Sunday, April 20, 2014

Review: REPTILIAN (1999)


Holy crap.  Less than twenty movies to go before we reach the end of our big list.

Today's film is Reptilian (aka Yonggary, 2001 Yongary, Reptile 2001, etc.; 1999).



I'll go first:
What a mess. 
Not just the film.  It's a mess trying to understand the story behind the film, too.  When it was first made in 1999, it was pretty much a straight up remake of the original.  But then it was heavily edited and altered before being re-released in 2001 (supposedly to add all of the alien stuff).  Apparently it is only this latter version which is available on DVD. 
It's ostensibly a remake of Yonggary, a film I remember solely because of the kid who created a flashlight that makes the monster itch and dance.  Ugh. 
Beyond the name of the monster and the Korean names behind the scenes, there's nothing to connect the two. 
The cast is almost entirely American.  The characters are all written and played arch.  A maniacal-for-no-apparent-reason paleontologist.  A crazed paleontologist screaming about prophecy.  A weasely government type who's content to let aliens destroy the world if it means he can keep secrets.  Gung-ho military types.  Scared military types.  A wallflower female scientist who does little more than aid exposition.  And not a good actor in the lot. 
The script is rock stupid, too.  Here's one small example.  Aliens arrive and destroy a satellite and the Space Shuttle Atlantis.  The military generals we follow don't seem terribly concerned, apart from some urgent speaking.  Then one general asks, "Are you considering a preemptive strike?"  Dude.  The aliens have already attacked.  By definition, any attack you make now can't be preemptive.  (And then there's the stupid nuclear countdown to attack Yonggary, even though he got beamed up and no one knows where he is.  The list goes on.) 
The special effects.  It's some of the best, most state-of-the-art work you've ever seen ... if you've only seen cutscenes from games on the Sega Dreamcast.  Truly horrible.  So very bad. 
Odd upside, though.  While the ones and zeroes smashing them are poorly assembled, the model work here is pretty damn good.  The buildings of "Los Angeles" are very well made.  (I'll also say that the early scene showing an explosion dispatching a group of scientists was well done, too.) 
The military is even less effective than they were in Godzilla (1998).  Despite supposed missile locks, only three or four actually hit the monster. 
Beyond the bad acting, beyond the bad effects ... there's a bad, nonsensical story. 
Aliens apparently brought Yonggary to Earth 200+ million years ago and have returned to awaken it and take over.  That's fine.  There's a diamond-shaped thing on the monster's forehead that lets it be controlled by the aliens, leading the military to target it.  That's fine, too. 
But then the thing gets hit by a soldier wearing a jetpack (don't ask) and the aliens lose control of him.  Then Yonggary becomes good.  For no reason whatsoever.  He holds up a building to keep it from crashing on people.  So the aliens dispatch another monster to fight Yonggary: 
 
That's Cyklor?  Cygor?  Who cares. 
This scorpion-like thing fights Yonggary for a few ridiculous scenes before Yonggary kills it.  Then the military takes Yonggary to an uninhabited island to live in peace. 
Other than the model work, the only other upside (I can think of) is that some of the early action set pieces are pretty good concepts.  Like the fossil that regrows and kills workers.   
Reptilian ... so bad.  1 out of five atomic breath blasts.
My son's turn:
Well, this one is like Godzilla 1998, but in Korean.  So, this is a remake of Yonggary, and with Jet Packs, Six legged Scorpion Things, and More!! I liked it because of the realism(which is not that good), I hated it because of the unrealism. I was able to ignore the bad effects until that one soldier with a jet pack said something bad about Godzilla.  You don't talk bad about Godzilla!!!! 
So,rating wise, i'll say 1.9 out of 5 Atomic Breaths of Awesomeness!!!
Here's the trailer:



Next, Godzilla 2000.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Review: GAMERA 3: REVENGE OF IRIS (1999)


Forging ahead through our big list of movies ...

Today's is Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (aka Gamera 3: The Awakening of Irys; 1999).



My son, James, will go first:
Well, this one is a scary one, starring Slender Kaiju (Iris) and Good & Evil Gamera. The part that creeped me out was when Iris started to grow and Iris needed to "eat" something.  Iris, in my book, needs an award for Creepest Movie Villain. But, this movie was awesome too. Like when Gamera fired a fireball, You got to see all the people flying from the flame! 
So, rating wise, i'l say 3.8 out of 5 Atomic Screams of Fearfulness!!! D: 
My turn:
"Gamera is a friend to children." 
We heard that so much in the Shōwa series that it became a joke.  An excuse for kids to be inserted however preposterously into the film's goings on. 
In the Heisei era, that thought still exists, but in a different way.  Kids are involved in the plot, but there is more meaning to it than ever before.  In the Shōwa movies, the kids were there to, presumably, give the target audience characters with whom to connect.  In this trilogy, the few kids we see are integral to the plots.  Asagi was once connected to Gamera and now Ayana is instrumental in Gamera's near destruction. 
If there could be a second subtitle to this movie, I would suggest "Collateral Damage." 
Rarely in kaiju films does the camera focus on the "little people."  We're typically fixated on a scientist/reporter/military leader and their immediate family.  We see monsters stomp about all the time.  Buildings tumble and fall.  Fireballs engulf whole city blocks.  We don't see the impact, though. 
We do in this film. 
 
Between stomping feet, collapsing debris and explosive fireballs, we actually see dozens of people being killed.   
 
The battle in Tokyo is insane.  Yes, Gamera is killing Gyaos, but the collateral damage is massive.  Thousands and thousands die.  It looks like the kind of thing that probably happens all of the time, but we've never seen it before at the street level. 
The scene comes in the middle of a devastating sandwich of nightmares/flashbacks.  When we're introduced to Ayana, she's having a dream of her last memory with her parents.  That just happens to be during the course of the first movie in the trilogy with Gamera's inadvertent destruction of an apartment building.  She is a walking and talking personification of collateral damage.  And thanks to Ayana's tainted memory, Gamera takes on an evil (almost GMK) visage: 
 
I could go on and on about this movie.  The suits are outstanding.  The model work is amazing (the Kyoto station alone is staggering).  The look of Iris is both alien and lovely; and properly devastating when it needs to be: 

 
Is there anything that doesn't work? 
Some of the CGI gets dodgy, particularly at Gamera's first appearance.  That's nitpicky, though.   
The biggest offenders are the two weirdo government advisers who fancy the idea that Iris and Gyaos are supposed to wipe the Earth clean of both humans and Gamera.  The guy, in particular, is worthy of an eyeroll or three.  Their presence is unnecessary.  They distract from the true evil of the movie.  Excepting Iris, that evil is found inside a young girl. 
As another downside, I'm tempted to mention that Gamera doesn't appear in the movie for much of the first part of the running time.  I think this was a brilliant move, though, on the part of the filmmakers.  By keeping Gamera at a remove for so long, it somewhat alienates the viewer from the character.  It helps our sympathy for Ayana and what she's been through. 
Then, at the end, Gamera shows up in Kyoto and all hell breaks loose. 
 
A magnificent model gets smashed, Gamera gets impaled and then partially crucified.  And then, in a supreme moment of badassery, our favorite turtle blasts off his own trapped hand, lets Iris cauterize his wound with the enemy's own fire, and then Gamera thrusts his plasma-laden limb through his opponent. 
 
Iris is destroyed and Ayana is able to see Gamera for the hero he is, because he pulled her limp body from Iris before she could be absorbed.  The moment when she broke down is devastating and genuinely choked me up. 
Some complain about the ending as we see thousands of Gyaos descending toward Japan.  Gamera stands in the ruins of Kyoto, screaming.  Waiting.  And then credits.  Look, I would have liked to see that battle, too.  But it would have been anticlimatic after the emotional payoff of Iris' destruction.  And, like the end of Angel, it shows that the battle never ends.  Like Mayumi said, the last of the species will never give up. 
Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris ... perhaps the greatest kaiju film ever made and within the greatest series of kaiju films.  4.75 out of five atomic breath blasts.
Here's the trailer:



Next, Reptilian.

(GIFs from tokumonster)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Review: GODZILLA (1998)


Last year, my son and I set out to watch some eighty-plus films before the new Godzilla movie opens in May.  We even compiled a list.

Today's movie is Godzilla (1998).



I'll go first:
Like I've had to do for a couple of films on the list, I'll split my criticisms in twain. 
Despite fan howling that this isn't a Godzilla film, there are a few points where it manages to adhere to the familiar formula.  The two main characters are a scientist and a reporter (many kaiju films follow this narrative device ... primarily for storytelling purposes, of course).  Nuclear component (in original film, nukes awakened Godzilla; in Heisei era, they mutated a surviving dinosaur; here, mutates an iguana).  First attack is on a fishing boat at sea.  Military is wholly ineffective against it (well, until the submarine attack and the end of the film).   
Another point that I feel compelled to highlight is that Godzilla was killed in a "proper" Godzilla film before.  In the original Gojira, with the oxygen destroyer.  (I'm not sure Destoroyah's death counts as he was melting down due to his nuclear nature over several films.)  I will quickly follow up by saying he's never been killed by conventional weapons quite so "easily," though. 
What works well?   
When it comes to the monster itself, most of the effects.  The miniature work is great and most of the CG is very good, too.  The action scenes and set pieces are top notch.  I love his/her first appearance when it leaps out of the water, especially the added detail of boats stuck in its spines.  The music is mostly great, too, though it gets a bit too Jurassic Park-y in places.  The scope and production value of the movie feels huge and that's a pleasant change of pace from many Godzilla films.  Actor-wise, Jean Reno is good, as is Matthew Broderick and Kevin Dunn (Col. Hicks). 
What doesn't work? 
Comic relief.  Look, I know it's necessary to have moments of levity, but c'mon on.  They hired half the voice cast of The Simpsons, and they're not the worst of the bunch.  Who's the worst?  Mayor Roger Ebert and chief of staff Gene Siskel.  Just cut that stupid idea for a joke right out of the movie.  (Even if only because they're CHICAGO-based critics.)  I like Harry Shearer, but that's still too much comedy.  Leave the comic relief to just one character (Hank Azaria's "Animal") and a few moments with Philippe and Dr. Nick and that's it. 
The hatchlings.  It's a good idea and one that wasn't really explored in any Godzilla film, so I'm, basically, on board.  But it goes on way too long with way too dodgy CGI.  And it feels like something Jurassic Park did before and much, much better. 
 
(Although, we do get the better-than-it-should-have-been animated series from this scene.) 
 
Ill-advised choices.  For one thing, there are concepts that are introduced but never mentioned again.  Primarily Godzilla's radioactivity.  Why didn't that become an issue?  Another bad choice: having the military seem so inept.  When it first goes for the fish, the first shots fired against the monster go wide.  You can see the tracers firing off into the distance.  Of course they may have missed once it starts moving, but you've been aiming at a mostly still animal for the past few minutes, right?   
 
What is this movie's big sin when it comes to calling itself "Godzilla"?  The monster in question is really just a big animal.  It's looking for food, laying eggs, it gets hurt, etc.  Other than being really big, there's nothing nigh mythical about it. 
Godzilla ... gotta use two different ratings.  As a monster movie, 3 out of five atomic breath blasts.  As a Godzilla movie, 1.5 out five. 
And that's real breath blasts.  Not the fake kind they used in the movie to try and placate fans. 
My son's turn:
Well, I like this one and I now don't. When I found out that the real one wasn't in this one, I was sad and mad. But, I still like it. The reason that I didn't like it is because Godzilla gets killed by missiles. The reason I did like it is that this was like a normal Godzilla movie, but with a different monster. 
So, rating wise, i'll say 4.1 out of 5 Atomic Breaths of Awesomeness, or 1.8 "fake breath blasts" of fakeness
(Like me, he's conflicted.)

Here's the teaser trailer (far better than the actual trailer):



Next, Gamera 3: Revenge of Irys.

(GIFs from tokumonster)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Review: REBIRTH OF MOTHRA 3 (1998)


Just joining us?  My 11-year-old son and I have been working our way down THIS LIST of some eighty-plus films before the new Godzilla film opens in May.  We're almost done.

Today's movie is Rebirth of Mothra III (aka Mothra 3: King Ghidorah Attacks; 1998).



I'll go first:
The end of the Mothra trilogy goes out with a bang.  Comparatively. 
Yes, these movies have been made with kids as the target audience.  This one is no different.  Ah, but there is a difference.  For the first time, kids are in peril.  And not just the two or three kids the tiny Elias Twins befriend.  We're talking thousands of kids captured, possibly to be devoured or worse.  No, I don't get off on such things.  In this film, though, it gives the proceedings more weight than anything else in this trilogy. 
Ghidorah arrives on Earth and heads for Japan, as monsters are wont to do.  As he flies overhead, thousands of children are teleported away from schools and into some sort of undulating orb in the forest.  Why?  Don't know.  But it seems as though they're going to be digested when a caustic blue substance begins to bubble within the sack. 
James had the most darkly hilarious line of the night.  At their first meeting (seen in the GIF up top), Mothra shoots Ghidorah repeatedly and KG doesn't shoot back.  When I questioned why this was, James said, "Maybe he can shoot Mothra with children's souls." 
Holy crap.  I laughed and then shook my head.  That's my boy. 
KG, we're told, came to Earth 130 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs (even though we all know they died out 65 million years ago).  The Elias then send Mothra back in time (Lightspeed Mothra being the same, appearance-wise, as Aquatic Mothra) to stop KG back then. 
 
This Cretaceous Ghidorah sure seems nimble, eh?  Anyway, he was more than a match for Mothra.  Even though the moth killed CG in a volcano, a bit of his tail came off, meaning KG could grow again from the tail.  Somehow. 
 
Rainbow Mothra, though, was mortally wounded, and three Cretaceous Mothra Larvae then coat their descendant in Silly String, meaning he can sleep for 65 (or 130) million years: 
 
When Mothra awakens, rested, he's now Eternal Mothra.  Fluffy, and ready to kick butt: 
 
The action that follows is pretty standard for these films.  Lots of beam weapons, biting of Mothra's wings, loads of glitter.  KG has a wicked move where he stomps Mothra and that's nice.   
There's some business with the Elias sisters ... one of the good ones gets possessed for a bit by KG, the evil sister is good all of a sudden ... it doesn't matter, really.  There's a nice scene with the lead kid who was bullied at school being told by the Elias that there's nothing wrong with being "sensitive," as she put it.  Frankly, I was just glad to have one of these films where the message wasn't environmental in nature. 
My main complaint with the film and, retroactively, the first of the trilogy, is the villain.  King Ghidorah.  In film one, they had Desghidorah, which is different from KG, even though DG has three heads, looks wicked, etc.  What I'm saying is ... even though we get a mighty mean looking KG, his impact feels diminished to me because Mothra already fought a three-headed alien prehistoric menace just two films back.  It feels like a retread.  That makes this movie suffer.  If they had just been a little more creative in the first one (maybe give Bagan a shot), it would have meant more now. 
Rebirth of Mothra III ... the best of the trilogy, for what that's worth.  3 out of five atomic breath blasts.
Here's my eleven-year-old son:
Well, i didn't like this one. So the third of the ghidora's is the king!! The reason I didn't like it is because, where's Godzilla? this is still in the same universe, right? But the mini puppet dinosaurs were cute. 
So rating wise, i'll say 1.9 out of 5 Atomic Breaths of Awesomeness
Up next, the American film Godzilla (1998).  Get your pitchforks.

(GIFs from tokumonster.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: KRAA! THE SEA MONSTER (1998)


You know the drill.  Eighty-plus movies on THIS list ... trying to finish before May 16 when Godzilla opens.

Today's movie is Kraa! The Sea Monster (1998).



Oof.

My son will go first:
Well, starring in this one, Mario as a space mushroom, the good empire (since their ship looks like a Death Star), and a sea demon. But anyways, there was one part where Kraa crushes a building with a Godzilla poster on it. i like it, i hated it, we all hated it. 
So, rating wise, i'll say 2.3 out of 5 Atomic Breaths of Awesomeness!!!
My turn:
From the people who gave us Zarkorr! comes this ... this ... thing. 
Look.  I won't bother with a lengthy synopsis or rundown of all that's right and wrong with it.  That would mean I'd be spending more time on this than the filmmakers did.  Here's just a few of the biggest tidbits. 
Kraa itself is reminiscent of a large reptilian Critter: 
 
Mogyar, the alien sent to stop Kraa, speaks with a massively stereotypical Italian accent (not unlike a certain Nintendo character), is never shown in full and looks like a cross between a Koopa and a Goomba: 
 
Because the main narrative thread of the film came up short (the whole thing is only about 65 minutes), they apparently later filmed and then shoehorned several segments into the movie.  These all involve horrifically dated CG visual effects and a distinctly Power Rangers-esque group of attractive twenty-somethings called "Planet Patrol": 
 
(That's Alison Lohman on the far right as a rookie psychic, annoyingly called "kid" by the blonde '90s "sk8ter boi" douche next to her.) 
Speaking of Power Rangers, the villain who sent Kraa to Earth is this guy, Lord Doom: 
 
In the end, once Kraa is defeated by a staggeringly well-rounded biker scientist, the Planet Patrol fight Doom in one of the worst fights I've ever seen committed to celluloid.  Or VHS, I guess. 
I know this isn't supposed to be high cinema.  I know it's supposed to be fun.  The problem is ... it's so bad it's distracting. 
Kraa! The Sea Monster ... so very bad.  0.5 out of five atomic breath blasts.
Here's the trailer:



Up next, Rebirth of Mothra III.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review: REBIRTH OF MOTHRA 2 (1997)


We've reached the midpoint of another trilogy on our big list of movies to watch (HERE).

The film is Rebirth of Mothra 2 (aka Mothra 2: The Undersea Battle; 1997).



I'll go first:
It's like thematic whiplash, going from the great Gamera trilogy to the Mothra trilogy ... but here we are. 
We're treated to a different batch of annoying kids this time.  (In the old Gamera series, the children were smarter than any adults around.  Not so with these kids.)  We also get a pair of bumbling thieves, conned by the evil Elias sister into helping her rob an ancient temple.  The kids, of course, are helping the good Elias, along with the help of an earless Furby with magical urine.  I'm not kidding. 

"I ain't a Mogwai, that's for sure." 
We get yet another long chase scene between the good and bad Elias sisters.  This time it's in a forest and, somehow, it's more poorly composited than the living room scene in the last movie.  Poor compositing was also a problem in the big bad guy's attack on land. 
 
Funny thing: for the first time in one of these movies aimed at kids, a monster destroys a school but a big deal isn't made about it.  There should have been a couple of kids cheering him on, only to have a teacher or parent scoop them up and carry them away. 
So, the bad kaiju, Dagarla (Daghara), was created by an ancient civilization to dispose of pollution.  Gee, that sounds familiar.   
Also, the fights between it and Mothra are pretty good (except for the CG water funnel ... and all the visible strings).  The requisite beam weapons.  The requisite glitter.  The grabbing and tossing of large suits.  Dagarla's pit smoke is a puzzler, though. 

 
Mothra Leo gets a makeover, though, for the third act and becomes "Aqua Mothra," as seen up top.  This is so the moth can go underwater and fight Dagarla on its home turf after being covered in evil barnacles.  A water moth is a strange enough idea (especially since it mostly looks like a flying fish), but the CG-laden execution of it with swarms of tiny Aqua Mothras is so very dull and poor ...  But we get Rainbow Mothra (Mothra of Many Colors?), so that's pretty nice. 
In the meantime, via the kids and the dumb crooks, we get an abject lesson in trust and lying.  It's ridiculous.  And then there's the futuristic ancient temple and the hologram princess ... just nonsense. 
Regardless.  If you're thinking of watching this just for the action, you're going to be disappointed.   
Rebirth of Mothra 2 ... why won't the kids shut up?!  1.5 out of five atomic breath blasts.
Here's my son:
The most stupid parts were all the screaming and grunting from the kids and just about everything in the temple. They were totally ripping off some of The Indiana Jones movies and they copied the invisible bridge. And the evil monster couldn't move his arms at all. It just swam around and shot smoke and laser beams. 
So, rating wise, i'll say 1.9 out of 5 Atomic Breaths Of Awesomeness!!!
Up next, Kraa: The Sea Monster.

(GIFs from Tokumonster)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Review: GAMERA 2: ADVENT OF LEGION (1996)


It seems like an age ago, but my 11-year-old son and I decided to watch an ever-growing list of Japanese-style monster movies before the new Godzilla film opens in May.

Today's movie is Gamera 2: Advent of Legion (aka Gamera 2: Attack of Legion; 1996).



My son goes first:
Well, this one is when a alien race of mutant bug-creatures that rely on air pressure and eat glass and plant eggs that explode and they can combine into a giant of them. I liked the fight at the end and the scene where they swarmed the subway. (Subway, eat Gamera.) 
 So,rating wise, i'll say 3.6 out of 5 Atomic Breaths of Awesomeness
My turn:
I'll get my main complaint out of the way first: Gamera doesn't show up until half-an-hour into the film.  Monster-wise, we only get the small Legion creatures ... and that's it. 
But that's not entirely bad.  We get to spend time with Midori, a science teacher, her friend, Obitsu, and a JSDF colonel.  In contrast to many monster movies -- especially the older Gamera films -- these people feel like real people.  They're not caricatures.   
Other complaints?  The use of computer-generated effects.  Check that.  Some of the effects.  These were the early days and they were certainly ambitious ... unfortunately, they haven't held up too well.  I'll point to the scene wherein Gamera gets swarmed by the small Legion as a prime example.   
 
There are, however, other scenes with CGI where it still looks fine.  They're ambitious and I appreciate that. 
Also, the music.  It's serviceable.  It fits the mood ... but there's nothing memorable about it.  As I type this, it's only two hours after we finished the film but I couldn't hum a lick of the score.  It's a shame that, beyond the "turtle meat" Gamera march of old, there isn't a recognizable theme that is exclusively Gamera's. 
Good stuff.  Legion itself.  Huge, interesting and scary.  The smaller Legion escape some of the traps that the tiny Destoroyah fell into.  While Destoroyah were sometimes just action figures on screen, Legion doesn't feel like that.  Plus, they weren't ripping off Alien.  They often felt genuinely scary.  I guess popping a subway conductor's head will do that.  The science behind Legion felt legit, too.  Silicon-based life; flowering; the oxygen.  It could all be BS, but it passed my sniff test. 
The action is very good.  There's one shot, in particular, of Gamera's approach to the Sendai airport ... it's just well done.  And then the big Legion and Gamera fight until Sendai is virtually annihilated.  Legion then continues to kick unholy amounts of butt in its approach to Tokyo: 
 
The structure of Legion's approach is handled well.  We're told the time of each encounter and the geography feels clear.  Better than even that, we see a lot of the action from the street level.  Looking up through stoplights toward Gamera and Legion makes it feel that much more accessible and real.   
In the end, Legion unleashes some sort of energy whips (a la that first Angel in Evangelion, right?): 
 
And then Gamera unleashes a heretofore unknown power: a massive energy blast from the chest. 
 
There's also a great shot of Gamera walking down the street, the force of his footfalls causing items on the sidewalk to jump and glass in phonebooths to shatter.  I'm not sure why, but I loved that. 
I should mention that the teen girl, Asagi, is back.  She's still wearing her magatama amulet, though her direct connection to Gamera was supposedly severed at the end of the last film  Here, she's still pulling for the turtle and the magatama shatters in her hand when Gamera reawakens in Sendai.   
I know a lot of people are down on Gamera 2, especially after the first movie of this era, but I felt it carries on the series more than adequately. 

Gamera 2: Advent of Legion ... a very solid entry.  4 out of five atomic breath blasts.
Here's the trailer:



Up next, Rebirth of Mothra 2.

(GIFs from Tokumonster)