Wednesday, May 28, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Title:  X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Director: Bryan Singer

Cast: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Peter Dingklage, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Famke Janssen, James Mardsen, Kelsey Grammer

So this is to be the end all be all of all X-Men movies, reuniting characters seen in all previous X-Men films, from the first trilogy, to X-Men: First Class. The story this time is based on the famous Chris Claremont/John Byrne storyline that ran through The Uncanny X-Men #141 and 142. Many comic book fans consider this storyline one of the greatest Marvel Comics ever made. I mean, it’s easy to understand why. A lot of important characters die, the whole idea that mutants are being wiped out like flies is a scary one, drawing parallels with fascism. It’s a story that touches upon many important themes. Racism, bigotry, xenophobia, you get the drill. So anyhow, here comes the film based on the famous tale; did it do it justice?

One of the greatest Marvel Comics ever made; The Uncanny X-Men #141!
For those who haven’t read the story, Days of Future Past starts out in a dark distant future where giant dna-copying robots known as Sentinels go around hunting mutants and eradicating them from the earth, like cockroaches. The idea being that mutants aren’t so special anymore because these Sentinels can copy their dna, and as a result their powers. But wait! The X-Men have figured out a way to send Wolverine back in time to stop the anti-mutant hysteria that started way back in 1973, when the Sentinels where first created. Can Wolverine convince a younger Prof. Xavier to help him stop the events which lead up to the creation of the Sentinels?

Bryan Singer returns to the franchise he helped build with X-Men (2000) and X2 (2003). In a way, Singer has returned to fix the huge mess left by Brett Ratner with X-Men: The Last Stand (2006); a film that changed X-Men cannon by killing off important characters as if they didn’t matter. I can almost hear Ratner saying “Kill Prof. Xavier? Sure! Let the next guy deal with it, meanwhile I’ll have a movie that everyone will talk about because important characters die!” That next guy ended up being Bryan Singer, picking up the pieces, trying to make things make sense again, trying to make order out of chaos. So it’s no surprise that Days of Future Past has a couple of surprises in store for X fans! In many ways, it’s great to have Singer back in the helm. I mean, so far, he’s the director that has handled these films the best, so it’s kind of comforting to know the material will be treated with some dignity and respect.

In Days of Future Past there are so many characters appearing on screen at the same time, that unless you’re a diehard X-men fan, you probably won’t know who the hell is who at times. Who’s that guy with fire coming out of his chest? Or that mutant opening portals? I don’t know, but it sure is cool! That’s one of the things I’ve always enjoyed about the X-Men comics, the multitude of characters, each with their own amusing ability. Having this whole mess of mutants running around using their powers and kicking the hell out of each other is fun times in my book. On this particular X-Men flick we get to meet many mutants we hadn’t seen before, like Quicksilver, whom you might have gotten a glimpse of during the final moments of Thor: The Dark World (2013). And by the way, speaking of Quicksilver, he was the one character everyone was all worried about. “He looks funny, he doesn’t look right” Whatever! He’s the guy who steals the movie! Quicksilver only appears for a short period of time, but damn, Quicksilver’s moment to shine is so cool that I don’t think the film every reached that level of awesomeness again. The film reached its peak somewhere around the middle of the film and it was all thanks to Quicksilver.

For all you comic book purists out there, well, you know they tweaked things around a bit. I guess the most notable change to the story is that Kitty Pride is not the one who goes back in time, it’s Wolverine. Every book to film translation suffers from changes for the sake of being more cinematic or exciting, so its understandable why they chose to make Wolverine the main character instead of Kitty Pride (like in the comics) or Bishop (like in the cartoons); considering Wolverine is the most popular X-Man ever, it kind of makes sense. In a sea of characters, some are bound to get lost in the shuffle and the one that got the least amount of attention in my book was Storm who is in the film for about 5 minutes total…or maybe less. Other characters only cameo and others you’ll see in some outstanding action sequence, and never see them again. But this is the nature of the beast. X-Men has always been a comic propelled by the idea that this is a group of super heroes and with so many characters in its roster, it stands to reason that the spotlight will shine on a different one with each story. In a future movie, who knows, maybe it won’t revolve around Wolverine so much. I mean, there are so many other characters to focus on. Still, with such a huge cast, I have to give Bryan Singer some props for not letting this turn into a total cluster fuck of a film.

At the end of the day, this film is a spectacle, a huge comic book movie with top notch special effects work, tons of action and many mutants to keep you entertained. Is it the best X-Men film ever made? I don't know, I guess time will tell on that one, but I will say that it's a very satasfying film. My only complaint would be that I wish they’d showed us more of the dark future world where the film starts out in. That part of the story is supposed to be very post apocalyptic, but alas we only get a glimpse of it. Aside, from that, I’m a happy geek boy with this movie. Of course the story brought to mind many time travel films, but the first I drew comparisons to was The Terminator (1984), because of the whole idea of going back in time to stop something from happening. By now everybody expects an extra ending at the end of all of these superhero movies. Disney has been doing this “extra ending” thing for a while now with great success. It’s a great thing in my book because it keeps the spirit of comic books alive. Comics have always been about the “to be continued” at the end of the comic, the cliffhanger to make you come back for next issue, or in this case, the next film. So yeah, now 20th Century Fox is copying this technique in their Marvel movies, and it makes all the sense in the world to me. Trust me, stay after the credits! Then go on the internet and find out who the hell Apocalypse is. Looking forward to X-Men: Apocalypse come 2016!

Rating: 4 out of 5

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Scanners II: The New Order (1991) and Scanners III: The Takeover (1991)

David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981) introduced us to powerful beings known as ‘scanners’. Scanners can do all sorts of nifty things with their powers, for example they can move things with their mind, read people’s thoughts, probe your brain and oh yeah, blow your head into smithereens. So of course somebody is going to want them, somebody is going to hunt them down. To me, the original Scanners was an allegory for people who wake up and see the world for what it is, they are intelligent, they are not sheep, they know what’s going down, so of course they are chased down by the powers that be for this. Their minds are too powerful! It’s one of Cronenberg’s finest films. And like most Cronenberg films, it’s filled with psychological themes. To me, Scanners was a story meant to be told in one film, it said what it had to say with the first film and that was that. It’s not the kind of film you want to see a sequel to, the original was good, it shocked, it impacts you, leave it there. But you know how Hollywood works, they like to squeeze ideas till they can’t be squeezed no more and so this is how we come to Scanners II: The New Order and Scanners III: The Takeover (1991).

Good Scanner

 Scanners II: The New Order plays with the ideas presented in Cronenberg’s film, but goes in another direction; a cheesy direction. In this films scanners start to surface in the world and dirty politicians want to control and use them for their evil purposes. Same as in Cronenberg’s original film, in Scanners II we meet a good scanner and a bad scanner. The good scanner is called David and he’s studying to become a vet. He is just learning to discover his abilities. On the dark side of the spectrum we got Peter Drak, the bad scanner who has turned to the dark side of the force and uses his powers for evil, like controlling video games with the power of his mind and joining a band of corrupt cops and politicians. Can David stop Peter from helping the corrupt politicians from reaching power?

Bad Scanner

The thing with this second film is that it’s a low budget straight to video sequel to a good movie, so you can automatically expect the quality levels to go down. And yeah, this film technically feels like a low budget version of Cronenbergs film, at times it feels like a tv movie, but the thing about it is that it is actually a fun movie, fast paced and entertaining. Yeah it’s cheesy and yeah it’s got some bad dialog in there, but overall, I think this movie is a hell of a lot better than it has any right to be and I think a lot of that has to do with the director and the fast paced/gory nature of the film. The film grabs you right from it’s opening sequence where Drak, the bad scanner enters an arcade and starts to control a video game with the power of his mind, people freak out, so he goes nuts and starts pushing people with his powers. The scene is great, it establishes that this character’s a nut case! The film keeps going like that all the way through, something exciting or shocking happening all the time; which is good news for us the viewers because even though the film is low budget, it still grabs you and keeps your attention, which is not always the case with low budget b-movies like this one.

Films dealing with telekinesis have always interested me, if you’d like to read more about these films go here. So anyways, of course this one had me glued to the screen. The ample gore also got my attention. Cronenberg’s film has that famous head explosion that everyone loves and this one delivers a similar and equally successful head explosion, but it focuses even more on gory effects than Cronenberg’s film did. Yes my friends, this film comes to us from that wonderful era in filmmaking when make-up effects were king and so we get tons of cool make up effects! Faces get distorted, heads get blown up and all sorts of nasty stuff happens. So the high gore level keeps things interesting. I also enjoyed how they played around with things that the Scanners can do with their powers, like controlling somebody from a distance. All in all, this is an entertaining sequel, and it actually has some cool shots and locations. So it’s not a total waste of a sequel. It’s not a “worthy” sequel to the original, but as a b-movie you could do a heck of a lot worse. 

Then we have Scanners III: The Take Over; which to me takes a nose dive into stupidity. I mean, where the first film tried is best to retain a “serious” tone to it, this second one turns into a pretty stupid film. Weird part is that it was made by the same director and producer, but for some reason this film doesn’t work as well as the second, I think it might have something to do with having less money. Okay, so here’s the thing with these Scanner films, they don’t have a continuity to them. They might reference some small detail from one of the other films, but for the most part all these films are stand alone films, unrelated to one another. The only thing that holds them together are the scanners and the drug used to control them, the Ephemorol. Since this one is the third film, they now call the drug EPH-3, on the second film it was called EPH-2. That’s about as far as we go in continuity my friends. But anyhow, speaking of plot, this movie actually has an interesting concept to it. Sure it’s bathed in cheese and bad, bad dialog, but the idea behind the film is actually a cool one.  

While on previous films Ephemerol was administered through a syringe, on this third film it is a patch that you wear on your neck and only lasts 24 hours. So anyhow, the main character on the film is this news reporter named Helena Monet. She starts out really kind hearted and nice, she doesn’t even use her scanner abilities for evil; but once she starts taking EPH-3 she turns into this evil lady who suddenly decides to use her scanner powers to control the world! Or something like that. The film isn’t very clear in explaining exactly what she wants to do. So here’s where the cool concept works itself in: since she works on television, she gets this nifty idea that she can use her powers to control people through television! And her channel gets 75 million viewers…so if she does things right she can end up controlling them all! Cool idea right? Kind of reminded me of the plot for Batman Forever (1995), where The Riddler wanted to do the same exact thing. So anyhow, I thought that was a pretty cool concept but it makes no sense whatsoever.

Sexy Bad Scanner

The thing with this movie is that it’s so cheesy that I couldn’t help but laugh throughout the whole damn thing. Me and my friends couldn’t stop watching, or laughing. In my book this one is a notch below the second one because it’s a terrible script that fails to explain things clearly. Like why does Helena want to suddenly control the world? There’s this laser that does something to the scanners, but what the hell is it and how does it work? Who the hell knows, it just does. It’s a pretty stupid (and therefore funny) film. Take for example the main character in the film, a scanner named Alex. He ends up killing a friend of his by mistake during a Christmas party, so in order to deal with this he pulls a Rambo III and goes to Thailand, to a monastery, to train with monks. A scanner training with monks, that’s gotta be good for something. Without a doubt the single worst moment in the whole franchise is this moment in which Helena makes this guy dance and strip in the middle of a restaurant, again, a lame attempt to infuse the film with some comedy. Even funnier are the faces that the actors make when they are using their powers! After a while they crack you up. There are many goofs all over the movie, like actors waiting for the camera to pass by, scenes where you can tell that it’s the double and not the main actor, visible cables, so yeah my friends, this one has goofs galore. Yet another element that makes it hilarious.

Scanners III isn’t as gory as the second one. For some reason they decided to downplay the gore and inject comedy into the film, which didn’t work at all. The filmmakers had this strange idea to add some evil scanners that were supposed to serve as comedy relief? Unfortunately they simply stand out, as if they belonged in some other movie. How funny were these three scanners? Well, one of them dies inside of a revolving door! The death is simply put: cartoony. Another thing that brings this third film down for me is that they obviously had less money to make it because there is less of everything. For example, the final confrontation, which we’ve come to expect as gory and violent, ends with nothing but a wimper. It was not very exciting if you ask me. I would have to say that the best thing the film has going for it is Liliana Komorowska, the beautiful actress who plays Helena, she plays her character really over the top, and she has no problems with nudity! Speaking of nudity, this film has tons of it!

At the end of the day, Scanners III: The Takeover is one of those movies that is so “bad” you won’t be able to stop watching. Ever wanted to see a scanner blowing up a pigeon with the power of their minds? Well it happens here! It’s one of those films where you want to see just how bad they can get. And trust me, this one just keeps going and going and going with its bad movie self. So yeah, don’t expect a good movie, just a funny goofy one that you can make fun of and you’ll be fine. There’s more Scanner movies…there’s Scanner Cop (1994) and Scanner Cop II (1995), both of which I have erased from my memory banks. I’ll re-watch them at some point, unfortunately they don’t seem to be available on DVD, maybe I’ll simply have to watch them on YouTube, which I hate to do. I’ve gone on long enough about these movies. I recommend you watch Cronenberg’s film instead which is the superior of all these films. Just remember, Scanners II, gory and fast paced semi-decent sequel, Scanners III so bad that it’s a laugh riot.

Scanners II: The New Order (1991): 3 out of 5

Scanners III: The Takeover (1991): 2 out of 5 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Godzilla 2000 (1999)

Title: Godzilla 2000 (1999)

Director: Takao Okawara

So in preparation for Godzilla (2014) I decided to revisit some of the Godzilla movies in my collection and the one that jumped at me was Godzilla 2000, mainly because I had not reviewed it here, so I took the opportunity to revisit it. I have to say, it’s a pretty solid Godzilla flick filled with lots of fun moments. The thing with this particular Godzilla film is that it was made as a response to Roland Emmerich’s masterpiece (I kid, I kid) Godzilla (1998). Japanese audiences hated that American Godzilla so much that they had to immediately make a response film. Originally, Tri Star pictures had a trilogy of Godzilla flicks planned, but Japanese hatred for that film moved the guys at Toho Ltd. to make a proper Godzilla flick, as a result we get Godzilla 2000 a film made to remind us what a true Godzilla film is all about.

On this particular flick humans discover a huge chunk of rock beneath the ocean; the rock is emitting energy, so of course they decide to unearth it. They soon discover this ancient rock is actually a dormant alien spaceship that had crash landed on earth’s oceans years ago. At the same time, we follow a group of scientists who are trying to pin point Godzilla’s exact location on earth, which is kind of funny because how the hell do you lose track of something as huge as Godzilla right? So anyways, the main character is this scientist and his daughter who are the equivalent of storm chasers, but instead of storms, they chase Godzilla. Will Godzilla make it in time to save humanity from the evil alien ship that’s stealing all of humanities knowledge?

What I like about this one is that it was the first time we get a glimpse at a new Godzilla design, which to me is the best Godzilla has ever looked on any of the Japanese films. To me this era of Godzilla films (known as the Millenium Era) is the best era, because Godzilla looks pretty bad ass, not bulky or obviously a man in a suit. So right from the beginning we meet Godzilla face to face, and it’s not some computer generated image trying to get away from cheesiness, nope, this is Godzilla, the way he’s always been, kind of goofy, but 100% fun. There’s this scene where the protagonists are driving down a tunnel and what awaits them at the end is Godzilla’s giant face and his breath, the scene is beyond cool! A great way to remind us just how fun a Godzilla movie can be. The ideas have to be out there and crazy! The crazier the better! And so to me, this one delivers in that aspect.

Starting with the fact that we’re talking about a giant alien spaceship that sucks up knowledge from computers and morphs into a giant tentacled monster! The only downside in this movie for me is that the alien creature was achieved through computer effects, and since nothing else in the film is computer generated, well, the effect stands out like a sore thumb. It just doesn’t look good; it doesn’t help matters that the computer effects aren’t good at all. This is one of those Godzilla villains that never returned, it’s not a favorite and it’s easy to see why. The effects were terrible, good thing it doesn’t stay that way for long and eventually morphs into a man in a suit type of thing called Orga. Orga has a cool ability, it can steal your DNA through its bite and it can copy your abilities, so logically, it bites Godzilla and starts to clone Godzilla in a way, which was a cool ability in my book. The monster brawls are cool, destroying buildings and putting Tokyo in peril, but my favorite part of the film is how Godzilla decides to destroy the alien.

So anyhow, my final words on this one is that it was a good way to start the new era of Godzilla films. It was a fresh start in many ways, for example, it starts from scratch and ignores the continuity presented in all previous Godzilla films save for what happened in the original Gojira (1954). Godzilla 2000 was a huge box office success in Japan and so they also released it in the U.S. They cut a couple of minutes off to quicken the pace and added new music. By the way, this was the second Japanese Godzilla film to be released in American theaters since Godzilla 1985 (1984). The English dubbing is deliberately tongue in cheek and funny, so when you hear people saying things like “Great Caesar’s Ghost!” don’t be surprised. American producers decided to make the tone of the film funny, because in their heads, they think American audiences would never take the monster fight sequences seriously, so why not make the whole thing funnier with a funny line or two? But what do they know right? Godzilla films exist in their own unique universe and offer a very distinctive experience. You gotta take them for what they are,  because with Godzilla films you either get them or you don’t. I’m one of the ones who has a blast watching these movies, this one was super fun, I recommend it!

Rating: 3 out of 5

Monday, May 19, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

Title: Godzilla (2014)

Director: Gareth Edwards

Cast: Aaron Taylor Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe

There’s a bit of resurgence in giant monster movies as of late, a renaissance if you will. It all started with Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim (2013), which was a huge winner in my book, it showed that Kaiju movies could be cool and bombastic and just plain awesome. My big worry after seeing Pacific Rim was how Gareth Edward’s Godzilla could top it. As far as I’m concerned, Pacific Rim set the bar pretty in the land of giant monster movies, so Godzilla would have to be a pretty freaking cool monster movie in order to beat Pacific Rim. So…did it? But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Getting back to Godzilla, just who the hell is this Gareth Edwards guy? Well, a while back Edwards directed a straight to dvd monster movie called Monsters (2010); a cool little alien invasion flick that showed that Mr. Edwards knew his way around a monster movie, he ‘got’ them, he understood them; to top things off, Monsters showed that Edwards could do a lot on a small budget. So, Hollywood decided to give Edwards his big break to show what he’s made of, the result is the Hollywood’s second attempt at getting Godzilla right. Did it work? Was it a good Godzilla movie?

In Godzilla a mining operation discovers a giant egg, which just so happens to be a Kaiju egg. The creatures inside are these moth like (actually more like roach like) creatures who fly around the city sucking up anything that’s radioactive, including nuclear power plants! This of course spells certain doom for many nuclear plants around the world. Fortunately, Godzilla has also awakened and has emerged from the ocean! Will Godzilla protect or destroy the world from these giant radioactive cockroaches?

First things first, the filmmakers behind this movie got Godzilla absolutely freaking perfect! Unlike Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla (1998), which tried it’s very hardest to get away from the cheesier elements from the Japanese Godzilla films, Gareth Edward’s Godzilla actually embraced Godzilla exactly how he is depicted in the Japanese films, but with an added element of reality to it. This isn’t just a guy in a suit; nope, this is a gigantic, walking, stomping, atomic breathing King of All Monsters! So thanks go out to Gareth Edwards for giving us the Godzilla we always wanted, a Godzilla that I’m sure even the Japanese people can feel proud of and enjoy. On this film you will see everything you want to see in a Godzilla film, you will see Godzilla emerge from the ocean and go back into it, you will see him brawling with other giant monsters and he most certainly fires his atomic breath! So feel assured, if you’re a Godzilla fan, you will be pleased.

Aside from the awesomeness of Godzilla itself, the film has an amazing asset going for it, which I felt they could have exploited a bit more and that is actor Bryan Cranston, a solid actor if there ever was any. While he is in the movie, the movie flows perfectly well; the performances where believable and intense; unfortunately when he disappears half way through the film as does Juliette Binoche, things loose believability. You have two great actors and then you have them do a vanishing act to leave us with Aaron Taylor Johnson for the rest of the film? Not that I have anything against Aaron Taylor Johnson, but damn, Bryan Cranston could eat him for breakfast when it comes to acting! Why this cheap ass exchange? I would have found a way to keep Bryan Cranston on for the entire film!

The only real problem with this new Godzilla is the human side which felt clichéd and unconvincing. A good actor can make or break a film, and in this sense, this new Godzilla satisfied me only half way. Had they found a way to keep Bryan Cranston throughout the whole film, this movie would have gotten a perfect score from this reviewer, alas, we get clichéd characters and forced situations instead. For example, there’s this whole sequence in which Aaron Taylor Johnson has to save a little kid and you get the feeling that they did this simply to turn him into a hero; this sequence, while exciting, felt soooo forced and fake. Worse yet is that the kid disappears in a few seconds after he is saved, without a word or a thanks. It’s like you served your purpose in the plot kid, now scram! What the--? Characters weren’t well developed because one, you take away the good actors and leave us with the less experienced ones, and two, you have characters doing things simply to fulfill a character type or a purpose in the plot. It’s like, you’re hero, you’re the wife, you’re the soldier, you’re the scientist and you will do exactly what is expected of your archetype and that’s it. Ugh. My advice is next time, work on better human characters and the film should be better. Not that it’s an awful film acting wise, but characters felt like archetypes, not real people. I should add that this is a problem that many Japanese Godzilla films suffer from as well, a weak human side.

But aside from that, this movie rocked the house. Trust me when I say that whenever Godzilla is on, he is most certainly ON! Godzilla commands that screen whenever it appears! So much so that when he disappears you are left wanting more; which reminds me that what this movie needed more of was Godzilla! There’s this thing that Edward’s does in the film, he shows us Godzilla, teases us with this cool beast and then bam, the camera turns away! And you’re left wanting more Godzilla! Which is cool in my book, he kind of wets your appetite and the tortures ya by taking away what you want the most. I guess this technique was done on purpose, to keep us wanting more, to make us want a sequel; which by the way has just been approved! You will see Godzilla stomp the world again! You see, this Godzilla film made close to 100 million in one weekend alone! It’s a raging success! It is poised to make even more money than Pacific Rim did, but that’s to be expected because Godzilla is a brand name, and Pacific Rim was an original product. Still, if you ask me, if I had to compare this new Godzilla to Pacific Rim, I say Pacific Rim is still the superior of the two. It’s just more bombastic, bigger, more epic. But Godzilla is a damn fine Kaiju film, not a disappointment in the least and a cinematic experience not to be missed; go see Godzilla roar! It’s an experience!

Rating: 4 out of 5

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Godzilla's Nuclear Origins

The majority of people who are going to see Gareth Edward’s Godzilla (2014), have a very general idea of Godzilla; all they see is a giant monster that goes around destroying buildings, stomping on screaming Japanese people, while shooting laser beams from its mouth. In reality, Godzilla is so much more than that, Godzilla is a creature with some depth to it! So here my friends I offer you a small explanation of where Godzilla comes from, and what he really means, metaphorically speaking of course.

It’s important to mention that Godzilla is one of the longest running franchises in cinema. Like James Bond or Dracula, Godzilla is an iconic behemoth that will live on forever! So far, there’s 28 Japanese Godzilla films produced by Toho Co. Ltd! There are two American Godzilla films and countless videogames and comic books. Godzilla coming back film after film makes sense when we take in consideration that in the films, practically nothing can kill Godzilla! Just ask the Japanese and American armies, they have tried everything against The King of All Monsters, but practically nothing gets through the creatures indestructible skin. Only a device called The Oxygen Destroyer could. But for some reason they only use it in the first film!  

Godzilla vs. Destoroyah! 

Godzilla is sometimes portrayed as a God, walking the earth, punishing humanity for abusing the planet. Seeing Godzilla as a god isn’t so farfetched when we consider just how big he is. He gets bigger with every passing film! Actually, in Gareth Edwards film he is as big as he’s ever been! His name even has the word ‘God’ in it. In other films, Godzilla appears as earth’s protector, like in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995) where Godzilla protects humanity from Destoroyah, one of the most powerful monsters to ever walk the face of the earth. Be it punisher or protector, Godzilla is an unstoppable force of nature. But where did the idea of Godzilla come from?

Godzilla’s birth as a character can be traced all the way back to the many nuclear weapons tests that the United States conducted during the 40’s and 50’s. These tests did not pass unnoticed; they affected many people in the world, but most of all, the Japanese. Let’s not forget the nuclear attacks upon Nagasaki and Hiroshima, events that for obvious reasons left a profound scar on the psyche of the Japanese nation. You see, once upon a time, the United States was all about nuclear weapons. For a while there, all they wanted to do was test their nuclear capabilities, to see just how much destruction they could inflict on any given enemy. Their ultimate goal with these tests was to know the effectiveness and explosive capabilities of these bombs before using them against Japan during World War II. But even after World War II (and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) the tests continued and so the U.S. tested their atomic bombs on their own turf, igniting atomic bombs in places like New Mexico and Nevada. Other times, they would test these bombs out in the Pacific Ocean, near the Marshall Islands, where they actually managed to tests 67 nuclear weapons! It doesn’t surprise me then that in every Godzilla movie, Godzilla comes out of the Ocean, as if a nuclear weapon had just been detonated.

Rio Bravo Nuclear Test 

All this testing yielded valuable knowledge and information to scientists and the American military, but it caused irreparable damage on many islands and territories; with health effects lingering on the affected population. In other words, if you lived anywhere near the places where these tests were conducted, chances are you’d start suffering from exposure to radioactive fallout. This happened to the residents of Bikini Atoll in The Marshall Islands. The residents of these islands suffered horrible health effects because of exposure to radioactive fallout, the U.S. simply hurled money their way as a way to repay them for their troubles. But what’s a couple of million worth when two weeks later your dick falls off? Know what I’m saying? Sadly, nuclear weapons testing continued! For example, on March 1, 1954, United Sates conducted a nuclear test called ‘Castle Bravo’ which just so happens to be the biggest nuclear explosion ever detonated by the United States! This test yielded an explosion far greater than they expected, and so the aftermath was worse than they had imagined. Radioactive fallout spread throughout the world, it affected residents of nearby islands and killed one crew member belonging to the Japanese fishing boat named Lucky Dragon #5. 

My point being that nuclear testing has been something of a concern for Japanese people for a very long time. When we look at it, the Japanese people are an entire nation of people psychologically affected by nuclear weapons and why wouldn’t they be. I mean, these detonations yielded thousands of deaths in one swoop. The fear of nuclear weapons reflected itself in Japanese popular culture in many ways, but especially in Japanese films. One example is Akira (1988), a film that takes place within a society affected by a nuclear attack that took place during ‘World War III’. Another film to directly reflect a society traumatized by nuclear weapons would be Grave of the Fireflies (1988), one of the best films on the subject, I highly recommend checking that film out, it’s a very emotional experience. Hell, even films from other countries addressed these horrifying events, like the French film Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) a film about an actress that’s making a film about the after math after Hiroshima. While making this film, she falls in love with a Japanese man; together they muse about love, life and war. In that film the city of Hiroshima is a character on itself, a survivor of the horror. But, one of the best examples is without a doubt Ishiro Honda’s Gojira (1954), the first Godzilla film ever made. This film was a direct response to all these nuclear worries.

There are various interpretations for Godzilla, but without a shred of a doubt, he is a metaphor for nuclear weapons. Other elements of Godzilla that let us know he is a metaphor for nuclear weapons are that his scaly skin was designed to mimic the keloid scars seen on survivors of Hiroshima. Godzilla’s origins have varied from film to film, but in general, he is an ancient prehistoric sea monster that is awakened by nuclear radiation, so Godzilla is actually a mutation. I would say that the biggest allusion to Godzilla’s nuclear origins would be his ‘atomic breath’, a nuclear blast that comes out of Godzilla’s mouth that is sometimes blue, sometimes red, depending on the movie. Many of the films allude to this nuclear connection, but the biggest one for me is in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995) a film in which Godzilla becomes a threat to humanity because it’s about to have a nuclear sized heart attack that could wipe out most of Japan.

Godzilla's Atomic Breath in Action!

Whatever the case, Godzilla is something to be feared and be horrified by, a destructive force better left slumbering beneath the ocean depths. When awakened, only death and destruction follows. We could say the same about nuclear weapons can’t we? When we look at Godzilla through all this background, it makes sense that the first Godzilla film was more of a horror film, after all, most of the time Godzilla is something to be feared, not our friend, but a destroyer. Sure he later turned into a childish thing to say toys, but from inception Godzilla was something to be feared. But there's also that duality to the character, he could be our savior as well. As you can see, if we connect the dots, we know exactly what Godzilla represents. Speaking of the current state of nuclear testing in the world, there was an attempt to get all countries to sign the ‘Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty’ of 1996, but alas, eight countries have not signed it, so it is not in effect yet and so nuclear testing still continues to happen throughout the world. The most recent of these tests have been conducted by North Korea. It’s kind of scary to know that some countries still consider nuclear weapons an option. So now Godzilla is not just a symbol of the Japanese’s fear of nuclear weapons, it represents a fear we all share. It’s the fear of madmen who are ready to press a button that can wipe us all clear from the face of the planet. Good, now you know a little bit more about Godzilla, now go see that new movie and amaze your friends with your new found Godzilla knowledge! 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

eXistenZ (1999)

Title: eXistenZ (1999)

Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Ian Holm

eXistenZ comes to us from David Cronenberg a director who loves to swim in the waters of the philosophical, the psychosexual, the violent and the just plain horrifying. Cronenberg explores the most basic parts of human nature: violence and sex. If we look through most of Cronenberg’s films, they all deal with many of these same themes. Take for example The Fly (1986); a very sexual film about a scientist who embraces his aggressive side once he starts turning into the monstrous Fly; everything ends rather violently on that one. The Brood (1979) is about a woman who externalizes all her worst feelings by giving birth to these violent, murderous little kids. Scanners (1981) is all about the power of the mind! And the abuse of that power! Again, on Scanners humans embrace their violent side, the end result is a confrontation between two powerful Scanners and the end result is not a happy one. A History of Violence (2005), well, the title says it all, but again, a very violent and sexual film.

Videodrome (1983) is a good example as well; aside from the themes Cronenberg usually addresses in his films, Videodrome is a film that explores the media and humanities obsession with it. Why do we love television so much? Why are we so obsessed with what we see? “The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye” Cronenberg goes on to explore our obsession with all the sex and violence shown on television. It seems Cronenberg is making a case for humanity; as if he wants us to live in the real world rather than spending our time sitting in front of a television, obsessed with porn and graphic violence. The image of a television gobbling up James Woods lets us know exactly what Cronenberg was concerned with while making Videodrome; television is consuming us! It’s no wonder that at some point a character yells “death to Videodrome! Long live the new flesh!”  It’s as if Cronenberg’s characters had a personal battle against television screens, a battle between freedom of the mind vs. a mind enslaved by television programming; a battle that I’m sad to say humanity has lost. Many take for granted whatever is spewed out of the television screen.

What eXistenZ does is play with these themes presented in Videodrome, but from the point of view of video games. Same as television, videogames offer an escape. In fact, if we get right down to it, video games are a much more immersive experience. You essentially get to live a ‘second life’; you control an alter ego through imaginary worlds. In these games you live or die by the decisions you make, in this way, videogames serve as an allegory for real life. You make the right choices; you just might make it to the end. Modern society is just as obsessed with videogames because they offer an escape not unlike the virtual reality worlds that appear in films like Johnny Mnemonic (1995) or The Matrix (1999). You plug yourself in and you’re in another world for hours on end if you like. But, at what point does the videogame world become more interesting than the real world?

In eXistenZ we meet Allegra Geller, a video game programmer who is trying out her new game with a test audience, just to see how they like it and to work out any kinks. In a way, eXistenZ reminded me of Total Recall (1989) because in eXistenZ, once you plug into the virtual reality world of the game, things start to get bat shit insane, which of course is where the fun starts. The thing about eXistenZ is that same as as in Videodrome, there’s people out there fighting to disconnect humans from the fakeness of the game world, fighting for humans to live out their real lives instead of their virtual ones. So we have these guerilla groups who are out to kill videogame programmers, which is what the film is mostly about. Allegra Geller and her bodyguard Ted Pikul running from these anti-gaming terrorist organizations.

Many things make this one extremely watchable, first of all is that feeling of ‘what the hell is going on here’ you’ll feel throughout the whole film. The feeling that you know something’s wrong, but you can’t quite put your finger on what it is. Are we in the game? Or are we in the real world? Then we have Willem Defoe playing a character called ‘Gas’; really freaky type of character. Then there’s the body horror element, in the form of the actual gaming system. The best way I can describe it is imagine if your gaming system was a living being that you had to take care of and that you plug directly into your spinal cord whenever you want to play? Like in many Cronenberg films, there’s some really gory scenes, overall, exactly the type of thing you’d expect from Cronenberg. So yeah, this is one of those movies with a real weird vibe to it, similar in someways to Cronenberg’s own Videodrome and films like Tron (1982) or The Matrix (1999), where most of the film takes place in a virtual reality world; only this virtual reality world comes from the twisted mind of David Cronenberg, which is a-okay in my book.  

Rating: 4 out of 5

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

Title: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

Director: Marc Webb

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field, Paul Giamatti

The Amazing Spiderman 2 was a great way to kick start the 2014 Summer Blockbuster Season; the season that many film buffs such as myself look forward to because it’s that time of the year when the biggest most bombastic films are unleashed. These films are meant to wow us, they are meant to be huge spectacles, and I have to say that The Amazing Spiderman 2 certainly falls into that category. Many moments during the film had me saying “amazing!”  out loud; so I think it’s safe to say the movie delivers where it’s supposed to deliver. What was so good about The Amazing Spiderman 2? And where did it fail?

This time around, Spiderman is having a great time being Spidey, saving the world, helping kids fight bullies, saving the world from rampaging villains, but he still has one dilemma, his promise to Gwen Stacy’s father before he died. If you remember correctly, fearing for his daughter’s life, Captain Stacy made Peter Parker promise him that he would leave Gwen Stacy out of his life.  So anyways, Spiderman tries to leave Gwen alone, but their attraction is too strong. At the same time, two villains are born: Electro and The Green Goblin, both of whom want Spidey dead, for their own respective reasons. Can Spider-Man be a hero and be in love at the same time?

I didn’t exactly love the first Amazing Spiderman movie. My big problem with it was the cgi; I didn’t really dig it. It made characters look too much like a cartoon, not real enough. This problem was especially evident whenever The Lizard appeared. I felt I was looking at some crappy cartoon. Not convincing in my book. The problem with a lot of these Spiderman movies has always been the CGI, which in my book has always been spotty. I was watching Spider-Man 3 (2007) the other day and boy, the CGI on that one was so obviously CGI, and when that happens, the film loses its grip on reality and falls apart in my book. And this is where this second film got things right, the CGI was excellent. When we follow Spidey as he swings through the city, well, he looks real enough in my book, you can see the ripples in his freaking suit, you hear the wind. An effort is made to make things convincing.

I was worried about the amount of villains, because not every director can handle a lot of villains properly, sometimes the end result is a Batman & Robin (1997) type of deal, where we have a bunch of villains and none of them are developed properly or treated with any dignity, the end result is a bunch of paper thin villains that aren’t brought to life in a satisfying way. The best example I can think of is Bane in Batman and Robin, and Venom in Spider-Man 3; both terrible renditions of important villains because both films where cluttered with way too many villains. Thankfully this doesn’t happen in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. For all intents and purposes this is Electro’s film and he looks and sounds kick ass. I loved the visual with all the blue fluorescent lightning bolts, it just looked freaking sweet. Mix that with the electric bass sound they put whenever Electro appears and we have a perfect marriage of sight and sound, the visuals and the sounds mixed like magic. The Green Goblins transformation was awesome…but I’m not entirely sure I love his overall look. In my book he still needs to be more monstrous, more demonic, like in the comics. Then we have The Rhino, but thankfully he is only used as a tease for the next film, which apparently will feature The Sinister Six, an amalgamation of some of Spidey’s deadliest villains.

The film did a fine balancing act between story, romance, kick ass action and mind blowing effects. In some ways it reminded me a bit of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) because it had that thing where it went from romance, to action, then back to romance, then back to action again and so forth. Final words are that I can’t really bring myself to say anything bad about this movie. The only thing I can say didn’t really fit into the film was the tacked on “extra ending” with a scene that leads into X-men: Days of Future Past (2014), which will be premiering in the next couple of months. My problem with that scene was that it wasn’t even that good; it wasn’t a real grabber. And on top of that, it had absolutely nothing to do with The Amazing Spider-Man films. I would have preferred an extra ending that connected with The Amazing Spider-Man 3. But alas, it felt like a cheap way to promote X-Men: Days of Future Past. So yeah, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a step up from the first film, I recommend it if you want to start the 2014 Summer Season with a blast!

Rating: 4 out of 5 


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