgusting):
Steve keeps melting and melting until all that’s left is a pile of messy clothes—
that a janitor unceremoniously sweeps up and then dumps into a trashcan the next morning.
One step above a John Waters movie financially and technically—especially with some cool early Rick Baker makeup FX—
but a step below in the smarts and laughs department
(although I really did enjoy all the quirky secondary characters peppered throughout the movie, from the pre-adolescent smokers to the horny octogenarians to the sleazy nudie photographer),
The Incredible Melting Man
is often delightfully goofy (and with a title like The Incredible Melting Man what did you expect?), while never forgetting to squeeeeeeeze in as much gore and muck as the MPAA will allow, or the basic fact that it’s a horror movie—so scares, tension and weirdness are the watchwords of the day.
It’s a very “’70s” B-movie. And that’s a compliment.
Had this flick only been gorier or funnier—or both—it would have been completely awesome!
But as it is, The Incredible Melting Man is still worth a look for gorehounds, freakazoids and aficionados of the Cinema of Weirdness.
And yes, director Jonathan Demme (between making Fighting Mad and Handle With Care?) does make a cameo as a dumbass victim doing the “going into the dark house alone” shtick.
But it’s Demme’s costar in the scene who steals the show. I knew I recognized her and the credits identified her as Janus Blythe, “Ruby” from The Hills Have Eyes! (I have had a crush on Ruby since forever…)
After Demme disappears into the dark house, Janus enters the house, but unlike dummy Demme, she turns on the lights.
The Monster is there and chases her, she barricades herself in the kitchen, Melto breaks through the window, she chops off his arm (!), he runs away… and then Janus has an Oscar-worthy freak-out.
It’s incredible to watch—and so real! Raw, honest.
It’s the most authentic thing in this movie: And of course someone would have a major freak-out after almost getting eating by a dissolving astronaut!
I know I would…
(Her incredible freak-out starts at about 4:50 at this clip—but Demme is at the beginning, looking very “hillbilly ripoff.”)
A remake of The Incredible Melting Man would be a good flick for one of those new breed of French or Serbian or Norwegian splatterpunk goremeisters (or even Eli Roth) to tackle; see if they can balance the gore and laughs, take us someplace new.
Roth would know how to make a good flick, if he would just get back to directing…
As a kid, I was a subscriber to both Starlog and Fangoria, and I remember one of those mags promoting the living shit out of The Incredible Melting Man back in the day.
Originally released by the gone, but not forgotten AIP in December 1977, The Incredible Melting Man is a flick I’ve only recently gotten to see despite knowing about for about 33 years (!). Like many AIP flicks (but not I Was a Teenage Werewolf, damn it!), The Incredible Melting Man became part of MGM’s seemingly defunct Midnite Movies DVD series—
Which means that The Incredible Melting Man is now DVD MIA.
However, The National Film Board of Ivanlandia managed to screen it via the N-flix InstaVue option—
And as much as we are annoyed by N-flix’s weird and draconian policies reducing the user-friendly options to nil,
we praise the InstaVue policy—and its awesome B-movie selection, a fan’s dream!
Look, I’m not saying these flicks are good, but it’s nice to be able to screen movies that haven’t been available for ages, aren’t on DVD, and there are no more local TV stations that used to air the madness.
The DVD-MIA flicks I’ve screened so far are:
The biker flicks Angels From Hell and Devil’s Angels (with John Cassavettes!),
I Escaped From Devil’s Island (with Jim Brown!),
I Bury the Living (with Richard Boone!),
Master of the World (with Vincent Price /and/ Charles Bronson),
The Great Scout & Cathouse Thursday (with Lee Marvin and Oliver Reed!),
Alakazam the Great,
Robert Aldrich's The Choirboys [we're working on a future review right now],
Queen of Blood [ditto],
Looking for Mr. Goodbar [ditto]
and Richard Lester's The Bed-Sitting Room (which I hated—hated enough to write this:
Technically, this flick is perfect in its low-budget depiction of post-nuclear war England, but its script is nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is. Being "surreal" is no excuse for not being funny, either. Maybe it's funnier if you're English... But I’m not and it isn’t.
Meanwhile, I’ve been able, through a friend, to screen a bunch of flicks unavailable except for in their various shadow-world/bootleg off-the-web manifestations.
This way, I’ve managed to screen some really choice bits, including:
Run of the Arrow,
Michael Reeve’s The Sorcerers,
The Passage (with an mindboggling performance by Malcolm McDowell),
When Eight Bells Toll (young Antony Hopkins doing Alastair MacLean),
Fear Is the Key (MacLean again, but with a car chase to rival Bullitt’s—honestly, it’s that good; this movie is starring Vanishing Point’s Barry Newman, so you know I’m right),
and the grim Report to the Commissioner, with young, baby-faced Michael Moriarty, a young Yaphet Kotto in old-age makeup and a young Bob Balaban (credited as “Robert”) being super-awesome as a homeless guy with no legs who gets around on a low cart—and at one point he chases a taxi through traffic, a great scene!
Via N-flix Insta, boots, Warner Bros. Archives, Universal, Columbia and others opening their vaults for DVD on demand, there is a flood of material previously thought gone forever.
That said, I feel that the concept of DVD MIA could almost be put to rest.
Sure, sure, there’s lots I still want—need—to get my paws on, but who’s to say their release isn’t around the corner?
Sunday, October 17, 2010
The National Film Board of Ivanlandia loves it some giant monster movies!
Whether from the sci-fi, fantasy or horror genres, movies about big, BIG monsters are always in heavy rotation at the Imperial Palace.
We’re really looking forward to the upcoming release of such flicks like Monsters, Skyline and The Troll Hunter.
Monsters from the Land of the Rising Sun
predominate the cinematic landscape by sheer volume.
And Yankees get the silver medal due to so many dinosaur movies,
but our Limey cousins haven’t really been on the scene but occasionally—and then it’s something like Konga, a flick I don’t remember liking.
But recently, out of curiosity, The National Film Board of Ivanlandia screened Gorgo, and WOW!
This has got to be one of the most inadvertently psychedelic flicks—on par with Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster for bizzarro mash-up of LSD and kaiju, but more inadvertently.
Hunter S. Thompson wrote about seeing big lizards when he was wigged out on LSD, and now here’s a movie about a big lizard that feels like it was made for people to watch while really fucking high.
After an immense underwater earthquake/volcanic explosion in the North Sea, a couple of salvage divers capture a 50-foot-tall dinosaur/monster off the coast of Ireland.
Unlike Gojira or Gamera or The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Gorgo wasn’t frozen or in suspended animation, but rather the Gorgosauruses lived in some sort of giant cavern underneath the ocean floor—some strange mega-ecosystem from prehistoric times—and after the quake, the Irish waters are filled with weird, dead jurasssic-esque fish—
indicative of what the Gorgos were eating?
Or just cool stuff? Like the parasites in Cloverfield, a monster also from the ocean floor (or outer space, depending on whom you’re listening)?
Back to the story:
Blowing off requests from Irish museums and zoos, the divers make a very lucrative agreement with a circus-sideshow to exhibit the beast in London.
Kept in an electrified pit, the monster—now called “Gorgo” by the circus promoter (after the mythological Gorgon)—is a big hit with sell-out crowds.
But sadly, most ticket buyers aren’t there to marvel, but to jeer and sneer at a chained and shamed unique natural wonder.
Then the divers and the circus promoter get a warning: what they captured is a child—in fact, practically a newborn!
When it becomes an adult, it will be about 200 feet tall, the biologists say.
Then they realize, if this is the baby, where’s the mommy?
Meanwhile, back at the island off Ireland where the baby Gorgo was captured, a very large adult version shows up, wrecks the place, and starts following the spoor her offspring left behind.
Along the way, she trashes the British Navy, and gets to London, the town that put her little baby in a pit to be laughed at by a bunch of slobs and dumbasses.
Mommy’s not happy…
A lot of folks consider Gorgo to be a kid’s film, and while I don’t necessarily agree, I’ll concede that it’s a point that’s hard to argue against:
First, the film presents a child-viewer surrogate in young Sean,
the 10-year-old islander who warns the divers not to disturb the beasties (but is ignored, like most kids are ignored), and
later the child-viewer stand-in becomes baby Gorgo—which ties in a young child’s feelings of persecution and helplessness, as well as body image or feelings of self-worth: “I’m a monster.”
The child-like perspective the film brings aids in its emotionality—you feel bad for baby Gorgo being teased, and when Mama Gorgo shows up, you cheer (and the way Gorgo is filmed, it gives the impression that the more they shoot at Mama, the angrier she gets—like Mongo in Blazing Saddles, “shooting only makes him angry,” and since the audience can see that—while the puny humans in the movie can’t—we join the monsters in mocking all the attempts the grown-ups make at stop pure maternal emotionalism, which kids can tap into better than adults anyway…)
But consider this:
Since it’s a film about a mother rescuing a child, Gorgo must be looked at from a psychological perspective—
Mom saves us, but she wrecks the joint.
See, Baby Gorgo should’ve kicked ass and taken names on his own—we must break free of the apron strings!
If we keep Mommy too much in our lives, massive havoc and destruction may occur.
Originally released in 1961, full of swirling reds and purples, and many, many crazy opticals, this (almost forgotten) monster movie is coincidentally one of the trippier flicks I’ve seen in a long time.
A delight for fans of man-in-a-monster suit flicks, as well as appreciators of travelling matte optical work (which always leaves a shell or trail around the items being superimposed: oooo trippy!), it often feels that Gorgo’s SPFX crew only had a very tight budget, and instead of spreading it around too much, spent it all on some wild, you-must-suspend-disbelief keiju-esque city trashing, and then spent what was left on stock footage.
I found Gorgo’s unconscious lysergicness to be much more engaging—and convincing—than the super-self-aware madcapness of the recently-released-to-DVD Hausu (1977)—as a comparison [more on Hausu in a moment]
At 59:38, there’s a beautiful scene of Mama Gorgo stalking towards Big Ben, the burning and smoke behind them not smoke bombs, but optically superimposed time-lapse photography of clouds pretending to be flames and smoke!
These shots look like they should’ve been used as the cover of a rock album—but I’m not sure if Deep Purple or Black Sabbath….But not Blue Oyster Cult!
My screengrabs will never do it justice—and to imagine seeing this flick in an old NYC movie palace with a new print: Yow!
And maybe being psychedelisized wasn’t an inadvertent subtext:
By 1:02:16, young Sean, the flick’s character for kids to relate to (as I already mentioned), is watching Mama Gorgo trash the joint—
and the boy has a fixed grin of rapt glee that the orange glow from the burning city only makes more LSD’ed out.
(It could also be the joy the child-surrogate feels when it is being vindicated: “SEE?!? I told you this would happen, but I’m a kid and you wouldn’t believe me! HA!)
Director Eugene Lourie also directed the stop-motion animation packed The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953) and The Giant Behemoth (1959; also set in England), and created the special effects for Crack in the World (1965) [review below] and Krakatoa, East of Java (1969)—both of which have color palettes as lurid as Gorgo’s;
and just look at the bulbous smoke behind and around our lovely monster!
Like these other films, Gorgo has a style that I would call Terry Gilliam-esque: design heavy, leaning very heavily towards an anti-naturalism that I enjoy, not afraid to show its seams because it has faith that the audience will be caught up in the fantasy and suspend disbelief properly.
After all, there’s no way Lourie & Co. cannot see that their monsters and miniatures are paper mache—but their suspension of disbelief connects with their artistry, and is infectious.
I love Gorgo!
And I just have to say that Gorgo is much better as an exciting movie than Lourie’s previous Beast From 20,000 Fathoms—while Beast’s FX animation, done by the incomparable Ray Harryhausen, is better than the FX of Gorgo, there is only so much of it, and the rest of the movie is weighed down with dumb, boring dialog and stupid scenes of stupid people pretending to be scientists. Very fast-forwardable until the monster makes landfall in New York City.
In addition to some fun action and an increase in tension (monster germs?), when the Beast shows up in NYC, there is a lot of great, crisp footage of the Big Apple, especially the docks and tenements (the stuff Robert Moses—damn him!—tried to get rid of).
As for The Giant Behemoth, it’s been ages since I’ve seen it (and I’ve got it at the top of my N-flix list; but if I’m finished with this post before it gets here, well, tough), but I remember it was a decent and spooky Big Monster flick. A vicious, radioactive brontosaurus-like beast shows up in England, causing the routine amount of mayhem—but one cool thing about the flick I remember is that the beast could project its radiation, zapping helicopters out of the sky and frying soldiers where they stand.
Hausu was a disappointment—perhaps I had been spoiled by all the pre-DVD-release hype heaped on this flicks for months beforehand.
Hausu must have been a mind-roaster for those fortunate enough to see it near or around its 1977 release, but as a spoof/riff on the haunted house genre (especially the ones by William Castle, I feel), it does not have “legs”—and personally, I found Hausu’s maxed-out quirkiness to be very annoying after a short time—the film (and filmmakers) are not taking their subject seriously, so why should we?
(And Hausu isn’t funny enough to be a comedy—at least to those who do not speak fluent Japanese: Sumimasen, nihongo wakaramasen!
It’s not that self-conscious weirdness is always a bad thing, it just needs a foundation of some sort, it has to really be about something—look at Eraserhead, also initially released in 1977: Yes, it’s a completely self-consciously arty piece of cinematic madness.
But that weirdness is the dressing on a very personal tale of parental fear and the lack of responsibility. It’s an extremely harsh personal assessment, I feel: all the more brilliant because it’s dressed in total id imagery. I saw Eraserhead in 1980 when I was 15, liked it, but didn’t love it.
Now I’m an old fart, and boy-oh-boy, I get it. The film (and I) have grown.
I cannot even think that about Hausu—a Scooby-Doo episode has more cultural relevance (and enjoyment) for me.
Hausu is about nothing except making fun of a genre that has grown and mutated far beyond what Hausu was trying to spoof. Hausu isn’t bad, it’s just very dated.
Crack in the World (1965)
Recently finally released to DVD after being MIA for a long, long, long time—
I credit the American Cinematheque in L.A. for renewing interest in this flick when they screened it in L.A. in 2007—
Crack in the World was on TV constantly when I was a kid, and I loved it then and watched the movie practically every time it was on:
Massive earthquakes! Train wrecks! Underground labs! Atomic bombs! Volcanoes! Upside-down rockets! Copious stock footage! Obvious miniatures! TOTAL FUCKIN’ DESTRUCTION!
All of it stuff a 10-year-old sci-fi nerd could fall in love with!
Crack in the World was also more ambitious than the disaster movies that followed it (this movie wasn’t going to destroy just one city or building!), and is really the grandfather to contemporary disaster movies, like 2012 and The Core (both flicks that I enjoyed immensely!), that feature exciting, exquisitely crafted global-scale destruction--and huge gaps in logic.
That said, Crack in the World, while still charming in its quaint mid-1960s way, has been ultimately surpassed in pacing and quality of special effects by other films (including the disaster flicks from the 1970s, like Earthquake, and anyone who wasn’t some sort of disaster movie completist might find the flick slow and clunky.
Its greatest value may be to nostalgia buffs (and I could be one).
I’m very happy to have managed to get a copy of this film’s DVD, and every now and again use it to satiate the disaster movie monkey on my back…