What I'm Watching: Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster

  • Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964): Both UFO cultists and cops agree, heat wave in winter and meteor showers are weird. A cop is assigned to bodyguard a princess from a small island under civil war. Said princess is contacted by an alien voice and told to jump from the plane, and she never even got her drink! Scientists hike into the mountains to investigate a meteor landing.

I must say, Japan's wilderness looks fantastic. The cinematography on this one, in color!, is head and shoulders above previous films. Even when they go into matte paintings and sets, it looks good. They do interesting cuts, like using a subway car as a wipe. It's almost hard to believe this is Honda Ishiro still, not doing locked-down cameras and super simple cuts or wipes; earlier he was more a director of people and cool events, not using the camera well. Even the rear projections are now fairly close to seamless.

Naoko the journalist and the Princess are both cute as hell. Naoko's cop brother is kind of a doofus, and utterly extraneous to the plot. The bodyguard cop has no personality except brooding and shooting (not very well, he never kills anyone with at least 30 shots), and there's no love between him and the Princess in the first half; all he has is a picture, and she's not herself. Has Honda learned cinematography, but forgotten about romance as the main driver of Human-scale plots?! What a terrible bargain.

The Mothra twins appear on TV, and summon a vision of the Mothra larva. This is a Japan that just lives with the regular existence of giant monsters and magic on TV, I don't see how anyone can mock UFO cultists or prophets from Venus in that world.

"Stay out of Mount Aso, Rodan will emerge!" "Shut up prophet! … OH NO IT'S RODAN AAAIEEE!" Incredibly predictable scene, but perfect "fools die of their folly" scene. Rodan's costume & flying puppet are much improved over the first movie, but it's a little odd being more of a Pteranodon/Roc hybrid now.

"Don't get on the ship!" And at least the important characters pay attention, but the poor sailors are going to meet… well, who else would be in the ocean? Big G's moving eyes look really weird. The suit's otherwise fine, but definitely reaching the end of this first design.

Fools stand far too close to Ghidorah's… egg? Meteor? Spaceship? But someone must witness the birth of a death god. The Princess tells the protagonists the Earth is doomed, and sells it for once. We start to get a real kaiju cosmology here, with planets preyed on or defended by monsters.

Finally we have all the world's monsters assembled, rampaging begins.

The assassins chasing the Princess thru the entire film have been unstoppable, but not very competent, and kind of a waste of time. The plot as it is would happen without them.

Possibly too much of the monster scenes are them arguing with Mothra, rather than fighting, there's only a few minutes of King Ghidorah vs the three defending kaiju. There is a bit of destruction in Tokyo, but mostly it's a beloved peasant village or wilderness at the foot of Mt Fuji. Mothra's very slow and annoying power, Godzilla throwing rocks, Rodan standing around waving its wings, are enough to drive off the dragon. FOR NOW.

★★★½☆ - Needs about 15 minutes less Human time, replaced with monster fighting time.

This is a major influence on my favorite kaiju movie, GMK: Godzilla Mothra King Ghidorah Giant Monster All-Out Attack, but there Godzilla and Ghidorah switch places, and the subplots are wiped away so it's just reporter, crazy old man as "prophet", and monsters. And on the latest Hollywood Godzilla King of the Monsters, but there everything is 100x larger than life.

What I'm Watching: Godzilla Raids Again, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, The Player

More of my HBO Max queue. I absolutely hate that they make me choose my profile every single time. I have one profile, it's a purple cock-ring that says "Mark" in it, there is zero reason to make me choose a profile every new window! Netflix now lets you choose movie characters for your profile image, so there I'm Hup from Dark Crystal 2019, but they only make me choose my profile if I've logged out and back in.

In the old days, I watched 3 movies every night from the video store: One B-movie, one studio flick, one known-good movie (often a rewatch). And that's kinda what I did here:

  • Godzilla Raids Again (1955): On Monster Island, Godzilla is back from the dead (or a second Godzilla!) fighting a 30m-long Ankylosaur "Anguirus" (actual ones were up to 6.25m long), dated at 70-150 MYA (in reality 65-67 MYA), which is certainly better than the first Godzilla's 2 MYA dates. Dr Yamane returns to show stock footage from the first movie, without sound effects or context, and then he is never seen again (smart, take your paycheck and run from this film). They also get to use some military stock footage to show air & naval search for the kaiju. Boy this is a cheapass movie so far.

    The drama of the pilots & radio girls (the pretty one is the boss's daughter, of course) relationship is maybe a repeat of Ogata & Emiko from the first movie, but it fills the Human interest requirement fine. There's a prison break story which has fuck-all to do with Godzilla, it's just B-roll, but serves to screw up the blackout/light lure plan. Oda Motoyoshi was a terrible but prolific waste-of-film director, and in more competent hands the prison story could've been given some pathos.

    The monster fights are goofy, accelerated footage instead of more properly slowed-down to look like 50m-tall monsters, mostly wrestling instead of the more acrobatic fighting of later Godzillas (admittedly these early suits were heavy). The miniature cities, and historic Osaka Castle(!!!), are clearly empty shells inside, when the original tries to not make that visible, and later ones succeed even more. There's a flooding subway scene that's fairly effective, though we don't see the victims; presumably nobody was willing to risk their lives for Oda's filmmaking.

    The music is not great. Anything dramatic or horrifying in the original has heavy Ifukube Akira music. Here, there's a little bass line behind the monster scenes, and light "laugh now" or overbearing brass band music in every Human scene.

    A little "Human interest" goes a long way in a kaiju movie, but post fight there's just endless people talking bullshit about romance and business, corporate drinking in a circle worshipping the boss, nothing to do with the plot. Incredibly tedious, and the comic relief pilot is badly written. Please make this end.

    They really don't seem to have watched the first movie. A fire fence is supposed to keep Godzilla in place? It was born from the hydrogen bomb, breathes fire, stomped thru a burning Tokyo. It lives in the deep freezing ocean. There's no fire or ice solution that's going to stop it. The bombing runs use a mix of miniatures, stock footage, and rear projection to fake in-aircraft camera shots, and the "miniature" terrain and mattes are bad.

    I'm giving this movie way more thought than was put into making it, or has deserved for 65 years. But I'm disappointed.

    ★★☆☆☆ only because Anguirus is slightly cool, being a completely non-humanoid kaiju.

  • Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald: I haven't seen the previous Fantastic Beasts film, which is nowhere to be found, but how much context can a "wizzarding world" flick need? Unfortunately after a pretty good prison break scene with badass Grindelwald (who seems to have the right idea, magical revolution now!), the story switches to whiny, useless "Newt" as protagonist, and then nothing happens forever, and I lost all interest.

    The cinematography looks like absolute shit, it's dark and color-distorted, you can't see anything, it's all CGI cartoons and fast cuts over bad actors, almost a parody of modern terrible filmmaking. Maybe there's plot later, but after 30 minutes of reading my phone while I waited for plot to start, and it didn't, and I loathe all the "good guys" so far, I gave up.

    ☆☆☆☆☆ and may Cthulhu have mercy on their souls.

  • The Player (1992): Haven't seen this in decades. Goddamn that initial long tracking shot. Tons of movie references, I dunno I've ever seen Absolute Beginners, just heard the Bowie song; adding that to my list. The Sheltering Sky I've seen and was bored out of my skull by, all of Bertolucci's films were some mix of fantastic cinematography, pretty girls, dumb assholes, fascists, wandering aimlessly, never intersects a plot, like Last Tango in Paris; he was the original Ridley Scott (right down to the unwatchable but very pretty oriental set piece flicks). I love Fred Ward and he's good at laconic delivery of both useful and menacing lines, but he doesn't get to do any violence here, which is a shame. There's a metric fuck-ton of cameos by Old Hollywood people, before it all went to shit.

    "It's Gods Must be Crazy except the Coke bottle is now a TV actress." "Exactly, it's Out of Africa meets Pretty Woman." made me crack up completely. I can't stop giggling at these people and their awful pitches.

    Oh, I miss movies like this, with writing and characters and cinematography that isn't just cyan/orange filters. I want everyone involved in that Fantastic Beasts flick to watch this, and then blow their brains out in shame.

    "Can we talk about something other than Hollywood for a change? We're educated people." … … [laughter]

    Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) is kind of too easy-going to have his job, but he steps up to crazy eventually. Vincent D'Onofrio didn't have his known career of being a crazy person yet, so his unstable writer act now looks too obvious.

    "I would hate to get the wrong person arrested." "Oh please. This is Pasadena. We do not arrest the wrong person. That's L.A., see, L.A., they kick your ass, and then they arrest you." A year after Rodney King.

    The first act is great, just a perfect storm of everything coming down on Griffin Mill. Second act develops his guilt and romance, and it's fine, but a little slow. Third act should be a massive storm of catastrophe, but instead nothing happens. Rich people get to be rich and goof around.

    ★★★★☆

Spoiler screenshot but this is the story they wrote and inserted into the paper:

player-newspaper

What I'm Watching: HoboMax

  • Hey, Beastmaster's On (seriously it was on a lot in the afternoons)
  • Hobotime (when you couldn't decide between HBO or Showtime)
  • Skinemax (ah, scrambled cable porn; to this day, static makes me horny (no not really (well, kinda)))

I was ignoring the HBO "Max" launch, but Rolling Stone ran basically an ad/listicle of great movies on it, and so I've given it another shot. Site organization is kind of terrible, it's "Netflix but with more hubs" so you have to poke around all over to see what movies they have. But they do have more older A-list movies, less TV shows.

Currently building up a giant queue by looking at the A-Z list, and then I'll work thru it, because finding anything on this site is a nightmare.

So far, quite pleased by the selection. It's not every movie; there's weird gaps and missing prequels or sequels (they have Yojimbo, but not Sanjuro?! Well, I have that on DVD, but the principle of the thing!), but it's like a pretty good video store. Not as good as mine back in the day, let alone Scarecrow Video, but you can find something besides Navy Seals.

  • Watchmen (2019 series): 3 eps in. Starts with the Tulsa Massacre and does not get more cheerful. Goes back more to the source comic, including the giant exploding squid, but has the consequences 35 years later. Rather implausibly has President Robert Redford, who would be 80+ at this time; I'm actually surprised he's still alive in reality. The masked cops are scum, the KKK using Rorschach as a model sucks (atheist anarchist vigilante, not a racist), the FBI's lead agent is a traitorous bitch, Adrian is a murderous (well, sorta) loonie. Nobody is worth saving. Protagonist cop and old man are… interesting, I guess. But I'm not sure I care. Whole thing's written by Damon Lindelof, who pisses me off with almost everything he writes and especially the dumb ending of Lost, so no shock there. Kind of a hate-watch, but I'll likely finish it.

  • Godzilla (1954): Aside from the B&W subtitles being baked in, instead of letting me choose yellow on black as I prefer, and calling it "Godzilla" instead of "Gojira", a perfectly adequate presentation. As always I sympathize entirely with the monster, Godzilla's been wronged and the Humans should be crushed under its feet. Serizawa is the real monster. It's amusing to compare this with Shin Godzilla; in the '50s, occupied Japan, the security board & Parliament are panicked, but competent at hearing advice and acting on it; in the 2010s, autonomous Japan, the government is completely paralyzed by bureaucracy, the "experts" are only used for PR and any science must be accomplished on the side, until things get close to an extinction event. ★★★★½

Godzilla Shows Again and Again

Considered while watching Godzilla Final Wars again:

The Godzilla Cinematic Universe is massively more high-quality science fiction/space fantasy than Star Wars, Marvel, and DC combined.

Sure, there's a few stinkers across 65 years like the Roland Emmerich movie GINO, Son of Godzilla, All Monsters Attack, and arguably Godzilla 2014, not every film has a great plot or fights. But by and large, they're respectable work.

If I'm going to show someone just three Godzilla films, they'd be Godzilla (1954), GMK: Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), and Godzilla Final Wars (2004); alternately for the last Destroy All Monsters (1968), similar basic movie but more serious, less awesome.

"One who depends on power will be destroyed by it."
—Xilian leader, Godzilla Final Wars

Tokusatsu is better than CGI, but Gen Orobuchi's Godzilla anime, Final Wars (a mix of Tokusatsu and CGI), & Godzilla: King of the Monsters show you can animate good Godzilla movies.

Compare to Star Wars: Two and a half good movies in the original trilogy, nearly a dozen garbage films since, a bunch of bad cartoons. Marvel: Maybe 5 good movies (Iron Man, Thor, Avengers, Deadpool, Guardians of the Galaxy) and a bunch of recycled junk sequels. DC: The Dark Knight, Wonder Woman somewhat?, rest is Zack Snyderism at its worst.

What's the moral of Star Wars, post-original-Trilogy? "This is pod-racing!" or "kill your father and burn anything you should respect" or some shit. What's the moral of Marvel & DC? Punch "bad guys" and they'll be back next week; a lot of civilians die as collateral damage.

The moral of Godzilla, the truth you should've learned, is always that nature is bigger than mankind, that war brings only misery, that science without forethought and sacrifice brings only monsters.

What I'm Watching: Godzilla, King of the Monsters

Lovely film. The monsters look and sound amazing, the music is great, the monster fight scenes are long, complex, and more visible than the previous American Godzilla (2014). This really is on par with the Toho movies, and respectful. It takes thousands of people and $200M to accomplish what Ishiro Honda did with $175K ($1.662M after inflation), a few dozen people, and a rubber suit. They have a nice credit memorial to Haruo Nakajima (1929-2017), the original Godzilla actor.

The mythology and backstory for the monsters is a nice touch, the kind of pseudo-scientific gobbledigook Toho does. The literal deus ex machina plot device is annoying, but functional, it drives the plot along.

Naturally, I sympathize entirely with the villains. Their motivation is the only sane response; the evil megacorp (led by the dumbass CEO from Silicon Valley) and military trying to destroy the kaiju are insane and species-suicidal. Ken Watanabe is great, and Zhang Ziyi and Bradley Whitford (who I think of as TV's Frank Jr, but he was on West Wing) are interesting and given good lines. Most of the other Humans I could do without, especially the annoying screaming child and the "hero" who shares my name.

The credits sequence bears rewatching, there's a lot of details there and I couldn't follow all of them; and there's a post-credits sequence, so stick around for that. The next sequel should be interesting.

This is PG-13, but there's nothing above PG in it, and really should have been in a few places; it's obvious scenes were cut or written around to avoid violence and, uh, suggestive monster behavior. So I'm dinging it a half-star for that and the screaming girl who should've been the first one eaten.

★★★★½

What I'm Watching: Shin Godzilla

Recently I've watched the Godzilla anime, which are silly but sometimes fun. So, I felt I should rewatch Shin Godzilla, the most recent live-action Toho movie, by Hideaki Anno. I saw it in theatre, but I remember little of it.

The start isn't at all clear about the timeline. GMK, my favorite Godzilla movie, was based on only the original movie happening. This one doesn't even have that, Gojira has a new origin story.

The early form is ridiculous, it (normally I refer to Gojira as "she" since Minilla, Gojira Junia, Godzuki, and the terrible Roland Emmerich movie imply that she can reproduce; but here that's not the case so "it") looks kind of like Anguirus. Then it "evolves", recapitulating the costumes from the entire series… By the end it's the late '90s overpowered disco-ball of lasers form.

The mid-movie rampages are fantastic, and the SDF and US forces put up a good fight. This entire sequence is one of the best Gojira fights in any movie. Just horrifying and beautiful.

But the politics are most of this film, and Japanese politics are slow, boring, bureaucratic, bloodless and cowardly. Even if it's meant as parody, it's just not funny, it's exhausting. They literally spend half the film doing paperwork and formal meetings. The young rebel politician Yaguchi is OK, but the vast herds of men in bad suits and binders are so dull, and the supposed half-Japanese American attaché has maybe the worst fake-American accent I've ever heard. There are several others who have bilingual lines, so I don't know why they cast her.

Finally the heroic plan engages, in a race against the most stupid plan possible. They actually know what they're doing, get all the computer simulations and chemical engineering, use the city to fight Godzilla… But it's very stationary, and I find it anticlimactic.

★★★½☆ And it'd be lower if not for that epic central battle.

Update: On rewatching:

The ground-crawling instar is so adorable. It's the tiny head and goofy smile it has.

I find the Japanese bureaucracy as villain more interesting this time.

"Wishful thinking and armchair theories by the old Imperial Army in the last war led to 3 million Japanese lives lost. Beware of unfounded optimism."
—Shin Godzilla

Maybe ★★★★☆