Friday, June 28, 2013

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) Review

Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster poster
Director: Ishiro Honda
Stars: Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura
Genre: Giant Monster

Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster is one of the most praised films of the Showa era Godzilla series, likely because it introduces one of the franchise's most loved monsters: King Ghidorah. Made by many of the same minds behind the first Godzilla film, and many others that followed; Ishiro Honda directing, Akira Ifukube composing, produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka, and of course Eiji Tsuburaya in charge of the special effects.

All you really need to know about the plot (and indeed all I could follow) is that there is a new monster in town named King Ghidorah and the only way he can be stopped is if Godzilla and Rodan stop fighting and team up with Mothra to beat him (this is the first film that started portraying Godzilla as a hero rather than a villainous/indifferent monster). There's some other stuff involving the humans, like a Princess from Jupiter who can see into the future, but...well, well I really don't know what to say about all that.

The human characters are decent enough, and acted well, I guess. They're interesting enough to not bore you to death but the plot itself is extremely convoluted and, quite honestly, a tad irrelevant. You can pretty much accept the fact that for some reason or the other there are giant monsters and they are fighting each other. So I don't know if it's so much that the plot is hard to follow as it is just not worth following (perhaps a bit of both).

Ishiro Honda did a good job directing, and Eiji Tsuburaya's miniatures are certainly impressive, but that's not enough to save the film. What makes this film, in my opinion, absolute shit is the lackluster fight scenes. The fight scenes are a joke. The fight between Godzilla and Rodan is one of the most embarrassing things I've ever seen on film. They really go full retard here. The entire fight between Godzilla and Rodan is them wailing their rubber arms at each other, looking as if they're having multiple seizure or practicing some odd form of dance. It's like watching two retarded babies wrestle with blindfolds on. Not to mention that Godzilla's entire fighting style in this film, besides seizuring, pretty much consists completely of kicking/throwing rocks. I'm not even kidding, the amount of rocks thrown/kicked in this fight probably holds the record; at one point Godzilla and Rodan even start playing volleyball with a boulder. Godzilla doesn't even use his atomic breathe once! Then Mothra comes, but unfortunately Mothra never transforms into her winged form and she stays a caterpillar the entire time and just sprays white stuff on everyone. It's lame.

Ghidorah Godzilla Mothra Rodan

Of course the film is notable for being the debut of King Ghidorah, who is one of the cooler monsters in the franchise (despite his odd lack of arms), but he has certainly made better appearances later in the series. He's not quite as dumb as Godzilla and Rodan are in here, but he does a fair amount of seizure-dancing as well. And he pretty much just gives up and flies away after Mothra sprays some of that white stuff on him, so he's not exactly the badass he should have been.

I guess what is theoretically cool about this film is that instead of having only two monsters fight there is a big brawl with four monsters (which hadn't been done before), with Godzilla and Rodan and Mothra teaming up to defeat King Ghidorah. But, while this could have been potentially awesome (as later films in the franchise better showed us), it doesn't really matter how many monsters you throw in there when the fights are badly choreographed. It's just watching four retarded babies wrestle instead of two.

Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster

So while Honda's directing is good and Tsuburaya's modelwork is marvelous and Ifukube's score is stellar, none of it is enough to save the film from its ridiculously bad fight scenes and the convoluted plot. My favorite part of the damn movie was when the little fairies sang the Mothra song! I watched the original Japanese version of the film, not the English dub; I can only imagine how much worse the English version, as the Japanese versions of the Godzilla films are almost always preferable.

Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster destroying the city

I can really not understand why so many people praise this film and why so many consider it to be one of the best (if not the best) of the Godzilla franchise. I'd call it one of the worst of the franchise (if not the worst), on par perhaps with the also infinitely shitty 1998 American Godzilla. Yes, it's that bad. For Godzilla completionists only. 

1.5/5 stars

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Q: The Winged Serpent (1982) Review

Q: The Winged Serpent poster illustrated by Boris Vallejo
Director: Larry Cohen
Stars: Michael Moriarty, David Carradine
Genre: Giant Monster, Horror

Q, starring Michael Moriarty and David Carradine, directed by Larry Cohen, is a Giant Monster movie for the 1980s. It takes the classic city-destroying monster and updates it to a time of AIDS, Sony Walkmans, and MTV.

The story is a bit different than your average monster movie. It involves a small time crook, played brilliantly by Moriarty, who accidentally discovers the nest of a giant bird which has been terrorizing the city atop of the Chrysler Building. He then, of course, tries to use his knowledge to get rich, etc. Meanwhile a police officer (Carradine) is discovering the connections between the giant bird monster and the recent sacrificial killings to the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl (from which the film takes its name) that have been going on.

The story is not so much about a giant monster as it is about a petty criminal who is given knowledge of a giant monster's hiding place and must decide what to do with said knowledge. Does he tell the police immediately before the monster has a chance to kill again, or does he wait and use the knowledge for his own gain? It doesn't take him long to decide, but perhaps afterwards he realized the consequences of his actions; as his girlfriend later remarks: "I saw you when you thought you had some power, and it wasn't pretty."

Michael Moriarty's performance is one of the most interesting performances I've ever seen. Whether it's a good or bad performance is certainly debatable, but it's enjoyable nonetheless. In my opinion it's a good performance that sometimes blurs the line between good and bad, but all in all is actually quite masterful. At times it feels as if he's improvising every single line. It's a memorable performance that creates a memorable character, so I'd call it a success. David Carradine (whom many modern audiences may know as Bill from Kill Bill) definitely takes a backseat to Moriarty here, but his performance is charming, even if a little sloppy, nonetheless. Carradine becomes a bit of an action hero in the film's latter half, which was sort of odd.

Michael Moriarty in Q: The Winged Serpent

On to what is, for many, the most important part of a monster movie: the monster. This is where the film runs into some problems. The monster has a cool design and the stop-motion is fantastic to watch, but the monster effects look extremely dated, even for its time (though the gore effects are pretty cool). King Kong from 50 years earlier had better effects; or at least better implemented them. The effects definitely don't blend with the rest of the film. Not only that, but they don't show enough of the monster. For most of the film we only see a glimpse of the monster every ten minutes or so, whether it be a shadow or a claw. It isn't until the very end that we get to see the entire monster; but even then it is extremely underwhelming. 

Q The Winged Serpent Quetzalcoatl bloody

The cult aspect is an interesting twist but the monster isn't memorable for a number of reasons: it has no personality, we don't see much of it, and it doesn't do anything memorable, all it does is kill a few pedestrians. And the ending (some spoilers here) is terribly unsatisfying. The monster was destroyed far too easily, so much so that it was anticlimactic. I mean seriously, what sort of giant monster can be killed by a few gun shots?

Luckily the film doesn't take itself too seriously (after all, how could a completely serious film come from the guy who directed The Stuff?). There's plenty of humor in the film which actually works pretty well and Moriarty's bizarre performance is almost funny to watch. The film also has a self-conscious tongue-in-cheek quality to it.

If you love the style of the 80s than this film should be enjoyable. The soundtrack is really awesome too.

Q The Winged Serpent cult sacrifice

Q: The Winged Serpent is a must watch film for fans of the genre. It missed a lot of potential, I think, but still did many things right. Go check it out!

3/5 stars

Purchase Q: The Winged Serpent on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - VHS

Friday, June 21, 2013

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) Review

It Came from Beneath the Sea poster
Director: Robert Gordon
Stars: Kenneth Tobey, Faith Domergue, Ian Keith
Genre: Giant Monster, Science Fiction, Horror

After the success the Giant Monster genre had with films like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Them!, and of course Godzilla overseas, Hollywood was interested in capitalizing on the success. It Came from Beneath the Sea was one such attempt. 

The plot follows the formula of the previous films in the genre: giant sea monster (in this case an octopus) is unleashed due to nuclear testing after lying dormant for a very long period of time and then terrorizes various people while a combination of scientists and military try and work out a way to stop it. You know how it goes. 

The screenplay was co-written by George Worthing Yates, whom is somewhat of a king when it comes to 50s sci-fi scripts. Yates crafted the stories of films such as Them!, Conquest of Space, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, The Amazing Colossal Man, War of the Colossal Beast, Attack of the Puppet People, Earth vs. the Spider, Frankenstein 1970, Space Master X-7, Tormented, and King Kong vs. Godzilla; to only name a few. So, anyone who is a fan of low-budget 50s/early 60s sci-fi should no doubt run into much of his filmography at some point or another. That's not to say he's a great screenwriter who crafts deep stories; no, after all these sort of movies never were known to have rich plots. But his contribution to the genre and time period should be noted and appreciated, no matter how bad of a writer he was. 

It was directed by Robert Gordon, whom you probably never heard of, and neither have I. This was really his only effort that remains remembered today (and I use the word remembered loosely). I think it's safe to say he wasn't exactly a talented director (either that or he had an extremely incompetent editor). This film feels so stitched together. The cuts and transitions never feel smooth and along with poor continuity the entire film feels very unnatural, and it constantly reminds you that your watching a movie. It's perhaps the worst continuity I've ever witnessed in a film. 

Faith Domergue in It Came from Beneath the Sea

The acting is very poor as well, which only adds to the films unnatural and artificial feel. Super stud Kenneth Tobey and the alluring Faith Domergue (whom you may recognize from This Island Earth) definitely disappointed me here. Most of the time the actors seem very wooden and uninterested. 

The main appeal of this film is easily the special effects done by the masterful Ray Harryhausen. This was his first film after the wonderful Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. His work here is just as good if not better, unfortunately the film itself isn't. This is still fairly early in Harryhausen's career, so I wouldn't say that he had quite mastered his craft yet, but exceptional work nonetheless. Unfortunately we don't get to see it very often in the film. There's only a view brief scenes where we get to see his work, and they are by far the only scenes worth seeing. The giant octopus sinking a ship or attacking the Golden Gate bridge are perhaps the film's only highlights. I understand the film was on a very limited budget (in fact, due to the low budget it would have cost too much to animate all 8 of the octopus' arms, so they instead opted to give it only 6, which led Harryhausen to nickname it "sixtopus") but it would have been nice to see more of the monster and the special effects, being as the rest of the film is fairly slow and boring. 

It Came from Beneath the Sea Octopus sinks ship

And while the special effects themselves are very well done, I felt they weren't implemented very well. This is of course not entirely the fault of Harryhausen but more the fault of the director. Gordon never brings everything together good enough. The effects are good but they never blend naturally with everything else. Instead of having the effects act as a natural extension of the film's other scenes they feel as if they're completely on their own, separate from the rest of the film. A decent director is able to take what is good (in this case the effects) and implement well to make it even better, and to take that which is bad (in this case the acting) and do his best to disguise it and make it work better. Unfortunately Robert Gordon failed to do that. 

It Came from Beneath the Sea Octopus attacks clock tower

It's a film that truly represents its era--one of low budgets and shameless rip-offs. It's only worth watching for fans of science fiction from the 1950s or those who are interested in Ray Harryhausen's work. Otherwise I'd steer clear of this one. Poor direction, underused effects, a dull story, and a forgettable monster. 

2/5 stars

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Gojira [Godzilla] (1954) Review

Gojira Godzilla 1954 poster
Director: Ishiro Honda
Stars: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata
Genre: Science Fiction, Drama, Giant Monster, Horror

The granddaddy of Giant Monster films, the earliest kaiju eiga, originator of suitmation, the beginning of a pop culture icon, the perfect metaphor for nuclear war, subject of a Blue Oyster Cult song; it is, my friends, of course none other than Gojira, or, as it's commonly known as to English speakers, Godzilla.

I'm sure just about everyone knows the story of Godzilla. After a nuclear explosion in the sea a monster from Jurassic times is unleashed upon the people of Japan. Fueled by nuclear radiation and armed with atomic breath and a sinister roar, the monster destroys Tokyo. That's the synopsis most people would give you, and yes it is accurate, but the story is more than that. The film is actually less about Godzilla itself and more about how people are affected by Godzilla. The focus is on the everyday people of Japan: the mother who dies with her children in her arms, comforted only by the hope that she'll see her husband in heaven (whom probably died in WWII), or the scientist who invents a way to kill Godzilla but is afraid to use it for fear that it will be used to harm others (just as the nuclear bomb was used), or the professor who believes that Godzilla should not be killed but instead studied. The story is more about the man who kills Godzilla than it is about Godzilla.

Godzilla is a product of its time, and I mean that in a good way. It reflects post-war Japan perfectly. Only a decade after losing WWII, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the nuclear testing in the Bikini Atoll, and the then newly emerging Cold War, Godzilla is indeed a very somber and deep film, not a cheesy monster movie. The director, Ishiro Honda, has been quoted as saying "When I returned from the war and passed through Hiroshima, there was a heavy atmosphere - a fear the Earth was already coming to an end. That became the basis for the film."

Godzilla's atomic breath in Gojira

Godzilla is a walking metaphor for nuclear weapons. Godzilla is "radiation made visible". At the same time though Godzilla isn't necessarily evil. It's a tragic creature brought about by man's careless use of atomic power. To quote the director once again "Monsters are tragic beings. They are not evil by choice. They are born too tall, too strong, too heavy, that is their tragedy. They do not attack people because they want to, but because of their size and strength, mankind has no other choice but to defend himself. After several such stories as this, people end up having a kind of affection for the monsters, they end up caring about them." In this way Godzilla is sympathized with, and when he is defeated it is just as much a sorrow as it is a relief.

To me, Godzilla is one of the first films to use a genre (fantasy horror) that is usually looked at as mere silly and cheap entertainment as a means to present a very real and serious message. Whereas many films of the 50s used radiation as a gimmick (similar to electricity in the 30s) Godzilla used it as a warning. The ending isn't so much a set up for a sequel as it is a warning to the people. 1951's The Thing from Another World ended with the warning of "Watch the skies, everywhere, keep looking! Keep watching the skies!" But this is hardly as relevant as Gojira's ending lines: "I can't believe that Godzilla was the only surviving member of its species... But if we continue conducting nuclear tests... it's possible that another Godzilla might appear somewhere in the world again." If Godzilla is a walking metaphor for nuclear warfare then this warning is as direct and relevant as it could have been; it is saying that if armament of nuclear weapons continues then the horrors will continue as well. 

Godzilla on the mountain Gojira

I mentioned how the story is really about people affected by a monster rather than just the monster. This is absolutely true and at many times it feels more like a Kurosawa drama than a Monster movie. The elder professor played wonderfully by (to further the Kurosawa comparison) Takashi Shimura believes Godzilla should not be killed but studied; he doesn't see Godzilla as necessarily a curse, but rather a potential way to solve the problems of radiation (a problem the Japanese knew very well). The inventor of the oxygen destroyer which they use to defeat Godzilla, played by Akihiko Hirata, is afraid to use his weapon to destroy Godzilla in fear that it will then be used to cause even more deaths. And these are only the major characters. Ishiro Honda puts much focus on the extras as well. His films are often said to have a documentary feel to them because of the focus he puts on the everyday people. 

Takashi Shimura in Gojira Godzilla

Godzilla took heaps of inspiration from the 1952 re-release of 1933's King Kong, which is the great grandfather of the genre (along with, perhaps, The Lost World. Both featuring the wonderful special effects of Willis O'Brien). Another major influence was the year prior's The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which featured the special effects of Ray Harryhausen, whom was mentored by Willis O'Brien. I'd like to focus on the film itself though, if you want to see more about Godzilla's influences see my review of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

Godzilla boasts some impressive effects as well. In many ways Eiji Tsuburaya was the Japanese equivalent of Ray Harryhausen. Both were creators of extraordinary special effects, though whereas Harryhausen worked primarily in stop-motion, Tsuburaya specialized in model-work and pioneered suitmation (which is a fancy way of saying a man in a suit smashing scaled down models of buildings). Of course special effects tend to become outdated rather quickly, Tsuburaya's work can still be appreciated.

Godzilla near a bridge in Gojira

And I can't not mention the wonderful music score done excellently by Akira Ifukube, who was only given a short time to compose it. The Theme is probably one of my favorite film compositions of all time. It's magnificent; it gives off a feeling of intense and building terror, but also one of a war-time anthem. It's incredible that he composed it in such a short time and without even seeing the film beforehand. And, while we're on the topic of sound, isn't Godzilla's roar just wonderful. I think it may be one of my favorite sounds of all time. If you didn't know, it was created by running a leather glove across a violin. 

Eye patched scientist in Gojira Godzilla

I could ramble on about Godzilla for a very long time, but I doubt that it'd be beneficial to anyone involved. It's a well-made film, and though it may seem underwhelming by today's standards it's still a massively important, intelligent, and influential film, which is unfortunately often overlooked as being no more than a cheap sci-fi monster flick. Worth seeing for just about anyone, fans of the genre or Japanese cinema especially. 

3.5/5 stars

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Monday, June 10, 2013

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) Review

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms poster
Director: Eugene Lourie
Stars: Paul Hubschmid, Paula Raymond, Cecil Kellaway, Lee Van Cleef
Genre: Science Fiction, Giant Monster, Horror

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is perhaps most notable for having a huge influence on Godzilla, but there's much more to it than that and if you look there's a very interesting film here.

So basically what we have here in the way of plot is this: during a nuclear bomb test in the Arctic Circle a frozen dinosaur from prehistoric times is thawed out. This dinosaur ends up terrorizing numerous ship crews and people and eventually the entire city of New York. Meanwhile the army and what have you try desperately to find a way to stop the beast.

I guess I will first focus on the similarities between this an Godzilla, which came out the following year. Of course the plots are very similar; in fact this film pretty much set the formula for almost all Kaiju films since. There's also the nuclear bomb element present here, an element that is so prominent to the Godzilla series. In post-war Japan and Cold War America the subject of nuclear weapons was one that both populaces were very familiar with, and this was the first film to combine that with a monster element. Aside from a similar plot a some shared themes there's not much else the two films have in common; though I must say that the beast's cry in this film sounds an awful lot like Godzilla's cry.

So we have this film (along with King Kong, which actually served as inspiration for both Godzilla and this film) to thank for being a major influence on the Godzilla films (in fact the first Godzilla was originally titled The Giant Monster from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and was acknowledged by all involved in making it that it was essentially a rip off of Beast from 20,000 Fathoms), that's great, but how about the film itself?

I should perhaps mention that this film is based on a Ray Bradbury short story of the same name (originally of the same name, but later changed by Bradbury to "The Fog Horn" after the film's release). It doesn't share much in common with Bradbury's story, which is unfortunate. The film could have benefited from the poetic nature of the short story and the easy to sympathize monster that Bradbury created. The monster in here is just a monster; there's no depth. Besides the presence of a giant sea monster, the only thing this film really shares with The Fog Horn is the lighthouse scene. In fact, Bradbury had originally been approached to rewrite the original screenplay for this film, but when the screenwriters realized that this story shared a lot in common with Bradbury's story from 1951, they decided to buy the rights to the story in order to capitalize on Bradbury's name and popularity and rewrote some of the script and changed the film's name (which was originally titled Monster from the Sea).

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms light house

Perhaps the greatest thing about The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (besides its historical importance) is the stop motion animation done by Ray Harryhausen. It makes sense that Harryhausen would end up working on one of the most influential Giant Monster films; he was mentored by none other than Willis O'Brien, the man who did the special effects in King Kong. So you see, without Willis O'Brien (King Kong) we would have never gotten Ray Harryhausen (Beast from 20,000 Fathoms) and without Ray Harryhausen we would have never gotten the Godzilla series, and without the Godzilla series who knows where the genre would have ended up. To complicate matters even further, the only reason Ray Bradbury was involved with this film was because while he visited Ray Harryhausen on set (whom he was good friends with). So if anyone else besides Ray Harryhausen had done the special effects Ray Bradbury would have never gotten involved and if Bradbury never got involved then the film might not have been as successful as it was and wouldn't have started the Giant Monster-mania that it did. So, a big thanks to Ray Bradbury...err, I mean Ray Harryhausen...or rather Willis O'Brien, or, you know what, thank you everyone.

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms dinosaur

Anyway, Ray Harryhausen's special effects are fantastic. The dinosaur moves very fluidly and has a very convincing sense of realism to it. All the sets and models look great too. If you watch Giant Monster movies to see Giant Monsters (who doesn't?) then you will not be disappointed.

Many might assume that being that this is a sci-fi monster film from the 50s it will be pretty cheesy and rely much on camp value. This isn't quite true. The special effects still hold up and so does most of the rest of it. It's fairly well written and there's never any really cheesy dialogue. The characters are very well written too and very easy to sympathize with (I actually felt sad at some points in this film. Not something many 50s sci-fi films can do). There's the charming old man, the faithful and caring assistant, the first monster witness who no one believes. They're interesting characters, and the acting is pretty solid as well, though certain actors are very obviously better than others. There's also a scene featuring a young Lee Van Cleef, who looks just as cool in the 50s as he does in the 60s. Cleef had hitherto only been in a few films, notably High Noon and Kansas City Confidential, and it's nice to see him in here over a decade before his roles in For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which he is most remembered for today (along with some other Western roles as well).

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms Cecil Kellaway

It's an important film, it's an enjoyable film, and I'm glad to say that it is also a pretty damn good film as well. A must watch for fans of Godzilla or Giant Monster (Kaiju) films in general, along with fans of 50s sci-fi films.

3.5/5 stars

Purchase The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms on Amazon: DVD - Double FeatureStream

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Lost World (1925) Review

The Lost World 1925 poster
Director: Harry Hoyt
Stars: Wallace Beery, Bessie Love, Lewis Stone, Lloyd Hughes
Genre: Adventure

A film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Arthur Conan Doyle, with wonderful stop-motion special effects by the very talented and innovative Willis O'Brien. One of the earliest example of a Giant Monster movie (Kaiju, if you prefer) and the film that helped paved the way for films like King Kong, Godzilla, and Jurassic Park.

The story follows Professor Challenger (what a name!) who returns from an expedition on which he claims he saw prehistoric dinosaurs...alive! No one believes him, and indeed mock him, but he forms a party to return to the lost world in order to prove them wrong (and to save a member who was lost on the previous journey). In the lost world they are confronted with plenty different varieties of dinosaurs that threaten their lives.

Probably the most notable thing about this film is the special effects work of stop-motion pioneer Willis O'Brien. Prior to The Lost World O'Brien honed his skills on lesser works such as The Dinosaur and the Missing Link and The Ghost of Slumber Mountain, and his animation was at its hitherto best in The Lost World; of course he later went on to culminate all his talents into King Kong. Suffice it to say, O'Brien's innovative stop-motion animation looks great here and believe it or not still holds up well today. The dinosaurs move in very convincing and life-like ways and all the sets and models look absolutely gorgeous (and even more gorgeous in the 93 minute restored edition, which I am reviewing and recommend).

One of the coolest things about King Kong were all the giant monster fights he got into; this holds true for The Lost World also. Dinosaurs are always fighting other dinosaurs and the fights are very enjoyable and well choreographed. It's some awesome action, especially for its time. And after all, who doesn't like to see dinosaurs fighting?

The Lost World 1925 t-rex dinosaur

There's some nice acting from the wild-haired and bearded Wallace Beery, and of course the very beautiful Bessie Love (a fitting name, I may add). At the beginning of the film there is also a cameo appearance of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself, the author of the novel of which this film is based (also author of the highly popular Sherlock Holmes series). It is, as far as I know, his first and only appearance on film. It is also said that when the film came out in theaters Doyle went to see it with his family and did indeed like it.

The Lost World 1925

One of the first giant monster movies. The first feature length film to utilize stop motion animation. The film that served as invaluable practice for Willis O'Brien's later special effects work in King Kong. The first film to be screened on an airplane (April 1925 London-Paris Imperial Airways flight; probably not the best idea being that the plane was made largely of wood and film stock is nitrate and highly flammable but, you know, someone had to do, right?). An important film, one that nearly became a lost film numerous times, and luckily for us a very enjoyable one. 

3.5/5 stars

Purchase The Lost World on Amazon: DVD - Stream - VHS

Monday, June 3, 2013

(500) Days of Summer (2009) Review

(500) Days of Summer posterDirector: Marc Webb
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Chloe Moretz
Genre: Romantic Comedy

How much can the film industry do with the romantic comedy genre? I mean seriously, you can change up the characters and their personalities, the setting, the things that happen to them in-between, but as far as plot goes the genre only has a couple of options. They could (a) Have the happy ending where the boy and girl end up together after some rough patches, (b) have boy and girl go their separate ways, happily, (c) it takes the melancholic approach and it just ends in sadness, (d) any combination of the above..

There are the rare exceptions but the majority of films in the romantic comedy genre fall into the same groups. There is only so much you can do with the genre, even one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time, Annie Hall, falls victim to this. And, alas, so does (500) Days of Summer. So what makes a good romantic comedy rather than a bad one? I suppose it'd have to mostly rely on the characters and their personalities/believably/likability, i.e., character psychology. Among, of course, the humor and delivery and whatnot.

(500) Days of Summer has decent characterization. It's not the best by any means, but I'd say it's slightly better than average. Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a great job as the boy of the story. His character is somewhat likable, though he can be a bit whiny and irrational and at times I just wanted him to shut the fuck up. Zooey Deschanel, who plays the girl, is actually one of the main reasons I watched this. I wouldn't call her an enormously talented actress, she's not bad, but she has a certain charm to her and you either love her or hate her. Her character actually kind of sucks. She's pretty one-dimensional. All I know about her is that Ringo Starr is her favorite Beatle, "Octopus' Garden" is her favorite Beatles song, she enjoys The Smiths, and she's read The Picture of Dorian Grey, and she is very reluctant to relationships (spoiler) yet she marries a guy quick as shit.

But I suppose the boy is the focus of the story and the girl is just a device to further show the boy. So, whatever.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer

Often classified as a 'hipster film' I'd actually protest that claim. I'll admit it does try to cater to the hipster audience (hence the casting of Zooey Deschanel) with a soundtrack and music references obviously void of mainstream appeal but also very obviously recognizable. It's as if the writer sat down and said "Okay, what music do the cool kids listen to?"

You've got references to and songs by The Smiths, The Pixies, The Beatles, Joy Division, Regina Spektor, Black Lips, The Temper Trap, Doves, Simon & Garfunkel, they're all here. But I love all these bands/musicians and many of them are among my most listened bands (especially The Smiths, Pixies, and Beatles) so I really can't complain. It's an awesome soundtrack, it just kind of hurts when you see actors acting like they love your favorite bands. I don't know, it just always seems forced to me. It's not too bad here, but still present.

But it's not really a hipster film, merely a film with hipster elements. Not that being a hipster film is always bad (it usually is though). Because the two characters aren't really hipsters. They kind of are...but not really.

However both boy and girl are kind of reduced to their pop culture interests. There's not much more to them to that. And as I've said before: it's not hard to put references in a film and namedrop a bunch of stuff. Which this film basically does. Come to think of it, the characters did kind of suck...though somehow still above average for the genre.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer

Besides falling into a typical and predictable plot, there are many other romantic comedy conventions here. Like the boy's two friends; they are just so awful and can fit into just about any comedy film. They were so bad it was nearly unbearable. Or the sister character played by Chloe Moretz. The boy keeps going to her for guidance and she, the all knowing 12 year old she is, provides it. Does it get anymore stereotypical than that?

I'm usually quite fond of Chloe Moretz but I really hated her here.

So though a typical plot, how was the delivery of the plot? Pretty good, I'd say. The story doesn't progress in a linear way, rather it jumps around from the future to the past, back and forth. This actually works well, and we know there are only 500 days, but it's the days that lead up to 500 that are interesting.

Oh, and as for comedy...there's nothing really funny here. Why do so many romantic comedies lack the comedy?

My favorite scene was the part when they were in IKEA and pretending that all the display rooms were their home. That scene was actually awesome and did a good job displaying the life of typical couples, in a sitcom kind of way, something that I suspect the girl character really didn't want. It's hard to describe the scene unless you've seen it.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer

[Spoilers in the following paragraph] The ending, I'll admit, was kind of cute with the whole Autumn thing. That made me smile. The moral I suppose is that you just keep trying until you find the one, which is actually kind of depressing. Ending was mediocre as far as ending goes, but it was presented well.

Fans of romantic comedies I'd recommend to definitely watch this. If you don't like romantic comedies, well I'd recommend against it. It's much better than the countless other romantic comedies that are churned out by Hollywood, but in all honesty this one isn't much different. It appears fresh on the outside but at its core it really is just another romantic comedy, save for a few neat things. 

In the end I'd rather just listen to The Queen is Dead or Doolittle and have a better much better time than I did watching this. In fact the thing this film did best was make me want to stop watching the film and listen to music.

Recommended for: fans of any of the actors, fans of romantic comedy, fans of indie/hipster music

3/5 stars
+Good soundtrack
+Good actors
+Great delivery/structure/editing
+At least appears to be fresh
-Despite it's appearance it really is quite typical
-Meh characters
-Standard plot

Purchase (500) Days of Summer through Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - Stream
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