Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pedal to the metal: PACIFIC RIM(2013)

I bought the giant robot vs kaiju film PACIFIC RIM recently on Blu Ray. This movie is directed by Guillermo del Toro and is, by his own admission, a tribute of sorts to giant monster movies like "Gojira" as well as homages to anime. As a lifelong fan of "kaiju"(giant mysterious beast) films I fully expected that I would enjoy watching PACIFIC RIM and I did. Some observations, mostly positive:

Thumbs up:

The CGI(computer generated imagery) is fantastic in this movie. The movie itself looks spectacular at times in 1080p HD, especially the kaiju-jaeger battles. ('jaeger" = a giant robot)

The battle tactics employed by the pilots who operate the jaegers(the giant battle robots): a nice combination of hand to hand fighting(strikes and chops) as well as lethal, stabbing weapons and beam weaponry, both of which are put to good use against the monsters.

The jaeger designs all of which are different to reflect their respective home countries and the pilots who operate them. I especially liked the Russian jaeger "Cherno Alpha" which reminded me of a walking army tank and the Chinese jaeger "Crimson Typhoon" and its multi armed saw blades which are totally sick weapons.

The performances of the majority of the human cast of actors: they made you care about them and their fates in this movie and that is a major plus to any action film!

The overall design and fighting tactics of the various kaiju in this film: these monsters aren't just lumbering, slow to react behemoths. They exhibit reflexes, instincts and emotions and also show an ability to adapt to the jaegers that fight them which adds to the suspense of this movie.

Thumbs down:

While the kaiju-jaeger battles were spectacular I wanted to see a major daylight battle. We get night time and underwater battles of course but I think a daylight robot-monster battle would have been a nice touch.

The acting of the pair of scientists was too over the top and injected a streak(for lack of better word) of forced humor into this movie that I could have done without in all honesty. Ron Perlman's character, "Hannibal Chau"(the kaiju organs/bones black market dealer) is an expected source for this kind of behavior but the two scientists in this movie working for Marshal Penetecost(played by Idris Elba) are like two quarreling, nutty professors who've been stuck in a basement lab for far too long.

Overall: a must see and a must DVD or Blu Ray purchase for ANY fan of giant monster movies! PACIFIC RIM has to date generated $407.5 million in box office receipts. It totaled just over $100 million in the United States(a disappointment) but fared much better abroad, especially in China. According to Guillermo del Toro a script is being penned for a sequel but as to whether the studio(Legendary Pictures) green lights funding for a sequel...well, we'll just have to wait and see. I hope a sequel is made.

To buy the BD/DVD combo release of PACIFIC RIM(2013) at Amazon click the link: PACIFIC RIM BLU RAY/DVD release 

A trailer(in HD):

Sunday, October 27, 2013

PACIFIC RIM & the potential rise of the new "Kaiju" film (by Evan Brehany)

When writing about the kaiju genre, the line between "what is" and "what isn't" is controversially quantified. The line that this article will abide by is that a "kaiju" is a monster that is at least 25 meters tall(82 feet), looks like something that could be played by someone in a suit, looks more surreal than realistic and is based on animals or something randomly out of left field. Kaiju, when literally translated means "mysterious beast" rather than monster. It follows an aesthetic created by the Japanese but doesn't necessarily have to take place in Japan or have Japanese characters.

In 2004-2005 we saw the death of the kaiju film in its home country(Japan). In recent and previous years (particularly the late 90's) the decline of the "kaiju" film had already begun.  On one hand, Shusuke Kaneko predated Christopher Nolan by resurrecting a pop culture icon with films whose quality juxtapose greatly with what came before. At the same time, the long "in progress" American Godzilla film premiered(in May,1998) - an event which greatly disappointed fans, Godzilla was made into a generic giant monster ripped of its kaiju being and the qualities unique to the Godzilla character. All charm was lost. Meanwhile, Toho tried to resurrect Godzilla with more of their own films featuring the iconic monster, these movies theatrically released from 1999-2004. Tomoyuki Tanaka had passed away, leaving Shogo Tomiyama to become the producer of Toho's Godzilla films.

Shogo Tomiyama is a producer who seems sketchy. In the documentary BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE, Tomiyama claims that he tries to emphasize a "sense of wonder" with Godzilla films. Sadly and elsewhere, Tomiyama exhibits that this sense of wonder is something Tomiyama associates only in the image and not the screenplay. An article from the magazine Oriental Cinema mentions in their review for GODZILLA 2000(1999): "According to a Japanese talk show, Tomiyama agrees that the human subplots shouldn't propel the main story of any Godzilla films." Tomiyama's misunderstanding continued on when commenting on 2001's GODZILLA, MOTHRA, KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL 
OUT ATTACK's success being more so than 2002's GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA.

Shogo Tomiyama said:

"Not as well as GODZILLA-MOTHRA-KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK but better than GODZILLA X MEGAGUIRUS. I think, as in the case of GMK, last year's box office success was partly owed to the animated co-feature HAMTARO (Tottoko Hamutaro). But as a producer, I seriously tried to find any specific reason why GMK had been more profitable than GODZILLA X MECHAGODZILLA."

GMK was almost the last Godzilla film of the Millenninum series. Toho brought Shusuke Kaneko in to direct a Godzilla film many say is the best since the 80's and arguably since the "Showa" series(1954-1975). Shogo Tomiyama is a producer who lacks an artistic viewpoint that balances out the business side of his thinking.

For the rest of the Godzilla series, Shogo Tomiyama brought back a director who had failed with GODZILLA X MEGAGUIRUS, Masaaki Tezuka, who fortunately made two good Godzilla films but followed up by hiring Ryuhei Kitamura in a career-killing move to make GODZILLA: FINAL WARS(2004) - in the 2004 film there was far more emphasis on human fighting instead of the kaiju combat. While Kitamura's film was an aesthetic failure (on an anniversary year no less), Tezuka's attempts were out-shined by Hollywood productions. With GODZILLA, MOTHRA, MECHAGODZILLA: TOKYO SOS(2003), box office attendance was scant considering that at the same time Japan had American import films THE LAST SAMURAI and FINDING NEMO for the choosing.

It's a near paradox. Godzilla films have become entertainment without much of a social message while maintaining the heritage of suit use(suit-mation), this despite heavy use of CGI(computer generated imagery) beginning with GAMERA 3 - THE INCOMPLETE STRUGGLE(1999). Problem is miniature effects alienate a lot of people, the very same folks who lack suspension of disbelief. It;s a reason Chinese films don't compare to American films at the box office. Shogo Tomiyama once said in a HenshinOnline interview that Godzilla films are meant to be "entertainment, not political movies", something which has always been a backbone to give kaiju films substance to counterbalance the aesthetic-specific special effects.

After GODZILLA:FINAL WARS, the kaiju genre quickly took a turn for the satirical.  ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT is a kaiju movie that has been able to survive because it managed to attract an audience through television when not on the big screen. Ultraman was the only real winner here with the
perpetual popularity of the various "Ultraman" television shows being a main reason. If the kaiju genre was going to make a comeback, it was going to have to be through something gargantuan.

That comeback did indeed come and some might say from "left field". Many people had their doubts but despite the overall disappointment with the '98 American Godzilla film, the kaiju movie genre is on the rise again! The beginning of this genre revival began with CLOVERFIELD, released to theaters in January, 2008.  This movie, which utilizes a "shaky-cam"(point of view) aesthetic for realism, is a film that knows its heritage with the back story of the the Tagurato oil rig, an Ifukube-esque end theme, and a manga pseudo-sequel. Five years later, and it's been a long five years... PACIFIC RIM(2013) and Legendary Picture's GODZILLA(2014) is here! This is where, when speaking about terms of heritage, PACIFIC RIM fits into the scheme of things.

The beginning of PACIFIC RIM is not unlike what you might see in CLOVERFIELD aesthetically speaking. Ultimately we get a kaiju film which reveals to us the kaiju head on and brings us into the inner world of the film not by movies like Kiyotaka Taguchi's GEHARA and GUILALA'S COUNTERATTACK, seemingly taking note from the slasher genre from a decade ago, and went metaphysical - self aware - with its substance. It was outweighed by films like GAMERA: LITTLE BRAVES(2006), a movie which failed at the box office. THE HOST(2006), from Korea, not so much.

PACIFIC RIM has focused the kaiju "reality" very nicely. It's the film's ace card. The question of kaiju remains has been answered, with architecture centered around kaiju bones which echo the modernist building structures around trees. It also has an answer in a kaiju black market, which parallel's China's very real black market for endangered animal parts which have scientifically questionable effects on one's physiology. The question of kaiju motivation is also answered, though in a simplistic: I', referring to the film GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO(1965) which features potentially world conquering aliens (though with PACIFIC RIM the issue of timing is answered by global warming a la GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH(1971) and completely different than 2001's YONGGARY).

The "Jaeger" program's rise and fall play's into the question of kaiju evolution, a first. Somewhat detailed kaiju physiology and anatomy is also here (with a brain explanation showing that, like Godzilla or Rodan, the main source of inspiration for these kaiju are the dinosaurs). The brief mention of kaiju cults is much like an indirect reference to readings of kaiju by people like Norio Akasaka who saw Godzilla as "a representation of the spirit of soldiers who died in the South Pacific", though Pacific Rim has it simpler.

The Jaeger program has it all. Though reminiscent of Gundam G in how the mecha work, the process is a constant source of drama for the movie's characters that, while relatable, is fiction enough to make it fantastic. The use of the mecha, and the appearance of a Mecha toy is indicative of a cultural context. In the very quick prologue of the film, we already see the national pride that the Jaegers are cloaked in with images of a child waving a flag in front of a Jaeger and a parade of soldiers in a Jaeger exhibition. At the final scene of the film, in Anchorage, Del Toro makes a visual allusion: a tin toy robot. Tin toy robots, some of the oldest Japanese pop culture toys, were tin icons. Japan took over the industry, taking what was originally a Nazi-era German product (nice, considering the Jaegers have a German name) that Japan ended up making their own to the point that they became the toy making capitol of the world, a title they still own. The mecha-pride doesn't stop there.

The fact that there is a good Japanese connection to the film means that the following shouldn't be taken with a grain of salt. Consider that "Mako Mori", the most important female character of the film, was very young when she lost her parents to a kaiju attack and was almost killed specifically by a Ganimes-like kaiju. Consider that she was very young at the time she lost her parents(and the majority of the film takes place in 2025) and it is easy to see that Japan was one of the first countries attacked by Kaiju. In a country whose atomic tragedies have made it a post-apocalyptic country, a kaiju attack is almost a repeat of such. Where as Mako's character makes an interesting comparison for "Ayana" in GAMERA 3, Japan's history (as shown in the film) is not unlike an almost re=staging of Godzilla. Very much a metaphor which could be applied to Mechagodzilla, the Jaegers(kaiju sized robots) are not just the only thing which can handle the kaiju physically but it almost beckons of WW2 and post-WW2 sentiments. As mentioned by Crispin Freeman in ANIME: DRAWING A REVOLUTION, robots in Japanese culture have taken on an almost divine status, the physical embodiment of science getting humans closer to the celestial, almost embodying a kami sentient being for Japan. Mecha like Tetsujin 28 (Gigantor) evolved out of this notion. This is the role that a Jaeger might take for a character like Mako. The physical aesthetics of the Jaeger, particularly "Gypsy Danger", could be seen as a point against this, but Mako riding Gypsy Danger goes more to the sense of teamwork that the countries that share the Pacific Rim have undertaken.

The physicality of the kaiju is what makes the film the most legitimate as kaiju film. As director Guillermo Del Toro has said in interviews, the kaiju were designed with one (of many) factors in place: the kaiju had to look as if they could have been alternatively played by a man in a suit. Not only that, but a good bunch of the Pacific Rim kaiju resemble kaiju we know and love. "Knifehead" looks like Guiron, "Otachi" looks like Gyaos, "Leatherback" looks like King Kong, and "Scunner" looks like Destoroyah (in the head). Alas, unlike the Godzilla from 1998 or even the "Cloverfield" monster, these kaiju take attacks head on and are more aggressive than any animal you have seen. There are energy attacks utilized as well as chemical(beam) attacks which I think all kaiju should possess.

The heart of the kaiju though is the question of what kind of place the kaiju hold in nature. In a move which kaiju fans (particularly ones who grew up with the kaiju eiga of the 80's-90's) would undoubtedly like, Jaeger pilot "Raleigh Becket" describes the kaiju in this narration, "There are things you can't fight - acts of God. You see a hurricane coming, you get out of the way. But when you're in a Jaeger, you can finally fight the hurricane. You can win."

The kaiju are a force of nature, reinforced with the use of the anti-kaiju wall. Are the kaiju a force of nature? If the answer is yes, then wouldn't they have to be naturally occurring? Indeed, foreign life forms (in this case, extraterrestrial life forms) taking over an ecosystem for their own use is natural. It's gargantuan in magnitude as an example of competition but considering that the kaiju are actually genetically engineered by an intelligent cause (other than man no less), are they really a part of nature? Is it the new phase of resource competition or something else? Looking back on the "Heisei" Godzilla films(1984-1995) where Godzilla was a force of nature, the fact that instead of being awakened he was resurrected makes us again question such a dichotomy, a need to define or redefine "force of nature" considering the kaiju coming from a non-natural occurrence. This is what the "Jaegers" are actually fighting against and these two backgrounds are what make PACIFIC RIM a good piece of dialectic film making, a movie that interacts with film heritage.


Evan Brehany is a resident of Warner Robins, GA and is an active member of two internet message boards: KAIJU GALAXY and MONSTERLAND FORUMS. Evan is a regular contributor for "Packmule's Pen" and his reviews and other written submissions will appear in this blog from time to time.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Short horror film "Shhh"

Every now and then I come across a top notch short horror film and "Shhh" is marvelous! Check it out for yourself by clicking on the below video!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bite this: Dracula Prince of Darkness (1966)

I finally managed to watch the sequel to the 1958 Hammer Films classic Horror Of Dracula a couple of nights ago and enjoyed it quite a bit despite the fact Christopher Lee, who plays "Dracula" in this movie, has no spoken dialogue at all. Earnest performances are given by Andrew Keir and Barbara Shelley and Christoper Lee's on screen presence as the "Prince Of Darkness" is as menacing as ever! I own this movie on DVD, part of a three film set released by Millennium Entertainment which also includes Frankenstein Created Woman(1967) and The Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires(1974).

The 2013 "Hammer Horror Collection" DVD released by Millennium Entertainment can be purchased at Amazon: HAMMER HORROR COLLECTION DVD

Dracula Prince Of Darkness is also available on Blu Ray as well and is sold at Amazon. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

British geneticist says he has proof of Yeti

A British geneticist claims the "Yeti"(aka the abominable snowman) allegedly seen in the Himalayas is actually a bear like creature derived from the modern day polar bear and brown bear. He also claims to have proof.

 British geneticist says he has proof of Yeti

Monday, October 14, 2013

Open house: The Haunting (1963)

The Haunting(1963), produced and directed by Robert Wise, is I think the scariest  "haunted house" movie ever made, an admission I make with all due respect(and admiration) for the "Amityville Horror" films. I'll be buying this movie on Blu Ray later this month. I own the DVD. The cast: Richard Johnson, Claire Bloom, Julie Harris, Russ Tamblyn...and Hill House which is one very big and VERY scary house!

The trailer:

I own the 2003 Warner Home Video DVD release. This DVD can be purchased at Amazon by clicking the link: THE HAUNTING(1963) Warner Home Video DVD

The Haunting(1963) will release to Blu Ray by Turner Home Entertainment on October 15th(2013) and can be purchased at Amazon by clicking the link: THE HAUNTING(1963) Blu Ray

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Hot under the collar: THE BURNING(1981)

As much as I emphasize the importance of acting, story lines, cinematography and music scores when giving props to films I also think there is a lot to be said about practical special effects - not CGI(computer generated imagery) but good ole make up effects. Make up effects in science fiction and horror films really came into its own during the 1950's and 1960's and despite the decrease in reliance on these kinds of effects they are still in use and often put to excellent use. One period of time in cinema showcasing practical make up effects that I am enormously fond of is the 1980's, specifically the "slasher" horror movie genre. Slasher film franchises like Friday The 13th, A Nightmare On Elm Street and the Halloween movies(which began in 1978) remain terrific showcases for practical makeup effects. I've always admired the work of guys like Rob Bottin and Rick Baker. Tom Savini is another guy whose makeup work and career in this industry deserves major kudos. Savini's makeup and gore effects work are featured in the subject of this "revisit", an American-Canadian slasher horror film originally released theatrically in the United States by Filmways back in May, 1981: The Burning, directed by Tony Maylam and produced by a then new company called Miramax Films.

The Burning, made on an estimated budget of $1.5 million dollars, was one of the first on screen film endeavors for brothers Bob and Harvey Weinstein, the movie produced to cash in on the slasher horror movie craze that was going on at the time. This movie was a launching point for several actors including Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter.

The film's story: in 1974, a group of campers at "Camp Blackfoot" play a prank on the campground caretaker named "Cropsy"(played by Lou David). The prank quickly goes wrong and Cropsy catches on fire. The teen campers watch from behind nearby bushes in terror as Cropsy, now completely engulfed in flames, staggers outside his cabin, managing to leap into a nearby lake...

Five years later we see Cropsy still hospitalized, horribly burned and disfigured. His skin graft surgeries unsuccessful, Cropsy is wheeled out of the hospital literally by his lead doctor who tries to reassure the horribly burned campground caretaker that in time he will grow accustomed to his condition.

Yeah, right.

Cropsy disguises himself in overcoat and hat and immediately focuses his rage on a prostitute in a motel room who, understandably horrified after seeing Cropsy for the first time, is quickly butchered by the disfigured fellow. Cropsy predictably returns to Camp Blackfoot and, securing a pair of garden shears, begins methodically killing young teens at the camp. It takes a while before the camp counselors realize what's happening and who may be behind the carnage. By that time only a few remain and there is a final showdown between them and Cropsy. (no other spoilers)


Critics of The Burning label this movie a "Friday The 13th" rip off and to some extent I agree but this movie still establishes enough of its own "identity"(for lack of better word) to make this horror film well worth watching and a DVD(or Blu Ray) addition to any self respecting horror movie fan's collection.

Thumbs up:

1. the makeup effects used to render "Cropsy" post burn: Tom Savini's work is IMO top notch. Cropsy not only looks burned but even melted and to say that he looks absolutely hideous would be an understatement.

2. I like the fact that Cropsy employs one weapon for his kills unlike fellow slasher antagonist "Jason Voorhees" who uses everything but the proverbial kitchen sink to slaughter his victims. Cropsy employs those garden shears in a simple and direct manner, achieving the same amount of over the top, "meatball" gore.

3. the full reveal of Cropsy post burn doesn't take place until later in this film: to be sure there is a brief(a second or two) shot of his face in a cabin window earlier in the movie but the viewer catches only the briefest glimpse when watching this film. By not revealing Cropsy's grotesque appearance too early in this movie, director Tony Maylam definitely heightens the suspense and dread.

4. the now famous "raft massacre" scene: edited out of some VHS releases of this movie, this sequence is a favorite among the fan following of The Burning and why not? It's sick and very well done and features an impaling and one camper getting all of his fingers chopped off.

5. the score by Rick Wakeman which, like other slasher horror movies of this era, is heavy on the keyboards.

Thumbs down:

1. the overall acting in this movie leaves something to be desired and is sub par even for the movie's budget.

Overall: a solid slasher horror film that should absolutely be in every gore hound's DVD or Blu Ray collection. Shout! Factory released The Burning(1981)  on R1 DVD, uncut and in widescreen, back in 2007 and this release has a lot of extras. I own this DVD and it's marvelous.

The Burning(1981)  was also released to Blu Ray by Shout! Factory in May, 2013 as a BD/DVD combo release.

The film's trailer:

To see the Shout! Factory Collector's Edition Blu Ray/DVD release of this film for sale at Amazon click the link: THE BURNING Collector's Edition BD/DVD

Monday, October 7, 2013

THE CARCASS - short film from Gregg Wright

I always enjoy promoting the creativity of others I know via the internet. Below is the latest short film produced, edited and directed by Gregg Wright. It has a sci-fi and horror element to it so fans of these genres of movies should definitely check out this creepy short film. Click on the video below to view THE CARCASS.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Getting stoned: The Gorgon (1964)

My DVR will be getting plenty of use during the month of October as Turner Classic Movies showcases some of the absolute best horror movies ever made. Classic Universal Studios and Hammer Films horror movies will be making the rounds on TCM in abundance. I've always been a huge fan of Hammer horror films and many of them rank as my all time favorites in this movie genre. THE GORGON, originally released in 1964 is a film I'm especially fond of. Directed by Terence Fisher and featuring a cast which includes Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Barbara Shelley, this film delves into the mysterious deaths of citizens of a small, early 20th century German town in which the main suspect in the murders can turn anyone who looks directly at her into stone!

The trailer:

THE GORGON(1964) is available on official R1 DVD and is part of the four film, 2008 Sony Home Entertainment DVD release called Icons Of Horror Collection: Hammer Films. To see this release for sale at Amazon click the link: ICONS OF HORROR COLLECTION-HAMMER FILMS

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

AMC Fearfest 2013

October is a favorite month for me because both AMC(American Movie Classics) and TCM(Turner Classic Movies) ramp up their broadcasts of horror movies. I have admittedly developed a certain amount of disdain for AMC in recent years because they do not screen as many classic horror films like they did back in the "good old days" of the 1990's "AMC Monsterfest" when you could always count on a bevy of Hammer, Universal and Toho kaiju films as part of this channel's line up.

Still, I've grown more fond of AMC lately and do watch some of their "Fearfest" movies. AMC's Fearfest for 2013 begins on October 14th with a continuous broadcast of horror movies and episodes of AMC's own TV series The Walking Dead.

To access AMC's Fearfest 2013 program line up click the image above or the link: AMC FEARFEST 2013