Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Review of "Gojira tai Megaro" (1973)

Gojira tai Megaro (1973)

(a.k.a. - Godzilla vs. Megalon)

Look I found some funny powder......

All my previous Godzilla sessions were solo. Finally I have someone riding shotgun with me, helping me through the tough times. The guys from the Satellite of Love join me on this lovely expedition.

Sometime in 1971, nuclear tests are performed on a Pacific Island. This introduction is full of giant explosions or rather miniatures of giant explosions. Lots of miniature models were destroyed. Next, we are at a lake with a kid on some sort of powered dingy and two males. An earthquake occurs and a fissure opens within the lake that causes a whirlpool, but thanks to the heroic rescue of the silly powered dingy, the boy survived. After following around the trio, watching them drive and listening to them talk about random things, we get down to the "why are we following these 3?". The kid's dad is a "scientist" who created an android, which he suddenly christens - Jet Jaguar (the 2nd man is the scientist's friend who seems to be a race car driver).

Jet Jaguar looks kind of like a suit of armor with colored segments (bright red, yellow and blue on silver background), with a blue medical neck collar, a curved, pointy head (looks a bit like a metallic version of Martian Manhunter), and an ominous looking smile. His functions include - walking, climbing stairs, flying, increasing in size, speaking in semaphore without the flags and has a severe case of motion sickness.

We then transition into another plot point : the hairy, white guy in a silver toga and super trooper mustache ruler of the underground pseudo-Atlantian utopia (reminds me of an extra on a spaghetti-epic), Sea-topia. Apparently, he's not happy with the all the atomic tests and he releases Megalon upon Japan. Now Megalon is a green scaly monster that looks like a beetle with a giant star shaped extended horn and arms that look like the Chrystler building. Its digs under the earth, can fly and has yellow lightning coming out of the it's horn. Apparently, releasing Megalon isn't enough for the ruler, so he has a plot to kidnap Jet Jaguar and use it to aid Megalon.

Thankfully the scientist has a decoder ring that can override any control (withing a limited range) and sends Jet Jaguar to Monster Island to recruit Godzilla for help. This sets up the tag team match : Jet Jaguar and Godzilla vs Megalon and newly arrived Gigan (cycloptic cybernetic creature with a buzz-saw in its stomach and two large steel hooks for hands). This is a pretty good fight and I would venture to say is one of the best in the series. This includes the now infamous Godzilla riding-tail 2 legged drop kick (or as I like to call it, Godzilla's best impersonation of Captain Kirk).

The movie by itself is terrible, especially with all the crazy cuts, nonsensical car chases, phantom explosions, lots of miniatures, terrible dubs, ridiculous acting and terrible pacing. This is exactly what makes this one of the better "terrible" movies out there. So kick your feet up, twist off the cap on the Smirnoff, don't Bogart but pass it along to the others and enjoy.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Review of "Hard Candy" (2005)

Hard Candy

They never showed this on Dateline.

The plot is simple enough. A 30 something photographer, a.k.a. Jeff, meets an underage androgynous robot, a.k.a. Hayley, (after the movie it goes on to play an X-Men) over the internet. They meet over coffee and she/it suggests that they reconvene at his place. Yada, yada, yada .... Dateline shows up and reads their chat room conversations in a stoic and morose manner. Or better yet, it turns out the AI robot is actually an undercover member or law enforcement who arrests him on the spot. No I'm just kidding. In the movie, the roles of victim/assailant are thrown up in the air. We are torn. Who is right in this scenario ? You find yourself swaying depending on what we see and what we hear.

I definitely had mixed feelings about this movie. During the first 60-65 minutes of the movie I was cursing myself for picking yet another dud. The movie gets a little better down the stretch, probably due to the increase of actual violence and decrease in supposedly intelligent "dialog" (not to mention the interesting "Wicked"-like ending). I have always disliked dialog that seems intelligent at first, except if force fed to the actors (especially done in a lot of indy movies). Usually this is due to a bad combination of dialog and casting. Unfortunately, I found myself either shaking my head at the juvenile nature of the dialog or the sudden switch to calculated Orwellian-like dialog. For an example of this, check out the one-dimensional Nicolas Cage in American Treasure where his "revelations" suddenly appear in his mind, as if someone just spoke the line to him through an earpiece. Another problem with this movie comes from the fact that if you have probably heard of the movie, you also know the synopsis. It's also right there on the back of the box. Without the element of surprise, this movie loses most of its bite. Also, unless you have been under a rock or do not like Asian cinema you have seen this before in any of Chan-wook Park's Vengeance trilogy or Takashii Miike's Audition. By those standards, this movie is tame.

In the end, you find out very little except what we already suspected initially. So the whole movie turns into a giant vigilante retribution session, except the involvement of the "child" robot is still somewhat in doubt. Was this an experiment, an initiation, the loss of innocence, justice or a prank? Is she a victim, a vigilante, a criminal or a relative? Who knows. Only Grandma, the Woodsman and the big bad Wolf know.

Definitely see this movie before any of the movies I mentioned earlier, otherwise you might be a little disappointed or have a sense of deja vu. The uncut (sorry for the pun) version of this movie (if it exists) should be required punishment for sexual predators, pedophiles, rapists, domestic abusers, female castrators and so forth. They should be strapped in and forced to watch (much like Alex De Large).

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Review of "Casino Royale" (2006)

Casino Royale (2006)

No no, Peter Sellers and David Niven are not in this one ...

Casino Royale is the first book of the James Bond series, written by Ian Flemming. This is the second movie adaptation with the same name (the first being a comedy, see 1967). Daniel Craig of Layer Cake fame is now James Bond. First of all I would like to clear the air of my experience with the Bond franchise. With the exception of License to Kill, the Bond franchise has been rather campy and over-the-top (a perfect entertainment vehicle). I have never really taken the franchise seriously, simply because it didn't seem to take itself too seriously. Bond had become synonymous with gadgets, girls, cars, over the top stunts, one liners, unbelievable plots and the now stereotypical nemeses (usually with a crazy looking/acting henchman, crazy conspiracy theory to take over the world, crazy built in timer doomsday devices, etc,etc.). License to Kill stands as my favorite James Bond movie, with the much underrated and often maligned Timothy Daulton. He was much different then the others. He had a certain mix of youth, emotion, athleticism, charisma, and suave, mixed in a very good proportion. He could be happy, sad, angry, confident, sexy, etc. Bond tended to be very one dimensional usually (with some exceptions, namely in License to Kill and On Her Majesty's Secret Service).

Sean Connery is still my favorite and tops my list. Daniel Craig is now second (his stock will rise if he keeps this up maybe giving Sir Connery a challenge in the top spot), with Daulton coming in third. Roger Moore picks up the next spot. Aussie George Lazenby is next followed by my all-time most reviled bond, Pierce Brosnan. After the despicable Brosnan Bond movies, the franchise had gone the way of Star Trek, namely into the gutter. The series need a serious dose of adrenalin and a good stiff, shock from a heart defibrillator.

What is the best way to administer the above? Simple. Clinical death followed by a new miraculous lease on life. Kill off Bond and start fresh. Forget the previous 20 something movies. Daniel Craig is Bond. Being that this is Fleming's first book, this is also the origin of Bond : How did Bond get his double 0 moniker and his first assignment as full agent. If you haven't seen it, please go watch Layer Cake. I cannot say enough about that movie and it's influence on this one. Daniel Craig is a youthful, prideful, supremely confident, athletic, suave, and yet slightly cockney James Bond. It is like looking at your college pictures. There are certain things you would like to change, but can't because you wouldn't be here without all those experiences. The same thing goes for Bond. He actually evolves during the movie. Craig's Bond isn't the always cool Connery, or the never sweats Moore, or even the bad one-liners of Brosnan. He is a real person, or as close to one as you can get from such a well known and fictional character. You actually feel like Craig can actually be James Bond, something the Brosnan never did for me (I always felt like he was playing a role and playing it apathetically).

Now to the plot. More realism and less campy is definitely the goal of this movie. There is no crazy megalomaniac boss at the top, but lots of little bosses all with not-so-grand schemes. This usually just involves promoting terror or making money. James Bond, after getting his 00 license to kill, turns a bit into Shelock Holmes and discovers a hornet's nest in the Bahamas. This all eventually leads him to Montenegro and a poker match at the Casino Royale, where the stakes are much higher then the $10 million buy in.

The movie seems to take notes from other "realistic" action movies (the Bourne series anyone). The opening sequence, with the chasing of the "burned" assassin is clearly a note to Banlieue 13. The assassin is Sébastien Foucan, a co-founder of Parkour along with David Belle (Leito from Banlieue 13). The fighting is also much more graphic and intense (thank you so much, Tony Jaa). Also Bond seems to rely less on his gadgets, which is good. He's no Batman, he's an agent of MI6. Even the series dependence on crazy cars and chase sequences is diminished. James doesn't actually use cars much, except to get from point a to b, and actually crashes his very nice and expensive sports car after only using the defibrillator (interesting mirroring metaphor to the franchise). There are fewer Bond girls as well. Only two (Eva Green and Caterina Murino) in this movie, which is not a bad thing, and actually allows for some character development.

The movie itself seemed to also take homage from within. Casino Royale seems to amalgamate the two aforementioned On Her Majesty's Secret Service (which goes into details about how Bond falls in love for the only time, plans to quit and his love interest is killed by one of his nemesis) and License to Kill (in which Bond goes AWOL on a personal vendetta against a drug lord who fed his CIA buddy, Felix, to a shark). This is not a perfect movie, but it does mark a new beginning. I didn't like a few things. First of all the product placement was ghastly. Thank you so much Sony for hedging your products into the plot to the point of distraction. Secondly, the love/betrayal/love plot between James and Vesper was a tad predictable. Also the inclusion of poker over Bond's preferred Baccarat was an interest sign of the times. It's nice to see Bond still prefers Bollinger and martini's (though he hasn't really picked how he wants it prepare yet). Of interest also note one of the funniest and equally cringing torture scenes ever. Anyway, this was a highly enjoyable movie, one of the best in the franchise and a great new beginning. I eagerly anticipate Bond 22 - Coming Soon.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Review of "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" (2006)

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)


He is Borat and he is in town. If you have not heard of Borat by now, you are probably one of the people living under rocks in Uzbekistan. Borat Sagdiyev is just one of the multiple personalities that is Sacha B. Cohen. This should all be familiar from Sacha's HBO show, Da G Ali Show. If you aren't familiar and happen to be one of the rock-burdened people from Uzbekistan with access to a computer and the internet, then by all means please read on.

Borat, heir of Boltok the Rapist, is a reporter from Khazikstan, sent to the US, along with his producer - Azamat Bagatov, to document American culture (under penalty of death). For those who don't know Borat (and as a way to show the before, before the after.) we first are taken to his home town of Kuczek. As a funny sidebar, this was actually filmed in a Gypsy shanty town north of Bucharest, Romania and not in Khazakstan. As a second sidebar, the things said in the town are even funnier than the subtitles. After a long, long and circumnavigating Indiana Jones-like plane ride, we arrive at JFK.

The premise of Borat is simple. A caricature simple foreigner (anti-femanist, anti-semitic, anti-gay, sexual deviant,etc) travels to another land, with all the faux pas as comedy and critique. For the magic to work certain criteria must be present. For one, the people Borat meets must not be familiar with Borat or his country. Next, the illusion of foreign documentary must be maintained. Thirdly is the air of spontaneity. For example, Borat singing the national anthem at the rodeo could have cost Sacha his life if it had lasted a few minutes longer. The actor was evacuated from the building for fear of his safety and/or a riot. At times the humor is quite physical and quite graphic. I personally could not stop laughing while others in the theater were wincing or just plain looking away.

You know you have made something meaningful when you upset people. If no one is upset, it means that it is universally acceptable or not important enough to justify a meaningful contradiction. This movie has upset a lot of people and with good reason. Borat instigates and often the second party fills in all the graphic and quite colorful, unscripted, personal nuances. It isn't that Borat is critiquing Khazakstan or the third world (which of course he is to an extent). He is criticizing our culture through our biased perceptions of "foreigners" and through our own instigation.

The movie reminds me of John Wilmot's Sodom, in terms of open critique, except without the monarch. Sic semper tyrannis, or something. The only problem I had was with all the previews and show appearances. A lot of the jokes could be seen there prior to ever setting foot within a theater. Even with all this "hype" I highly enjoyed this movie and I recommend it to others. Now to dust off those G Ali DVDs until the next movie or until the DVD of this comes out.