Saturday, January 31, 2009

Family Matters: There Will be Blood(2007)

About five years ago I decided, as a fan of sci-fi and horror films, that it was time to "expand my horizons", so to speak, regarding movies. I've never been a fan of comedies(with a few exceptions) and I despise romance comedies. Dramatic films had captured my interest in the past, though I never took the time to actually watch any of them from beginning to end. Fortunately for me, I now can appreciate quality dramatic films(and dramatic epics) and one that I recently watched(on DVD) immediately comes to mind: There Will Be Blood(2007), a film written, directed and produced by Paul Thomas Anderson and loosely based on a novel called "Oil!" by Upton Sinclair.

Actors who can carry a film all by themselves are generally the exception rather than the rule. Saying that actor Daniel Day Lewis is most definitely the exception, as his marvelous performance in this film illustrates. Lewis is notoriously choosy about the roles he takes in movies. That said when this actor does go to work the result is usually stellar.

In There Will Be Blood Daniel Day Lewis plays "Daniel Plainview", a hard bitten and even more hard driving California oil prospector in 1902 who finds oil, and a personal rivalry of sorts, in a town in California. Plainview arrives in town and sets up his business which is drilling for oil, finding the oil, piping the oil out and making his profits. The town's youthful preacher, "Eli Sunday", has ambitions of his own, which include the expansion of his church. Sunday is young but a stubborn and determined fellow who manages to lock horns with the older, deliberate and, we find out later, borderline psychotic Daniel Plainview.

The prologue of the film effectively establishes the world in which Daniel Plainview strives to make his profit. Plainview and the other oil prospectors toil away in isolation and the elements, grimly digging wells and hammering away with their picks and mattocks in the hopes of reaching black oil.

Daniel Day Lewis' character "Plainview" is a mixing bag of things: determined, strong willed and driven. He's also paranoid and has a general disdain for just about everyone he meets. Plainview is also a man possessing a temper and a decided mean streak, as "Eli Sunday" discovers late in the film. The movie itself is gritty and the cinematography quite good. The best part of There Will Be Blood for me is the game of cat and mouse played out by the characters "Daniel Plainview" and "Eli Sunday". At the conclusion of this movie there is no doubt who was the cat...and who was the mouse.

This movie is one of the best dramatic films I've seen in the last fifteen years. The film's trailer:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

You Only Live Twice(1967)

I have always been a great fan of James Bond, British super agent aka "007", with a license to kill. The spy, based on books by Ian Fleming, has enjoyed a long stint in cinema. Sean Connery first played "James Bond" in 1962's Dr. No. Connery, who is my personal favorite "Bond", would reprise the role again many times. My favorite "Bond" film starring Sean Connery is You Only Twice(1967). Here's the opening theme song for the film, also a favorite of mine, sung by Nancy Sinatra:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Three's A Crowd: Godzilla, Mothra & King Ghidorah-All Out Monsters Attack(2001)

As is my custom on early Sunday evenings I watch a Toho film of some kind. Tonight's viewing was Godzilla, Mothra And King Ghidorah: All Out Monsters Attack(2001), released to theaters in Japan back in December, 2001 and directed by Shusuke Kaneko.

Before getting into the things I like, and dislike, about this film, I thought I might touch on some things I noticed in this movie, and in other Toho kaiju(and sci-fi) films:

-the apartments and other style abodes(houses)for the human characters in these Toho kaiju films always look small, including the various rooms and even the TVs.

-fish and noodles appear to be mainstays of lunch and dinner fare in Japan for a lot of folks, since they appear often in these movies, being munched on by various human characters all the time

-I have noticed that formality and politeness seem to be a point of emphasis in these film

Things I like about "GMK":

1. (the late) Eisei Amamoto in this film. It was good to see this gentleman in action again, and not playing the bad guy.

2. Chiharu Niiyama(Niyama-?), the most gorgeous Japanese woman I've seen not named Yumiko Shaku

3. the effects used to render Mothra in flight. The creature's movements are fluid and look very realistic to me.

4. the role of Godzilla as an unrelenting villain

5. the absolutely devastating effects of Godzilla's oral beam. Godzilla's primary weapon in this film has dire, and I mean dire consequences for whatever, or whoever it comes in contact with

6. the subtle tributes to older Toho classics, like the opening credits that show the monster's various skins(just like "Ghidrah The Three Headed Monster" in 1964) and the name of the mini-sub, the "Satsuma", no doubt a nod to former Godzilla suit actor Kenpachiro "Ken" Satsuma . Koichi Kawakita and Susumu Kurobe in the scene where the military brass meet to discuss the monsters is also a nice touch

7. the explosions and general pyrotechnic effects look marvelous overall. Some CGI shots(long distance shots) don't always look perfect but they don't detract from my enjoyment in watching this movie.

8. the dark humor in the film, never more evident than in the Bonin Islands sequence, where the fellow attempting to urinate in peace is interrupted by the arrival of Godzilla's foot crashing down on him. Also, the young woman in the hospital with the broken leg...her broken leg soon the least of her worries

9. the fighting spirit of Baragon. Despite this monster being dwarfed by Godzilla, and possessing no special weapon of its own, Baragon took Godzilla on and gave Godzilla a fight, availing itself well, even in defeat and obliteration

10. the transformation scene, in mid air, of a young King Ghidorah into a mature KG. The effects were spectacular. I can imagine they would look especially fantastic on Blu-Ray.

11. the sacrifice of Mothra, taking a hit for King Ghidorah(absorbing Godzilla's oral blast). Mothra gets slammed by a lot of people but this monster always finds a way to make a difference in a kaiju battle

12. comic relief provided by the lone police officer at the jail who decided to discharge his revolver at Baragon, the monster having just blasted up out of the ground and standing menacingly over a partially demolished jail: apparently this policeman felt the revolver would do some good in this situation. Others in this scene, running for their lives, obviously disagreed

Things I didn't like about GMK:

1. the side maquette or "profile" of Godzilla's physique: the monster appeared to have a protruding abdomen

2. Baragon's size in relation to Godzilla: I can roll with Baragon being smaller than Godzilla but in this movie Baragon looked to be less than half the size of Godzilla, too great a disparity in my opinion.

3. Baragon's roar: I liked it okay and the secondary, dog like grunts and snorts of the monster add some realism. Still, the "Showa" era part of me would have preferred hearing Baragon's trademark roar...or at the very least a close rendition of it.

4. the part of the storyline in which Yuri Tachibana buys a bicycle and proceeds to keep up with Godzilla's rampage with the bike. Unless she's a championship caliber cyclist like Lance Armstrong I have a hard time believing this part of the film's plot.

Overall: a marvelous Godzilla film. My favorite Millennium Godzilla movie and also in my top ten personal favorite Godzilla movies.

I hope Shusuke Kaneko is in the director's chair when filming for the next Godzilla film begins.

Here's a short English subtitled trailer for the film:

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Battle In Outer Space(1959) (Uchu Daisenso)

One the DVD sets I eagerly await this year is a three movie set of Toho classics that has been tentatively scheduled for release to Region 1 DVD later in 2009 by Sony. Among these three films is Battle In Outer Space(1959). Check out the original Toho trailer for this film:

Friday, January 16, 2009

Step Into Liquid: The H-Man(1958)

I have been an avid horror movie fan ever seen watching films like "Jaws" and "The Amityvile Horror" when I was a teenager. My DVD collection is dominated by horror movie titles, from the major franchises like Friday The 13th and Halloween to foreign titles like Frontiere(s) and Haute Tension. That said I don't have many Toho horror movies in my DVD collection, something I hope to rectify this year. I do own one Toho horror film on DVD-R and I absolutely intend on buying it on Region 1 DVD later this year when it's released by Sony. I'm referring to The H-Man, a 1958 Toho horror movie directed by Inoshiro Honda, and released to U.S. theaters about a year later.

The film's story: a drug deal gone bad, and the disappearance of the main suspect attracts the attention of Tokyo police. The police are understandably baffled by the suspect's disappearance, and begin their investigation in earnest. Amidst the backdrop of a smoke filled nightclub, a gorgeous singer named Chikako Arai(played by Yumi Shirakawa) and the almost squirrel-like scurrying about of waiter(and thug cahoot) Shimazaki(Nadao Kirino), the thuggery and under-the-table shenanigans of gangsters and Tokyo nightclub patrons are interrupted by mysterious attackers who, turns out, are in fact a radioactive, fluid-like slop that oozes onto their victims, grotesquely, and quite thoroughly, liquefying them. These attacks continue against various criminal elements and night clubbers, prompting the local police, led by Inspector Tominaga(Akihiko Hirata), who is assisted in his investigation by a scientist named Dr. Masada(Kenji Sahara), to work together to determine what the hell is going on. As it turns out a ghostly, derelict ship has spawned these radioactive, water-based monsters, or "H-men". The detective and scientist must devise a way to eradicate these dangerous waterborne threats, that, as they later discover, hide in the city's sewers. (no spoilers).

Observations: a surprisingly effective horror film, with a decent score(Masaru Sato), all of your favorite Toho actors in the cast, and effects that are, for the time, quite good. Some of the visuals in this film are very good: the derelict ship, and the sailors that prowl around inside it(including an out of G suit Haruo Nakajima), come to mind, as well as the "liquefying" victims sequences.

This movie is available on Region 2 DVD at Sony(Columbia Pictures) owns the American rights to this film and The H-Man is scheduled to be released later in 2009 as part of a three movie DVD set.

The first part of the Columbia Pictures, English dubbed version of the film:

When Animals Attack: Space Amoeba(1970)

Many of my favorite Toho kaiju films are those which aren't about Godzilla and one of them, thankfully, was released by Mediablasters(under their "Tokyo Shock" label) back in March, 2006 to quality Region 1 DVD. I'm referring to Space Amoeba, also known as "Yog, Monster From Space". I first saw this movie on television when I was a kid, the AIP(American International Pictures) version with English dubbed language. Ah, the good old days...

The film's story: a rocket sent into space encounters a blue, glowing amoeba-like alien entity. The alien entity engulfs and presumably scans the rocket ship, then turns the vessel about, the Helios 7 returning to Earth and plunging into the ocean near an island. This island is currently being explored by a small group of people who are to assist a developer in turning it into a tourist attraction. The blue and glowing alien entity possesses and considerably enlarges three indigenous members of the local animal life in and around the island: Gezora, a giant squid that can also maneuver itself onto and around land, Ganime, a giant crustacean(lobster?), and Kamoebas, a giant rock turtle. The three kaiju-sized animals hash it out with the group of humans(lead by Akira Kubo), making their lives miserable in the process. Ganime and Kamoebas also battle each other near a volcano on the island. The alien entity finally possesses the seedy "Ogata"(played by Kenji Sahara). Through Ogata the aliens make known to the human cast their plans for world domination. Ogata, to his credit, redeems himself at the end of the film. (no other spoilers)

Observations: I like this movie. While not my favorite non-Godzilla kaiju film it is, I think, a solid entry in the Toho kaju film archives. It is fun and campy. It lacks for monster city destruction scenes but the battles between the humans and the various monster sized critters are entertaining. The score is also very good. Space Amoeba is presented by Mediablasters on DVD in it's original aspect ratio of 2:35.1 widescreen and in English subtitles. The print of the film looks great on this Region 1 disc. This movie should be in every giant monster movie fan's DVD collection.

The original Toho trailer for Space Amoeba:

The AIP trailer for "Yog Monster From Space":

Saturday, January 10, 2009

X Marks The Spot: The X From Outer Space(1967)

I can remember, with great fondness, watching many AIP distributed English dubbed Gamera films on television as a kid, circa 1970 and 1971. I'd already seen Destroy All Monsters(1968) at the Rialto Theater with my father[double billed with Toei's The Green Slime(1968)] so watching these Gamera films was the first time I'd seen a kaiju not named Godzilla. Of course it wouldn't be my last. Some time later I watched another AIP movie, shown at some ungodly AM hour, and featuring a monster completely different from either Gamera or Godzilla. I'm referring to The X From Outer Space(it's Japanese title "Uchu Daikaiju Girara"), a movie released in Japanese theaters in March, 1967 by Shochiku Kinema Kenkyu, or Shochiku.
Shochiku, a movie and production studio that began making films in 1921, had previously produced only drama, crime drama and film noir cinema. To cash in on the "kaiju" craze of the year 1967, when every major Japanese film studio was releasing a kaiju film, Shochiku turned to director Kazui Nihonmatsu to helm what would be their first foray into giant monster movies.
The X From Outer Space is not generally regarded as a quality kaiju film. Despite being lampooned by critics and kaiju fandom, as well as those casual and more die hard movie fans, this movie has developed something of a cult following.

The film's story: a team of four astronauts are sent to the planet Mars to investigate alleged UFO activity. Enroute to the red planet they encounter a cluster of mysterious spores, which attach to the hull of their spacecraft, called the "AAB Gamma". The group return to Earth. The problem: the spores tag along, attached to the hull of the AAB Gamma. One of the spores is examined by scientists. When the spore sample vanishes those tasked with studying it are, not surprisingly, concerned about its whereabouts. Their concerns and fears are realized when the spore(off screen) mutates and enlarges into a giant monster, which eventually erupts out of a hillside, and not in the best of moods.
From this point the giant monster, quickly dubbed "Guilala", goes on a rampage of destruction, both urban and countryside. Obviously the scientists, astronauts and various military personnel all forum together in order to devise a plan to stop the creature. (no other spoilers)

What I liked:
1. credit Shochiku and director Nihonmatsu for sticking to a 2:35.1 widescreen aspect ratio and a 90 minute run time. Considering the overall content of this film, anything longer than ninety minutes might cause many casual film fans watching this movie to exhibit various signs of physical duress, including, and not necessarily limited to, sweaty palms, foaming at the mouth, nausea and/or dizziness.

2. Peggy Neal, who played "Lisa". Again, I just liked looking at this very lovely blonde.

3. the score: quirky but enjoyable, if you like 60's psychedelia.

4. the rendering of the AAB Gamma: a cool looking space ship!

5. the miniatures used to render the moon base: fairly decent

6. the "shower" scene where Lisa and Michiko(played by Itoko Harada) wash themselves in adjacent shower stalls. *clears throat"*

What I didn't like:
1. the rendering of Guilala: I've seen this monster most commonly described as a "giant space chicken". An apt description, unfortunately.

2. the monster's roar: the only way I can describe it: a kid with a severe case of whooping cough, or perhaps a domestic house cat with laryngitis. Watch the movie and come to your own conclusion.

3. the miniatures used during Guilala's city rampage are among the worst I have ever seen. The effects used to render Guilala's oral fireballs are also sub par. Adding to the miserable overall effects, many matte shots are simply awful.

Overall: I recommend this movie only to those who are die hard kaiju movie fans like myself. Those older, like me, and who grew up on AIP monster movies would also appreciate The X From Outer Space(1967). For those of you who dislike the 60's Gamera films, and other older kaiju films like Nikkatsu's Gappa(1967))(aka "Monster From A Prehistoric Planet"), I'm not confident you would like Shochiku's sole(to date) kaiju film.

As has been posted, Shochiku is planning an updated version of this film, something I will definitely want to get after it's released to DVD.

The X from Outer Space(1967) is available on Region 2 DVD, including English subtitles. It was one of the first R2 discs I ever bought. It can also be had at various internet DVD-R vendor sites, usually Region 0 and in it's original aspect ratio and with English subtitles. Personally, I'd recommend buying the stellar Region 2 DVD of this movie, which is for sale at CD Japan.

Beginning about eighteen months ago this film has started airing, from time to time, on Turner Classic Movies, in widescreen and English dubbed.

The film's trailer:

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Heart Of The Matter: Frankenstein Vs Baragon(1965)

When many fans of giant monster movies here the word "Toho" they immediately think of Godzilla, or Mothra, or even King Ghidorah, all three monsters major participants in many of this Japanese motion picture company's films. Toho has also produced some great giant monster movies featuring other leviathans as well, and one of my absolute favorites is a film that originally aired in Japanese theaters in 1965: Frankenstein Vs Baragon. This movie has also been released in theaters abroad under the title of "Frankenstein Conquers The World", which is also it's American title, the movie airing in American theaters in 1966.
This movie is, I think, something of a different "take" on Toho's previous kaiju films, which had featured reptilian(or reptilian like) monsters e.g.Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, King Ghidorah and Varan. The "star" of the film is not a reptile but rather a boy, who eventually grows very, very large. This 1965 film also prominently featured an American actor, Nick Adams.

The film's story: German authorities, realizing their country is on the brink of destruction during the latter part of World War II, arrange to have Frankenstein's heart transported to their wartime ally, Japan, by submarine. The heart winds up in a Hiroshima hospital for research and study, however, the dropping of the atomic bomb on the city by a U.S. bomber prevents the planned work by Japanese scientists from happening. Fast forward to Hiroshima in 1960, fifteen years later. Dr.'s Bowen(Nick Adams), Kawaji(Tadao Takashima), and Togami(Kumi Mizuno) are all studying the effects of residual radioactivity and radiation poisoning on the local populace. Interrupting their grim but necessary work: the discovery of a young, feral like boy prowling local suburbia, stealing and eating neighborhood pets. Cornered in a beachfront hillside cave by the authorities, the boy is compelled out of hiding, and his animalistic existence, by the kindness of Dr. Togami. The boy becomes an immediate study by the scientists, but his sanctuary with them is complicated by the fact he continues to grow, presumably from effects of radiation. Angered by photographers lights one night the boy, now over twenty feet tall, breaks out of his captivity and flees into the wooded countryside. While the military and trio of scientists search for the boy giant, now recognized as the Frankenstein monster borne out of the heart from 1945, another monster appears, a subterranean, burrowing reptilian creature called "Baragon". Baragon crashes a party(literally), demolishing a large villa and consuming some local farm animals during his countryside forays. Eventually, and not surprisingly, the Franken-boy giant, now fifty feet tall, and Baragon, encounter each other in the Japan countryside and battle it out. (no other spoilers)

Observations: I remember as a kid seeing this movie listed in TV Guide, then watching it with my dad during the overnight hours. I have always considered this film to be somewhat "off the beaten path" as a kaiju film, which I wholeheartedly welcome. Seeing it for the first time it was not what I expected, but I was anything but disappointed. The score was very good, as were the makeup effects used to render actor Koji Furuhata, who played the larger Franken-boy giant in this film. I especially liked the exaggerated brow and misshapen teeth, the boy giant's choppers sufficiently misshapen to give any self respecting dentist nightmares. The various grunts, almost pig like snorts and periodic groans and truncated goofy laughter of the boy giant(while eating) add to his menace, though I don't think, as his actions in the film would suggest, he was malevolent.

Frankenstein Vs Baragon was recently released to Region 1 DVD by Tokyo Shock, a subsidiary of Mediablasters, and the DVD is outstanding, presenting the movie in it's original aspect ratio of 2:35.1 widescreen and in Japanese language(w/English subtitles) and also affording those who buy the DVD the opportunity to watch this movie in English dubbed audio as well.

The original Japanese trailer for Frankenstein Vs Baragon:

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Heat Is On: The Day The Earth Caught Fire(1961)

I have always been a great fan of disaster movies and I have a great many of them on DVD. A few years ago I picked up one on disc I had not seen since I was a kid. I'm referring to The Day The Earth Caught Fire, theatrically released in 1961 by British Lions Films-Pax Films and directed by Val Guest.

The film's story: Simultaneous detonations of powerful nuclear bombs by both the United States and the Soviet Union result in gradual, and bizarre, weather changes all over the globe. Eventually the dreadful reason for these weather effects is revealed: the detonations have knocked the Earth off it's axis, and to make matters even worse, have caused the Earth to begin moving, in a collision course, with the sun. Across the planet the heat intensifies, resulting in massive blazes, withering heatwaves, and the accompanying widespread panic, chaos, and sense of humanity's impending doom. The world's leading scientists devise a plan: one final, enormous detonation, that may save humanity by re-setting the Earth's axis... or hasten the world's destruction. (no other spoilers)

Observations: I have always been impressed by this film, both the suspense and feeling of dread that it effectively evokes, the story told through the eyes of a reporter employed by the London Daily Express. The ending is, like the movie itself, thought-provoking...and kind of enigmatic at the same time. The DVD of this movie, distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment, is stellar. The film is presented in widescreen(2:35.1), includes an audio commentary with director Val Guest(The Quatermass Xperiment-1956). a theatrical trailer, TV spot, still gallery, and director biography. This movie won for "Best Screenplay"(British Academy Award) in 1961.

The Day The Earth Caught Fire is a science fiction classic and one of the best "end-of-the-world" films ever made.

The trailer for the film:

Objects In Motion: Gorath(1962)

Though Godzilla takes center stage among Toho kaiju and sci-fi fans alike I also think that the Toho Motion Picture "space operas" were also very good. By this I mean films in which the story centers on invading aliens and/or other adventures in outer space, e.g. The Mysterians(1957) and Battle In Outer Space(1959). My favorite Toho science fiction "space opera" is Gorath(1962) (Yosei Gorasu), released to theaters in 1962 by Toho.

The film's story: a mysterious collapsed star with a mass over 6000 times the Earth's is discovered by the crew of a rocket ship. That rocket ship is captured by the celestial body's immense gravitational pull and consequently destroyed, but not before sending back critical information on the approaching red star, which is subsequently dubbed "Gorath". The information is analyzed and the result isn't good: Gorath is on a collision course with Earth, prompting the world's top scientists to forum in an effort to devise a plan to save the planet from imminent destruction. Their plan is a bold one: construct massive, subterranean thermonuclear rockets at the South Pole, fire them off and use them to "thrust" the Earth out of Gorath's projected course. There are the expected logistical headaches that come with such a colossal undertaking, not to mention the appearance of Magma, a giant, disagreeable walrus that obviously does not like all the commotion going on around him at the South Pole. (no other spoilers).

Observations: a fun film and a great spectacle to watch. The music is superlative, the cast a veritable "Who's who" of Toho actors, and the miniatures are, I think the absolute best I have ever seen in any Toho kaiju/sci-fi film.

Gorath was theatrically released in the United States in 1964, a couple of years after it's release in Japan, by Brenco Pictures. In the Americanized version of the film the sequences with the monster walrus "Magma" are removed. I have seen a copy(or two) of the Columbia release of the movie on VHS in discount video stores, though not recently. The film is available on Region 2 at without English subtitles).

The trailer for Gorath(1962):