Archive for the Giant Monsters Category

Quick Cuts: GIANT MONSTER PARTY!

Posted in 1960s Horror, 1970s Movies, 2013, Giant Monsters, Godzilla, Japanese Horror, Quick Cuts with tags , , , , , on July 19, 2013 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS:  GIANT MONSTER PARTY!
Featuring: Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Mark Onspaugh, and Colleen Wanglund

pacificrim MICHAEL ARRUDA:  With the release of PACIFIC RIM (2013), giant monsters are back in the movies.  Of course, for years, the market on giant monster movies was cornered by Toho Pictures, Inc.  Toho, of course, was responsible for introducing Godzilla to the world, among others, including Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah.

L.L. SOARES:  Don’t forget my favorite Minya, who is also sometimes called Manilla. He can blow giant smoke rings you know!

ARRUDA:  He even talks in GODZILLA’S REVENGE (1969)!

Minya, son of Godzilla. But is Godzilla his mommy or his daddy?

Minya, son of Godzilla. But is Godzilla his mommy or his daddy?

SOARES: Exactly!

ARRUDA: Tonight on QUICK CUTS we ask our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters, What’s your favorite Japanese giant monster movie and why?

SOARES:  My favorite Japanese giant monster movie is and always will be WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966). It was originally meant to be a sequel to FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965), strangely enough, but any connection is lost in the English translation. Featuring two monsters created from the same genetic material, Sanda is brown and lives in the mountains and is basically a gentle giant, while Gaira is green and lives in the sea and loves to eat people and spit out their clothes! When Gaira threatens to destroy Japan, Sanda steps in to protect the human race. I loved this movie the first time ever saw it, as a kid, and it still remains my favorite Japanese giant monster movie.

war_gargantuas_dvd

COLLEEN WANGLUND:  My favorite Japanese kaiju film is Ishiro Honda’s original 1954 flick GODZILLA.  Godzilla was a metaphor for nuclear weapons and still holds up as a recognizable symbol of destruction.  And even though Godzilla represents carnage, mayhem and annihilation, he is still sympathetic.

The American version of GODZILLA (1954) had footage edited down and the insertion of Raymond Burr. Find the uncut Japanese version (called GOJIRA) instead.

The American version of GODZILLA (1954) had footage edited down and the insertion of Raymond Burr. Find the uncut Japanese version (called GOJIRA) instead.

ARRUDA:  I didn’t find him too sympathetic in that first movie.  I found him terrifying.  The first GODZILLA movie still scares me.

SOARES:  Wimp! But you’re right, Colleen, that’s a great one, too. The one that started it all for Japanese giant monsters! It’s also a very solid movie in its own right, and was rightly included in the esteemed Criterion Collection a couple of years ago.

ARRUDA:  It’s a very dark movie, and I think a lot of people don’t realize this because of the way the Godzilla series went during the 1960s and 1970s, with Godzilla becoming almost a supermonster superhero.  But that first film is intense, and nothing like the sequels which came after it, at least through the 1970s, anyway.

MARK ONSPAUGH:  Michael – my favorite giant monster (other than King Kong) is actually British… It’s Gorgo! I love it because the monster they capture is a baby, and his MOTHER comes looking for him.

ARRUDA:  A monster’s best friend is his mother—. (CUE PSYCHO music.)

ONSPAUGH:  And the monsters win… Game, set and match for Gorgo and his mommy.

ARRUDA:  I like GORGO (1961) a lot too.  It has neat special effects, a decent story, and is also significant because strangely there aren’t any female roles in this one, other than Gorgo’s mom, of course.  This one’s for the guys, I guess.

gorgoSOARES: I liked GORGO a lot, too. The same British company that made that one also made a King Kong ripoff called KONGA (1961, as well), which wasn’t as good as GORGO, but it  featured the legendary Michael Gough as its mad scientist villain.,

ARRUDA: You’re right.  KONGA isn’t as good as GORGO, as the giant ape doesn’t really appear until the end.  It’s worth watching only to see Michael Gough overact as the dastardly evil scientist.

As for me, I love Godzilla, but like you. Mark, I’m partial to KING KONG, so my favorite Japanese giant monster movies would be Toho’s two forays into Kong territory, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1960) and KING KONG ESCAPES (1968).  Neither one of these two films is all that great, especially for hardcore Kong fans, but they remain for me very guilty pleasures.

kk-g-3Of course, Godzilla enjoyed a resurgence in the 1990s and 2000s, as Toho made a bunch of Godzilla movies that highlighted a seriousness not found in the Godzilla movies of old.  While this didn’t always translate into better movies, and while the man-in-suit special effects remained on the goofy side, Godzilla enjoyed some of his best moments during these two decades, and the King of the Monsters certainly was far scarier here than in his silly movies from the 1960s and 1970s.  

My favorite film from this new series is GODZILLA, MOTHRA, AND KING GHIDORAH:  GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK (2001), affectionately known as GMK, which in spite of its silly title, is a really good movie.  It’s my pick for the best Godzilla movie in the entire series.

SOARES: I totally agree with you about the newer Japanese Godzilla movies. They’re not all great, but overall they have a much higher quality level than the movies we grew up on as kids. And some of them even have cooler monsters than we had in the old days. I really got into these flicks when they first started popping up in the U.S. in the 90s, and my favorite is probably GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989), which is interesting because the monster is actually a giant flower (!). It’s a hybrid of Godzilla’s DNA mixed with some kind of rose, and the result is a monster that is unlike anything that came before it. I just thought it was completely unique. I also really like another hybrid creature, Space Godzilla, which is the result of Godzilla’s DNA ending up in outer space (it’s a long story), which giant crystals on his back instead of spikes and more fearsome looking teeth, Space Godzilla was another formidable foe, and can be found in GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA (1994).

godzilla-vs-biollante-dvd-english-new-upgrade-0620ARRUDA: So, that’s our take on Japanese giant monster movies.  What’s your favorite?

Thanks for reading everybody!

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Mark Onspaugh and Colleen Wanglund

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PACIFIC RIM (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Aliens, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Giant Monsters, Guillermo Del Toro, Monsters, ROBOTS! with tags , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  PACIFIC RIM (2013)
Review by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

pacificrimnewposter(THE SCENE: The interior of a monstrous robot.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES attempt to work together to get the robot battle ready.  However, things are not going well…)

VOICE:  You guys had better come out of there. Things aren’t working out.  You’re supposed to be sharing minds, not battling each other.  You’re just not compatible.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  You think?

L.L. SOARES:  Dammit!  I really wanted to fight with this thing.  I have to find me a new partner to pilot this baby.  I wonder if Dudar is available?

VOICE:  He’s in another robot with Lil’ Stevie.

MA:  Oh well. It looks like we’re just going to have to review today’s movie, instead.  At least our incompatibility comes in handy in the movie review department.  And judging by your recent glowing comments on Facebook where you shower praises on today’s movie PACIFIC RIM (2013), today’s column should prove volatile.

LS:  Don’t tell me you didn’t like the movie? More proof that you need to have your head examined.

MA:  I’ll do more than that.   I’ll tell you why I didn’t like it.

LS:  You have no taste, that’s why.

MA:  If only things were that simple.  Anyway, first, a plot summary.

PACIFIC RIM, the new big budget fantasy adventure by Guillermo del Toro, can be summarized so quickly you’d better not blink, because if you do, you’re gonna miss it.

Giant monster aliens arrive on Earth from an underground fissure under the ocean

LS: It’s more than just a fissure. It’s a portal to another dimension. Instead of attacking us from the stars, aliens have gained access to the Earth through this dimensional doorway at the bottom of the ocean. Pretty neat idea, actually.

MA: Except it’s developed for all of two seconds.

LS:  Hardly. Early on, they state it’s there. They don’t understand it, and neither do we. We learn as they learn. But considering the entire last half is about closing the portal, I think you need a new watch. That’s a lot more than two seconds.

MA:  There’s a difference between developing an idea and including an idea in a movie.  There’s a portal in the movie, but it’s hardly developed as a concept.

In order to survive, the human race builds a series of gigantic robots to fight back.  These robots are controlled by two fighters inside the machine whose brains are connected through a neural hook-up, so they can fight as one.  You need two fighters because the technology is too much for one fighter to handle.

LS: The main reason why there are two pilots is to represent the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The pilots are the brain of the robot, so this is apt.

MA: The early rounds go to the humans and the robots, but over the years, the giant monsters keep on coming, and with defeat just around the corner, it’s up to a select few led by military man Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) using a top secret plan to stop the giant monsters once and for all.  And that’s it for plot, folks.  Everything else is gravy, and it’s watered-down flavorless gravy, at that.  Furthermore, what I just described to you is explained in the first few minutes of the movie.

LS: I liked that the movie started out with a quick synopses to bring us up to speed. It was short, sweet, and yet completely brought us up to date with what was happening and why. You didn’t have to scratch your head and wonder why anything was happening. It was already explained for you. All you had to do was sit back and enjoy.

MA:  I liked this too.  The problem is I didn’t like what followed.  The whole film adopted this quick storytelling style so that plot points fly by quickly in order to get to the action, which unfortunately, simply didn’t impress me. .  The rest just goes on and on and on.

LS:  That’s not fair. There’s much more to the plot than this. The reason the robots start losing is that the monsters that come up from the ocean are evolving. They are represented by classes based on their size and their level of dangerousness. The robots do okay for a while, until the creatures they’re up against just get bigger and meaner and eventually are out of their league. The humans can’t build the robots fast enough to counteract these amplified baddies.

There’s also an alternative plan to build a giant wall separating the area where the creatures come out from the human population. The wall takes time, though, and doesn’t seem to be as effective as the people in charge had hoped.

MA:  If you want to add more details, be my guest, but I’d argue, why?  This is one of the major weaknesses of PACIFIC RIM.  Its story is so bare it almost blushes at its own nakedness.

LS: I completely disagree. That’s the germ of the idea, but there’s so much more to it.

MA: Really?  In this movie?  You mention the wall, for instance.  That idea is glossed over so quickly we never even know why it was a viable idea in the first place.  A giant wall?  Seriously?

Granted, I didn’t hate PACIFIC RIM.  It’s just that after hearing lots of positive buzz about this one, I hoped it would be really good, but seriously, it played out exactly the way I feared it would play out.  It has less in common with CLOVERFIELD (2008) and IRON MAN (2009) than it does with the TRANSFORMERS movies.  It’s basically TRANSFORMERS without the silly robot personalities.  In this one it’s the humans with the silly personalities.

Now, while I thought this one looked cool, in that both the monsters and the robots were rather impressive looking, there wasn’t one action scene in this movie that I liked.  I thought the battle scenes were hopelessly boring and blah.  I was very disappointed with what I saw and ultimately bored by the whole thing.  You’ll find more impressive monster battles in a GODZILLA movie.

And the monsters here are put to little or no use.  You have these really cool looking creatures, and they don’t do anything.  They’re about as scary as Mothra and his Toho friends, and they’re far less fun.  At least the Toho monsters have personality.  If you want to see scary giant monsters, you’re still better off watching CLOVERFIELD.  No one’s come close to matching that film for giant monster thrills, which surprises me, since it’s obvious movies today have the technology to create realistic looking giant creatures, yet nobody seems interested in making a horror movie about them.

The robots are impressive looking too, but they’re just too similar to Transformers to instill much excitement.

(ROBOTIC VOICE comes over the loudspeakers)

ROBOTIC VOICE: Warning! Kaiju spotted in the vicinity of the Atlantic Ocean, approaching the mainland. Opposition must be provided.

LS: I guess we have to work together after all.

MA: This is never going to work.

(LS and MA mind-meld as pilots and scream in agony as they have to be subjected to each other’s thoughts. Somehow, they are able to maintain this long enough to activate their giant robot and go to face the latest threat.

ROBOTIC VOICE: Ladies and Gentlemen…the STAY PUFT MARSHMALLOW MAN from the movie GHOST BUSTERS (1984))

MA: Uh, oh. He’s a lot bigger than I remember.

LS: And a lot meaner. But we’ll fix him.

(Their robot and the MARSHMALLOW MAN battle violently, destroying buildings along the shore, until the robot finally rips the MARSHMALLOW MAN to pieces. He then takes the pieces, skewers them on giant trees whittled to a point, and builds a fire)

MA: S’mores anyone?

LS: I think we could feed a whole city with this guy!

(Great crowds of humans run towards them, carrying giant blocks of chocolate and graham crackers)

MA: Not bad for our first mission. Although having access to your thoughts is really disturbing me.

LS: Me, too. Your thoughts are so goodie-goodie, I’m getting sugar overload. Who knew you were really like that.

MA: Now that the threat has been averted, back to our review.

LS: Oh..okay.

Pacific-Rim-Movie-PosterMA: So, what did I like about PACIFIC RIM?  I liked Idris Elba in his lead performance, and I enjoyed Ron Perlman in his fun supporting role, and that’s about it.  Rarely has there been such a disparity in acting quality in a movie.  You have two excellent performances by Elba and Perlman, while the rest run from hopelessly mediocre to God-awful bad.

LS: What are you talking about? The whole cast in this one is pretty good.

MA: I like Elba a lot, and he doesn’t disappoint here.  His Stacker Pentecost— what kind of a name is that?—the kind that is hardly mentioned in the movie! — is a rousing dominant figure who possesses the strength to lead the resistance against the monsters.  His “it’s time to cancel the apocalypse” speech is one of the highlights of the movie.

LS: Elba is great. I think he has the makings of a major star and I’m surprised that hasn’t happened yet. Maybe PACIFIC RIM give him the attention he deserves. The man is an acting powerhouse.

MA: I agree with you 100 % here about Elba.  He can and should be a major star.

And Ron Perlman is hilarious as Hannibal Chau, a colorful and very shady black market dealer who sells dead monster body parts, including their “crap.”  But it’s a small supporting role, and as entertaining as Perlman is, he’s not in the film enough to save it.

LS: Perlman is a regular in Guillermo del Toro movies, and there’s a reason for that. He never disappoints. Hannibal Chau is a great character, and Perlman plays him perfectly. What a great character! And he’s in the movie a lot more than just a “small supporting role.”

MA: He’s in handful of scenes.  That’s not much.

LS: He’s in it enough to leave an impression and be one of the best characters here. Once again, your time-telling skills are questionable at best.

MA: I never said he’s not one of the best characters in the movie.  He is. But if you think it’s more than just a small supporting role, you’re the one who’s time challenged.

The folks who are in the movie for the bulk of the time are about as plain and exciting as a slice of white bread.  Charlie Hunnam has the lead role of Raleigh Becket, the soldier who has to overcome his brother’s death from the beginning of the movie in order to lead the robots in battle.  Ho hum.  Hunnam is particularly bad here.  He acts like he belongs on the crew of BATTLESHIP (2012).

LS: I liked Hunnam a lot. Most people will recognize him as Jackson “Jax” Teller, who is one of the lead characters in the FX biker series SONS OF ANARCHY, a show that also features Ron Perlman as one of the leads. He may not be in the same league as Elba and Perlman, but I think he does a fine job as Raleigh.

MA:  Fine job?  Yeah, if you’re playing a guy who spends his time inside a robot and has no personality elsewhere.

LS: I agree, in these kinds of movies heroes like him are always a little bland, but Hunamm does a good job with what little he has to work with. He’s great in SONS OF ANARCHY and he was great in the underrated Eric Bana movie DEADFALL (2012). I like him. And his scenes with Mako are actually pretty good here. You’re exaggerating this.

MA: Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori, a woman soldier who’s fighting past demons of her own, isn’t much better than Hunnam.  This is a huge problem with PACIFIC RIM.  These are your two main leads, and they’re about as compelling as wallpaper.  In fact, I found myself looking at the walls of the theater a few times instead of at the movie.

LS: I guess that’s what you do when you have a small brain.

MA:  I wouldn’t know.  You?

LS:  Instead of watching the screen you watch the walls.

MA:  Walls are interesting.  Seriously, I don’t watch the walls.  Of course, if a movie bores me, I do get restless and I may occasionally glance somewhere else.

LS:  Maybe you should have gone to see LONE RANGER again instead. That might be more your speed, Slowboy.

Mako was one of my favorite characters here, and she has a strong back story about one of monsters (they’re called Kaiju in this movie—the Japanese word for “giant beast”) destroying her city and killing her family. She’s driven by a desire for revenge against these creatures, a desire that may prove her undoing.

MA:  A strong back story?  You mean that five minute flashback that shows her by herself without any information about where she’s come from or the family she might have left behind?  That story?

LS: Seriously, your perspective on time is just horrendous.

MA (laughing): By all means, correct me.  Fill in the details.  How did her family die? How many people were in her family?  Were they killed in front of her?  Is there a scene in the film that shows any of this information?  Some strong back story!

Charlie Day as Dr. Newton Geiszler and Burn Gorman as Gottlieb are entertaining as a couple of nerdy scientists, but they’re pretty much comic relief, and while they do take part in major plot points during the movie, they’re no substitute for the main fighters in the robots, which is too bad because they’re more interesting.

LS: They start out as supporting characters, and Gottlieb pretty much stays one throughout. You might remember Burn Gorman from the excellent BBC series TORCHWOOD, where he played Owen Harper. He also had roles in movies like LAYER CAKE (2004) and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012), and in British series like THE HOUR (2011) and the Masterpiece Theater version of BLEAK HOUSE (2005). He’s a solid, dependable actor, but here he mostly just plays an uptight scientist, which isn’t the best role, but yeah, he’s mostly used for comic effect.

Charlie Day on the other hand, has a much larger role in the movie. His Newton “Newt” Geiszler is the more visceral member of the PACIFIC RIM think tank. While Gottleib is more concerned with the math and the theories (some of which turn out to be pretty important), Newt is the guy who wants to take the enemy on in a much more physical way. His main theory being that we can access the brains of the Kaiju in a way similar to the mind melds used by pilots in the robots (called Jaeger here, the Japanese word for “hunter”). Newt is the one who tracks down the mysterious Hannibal Chau, and Day has some great scenes with Ron Perlman. I’ve been a big fan of Day in the FX comedy series IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, where he plays the goofy idiot Charlie Kelly. He’s a good comic actor, but it’s been interesting to see him grow and develop as a movie star.  His biggest role up to this point was playing Dale Arbus, the dental technician, in HORRIBLE BOSSES (2011). But I think Day is really terrific here and has more range than just a comic relief character. He’s one of my favorite things about PACIFIC RIM. His chemistry with Gorman—and especially Perlman—is priceless.

MA: Day’s scenes with Perlman are okay, but priceless?  I don’t think so.

LS: Speak for yourself…You’ve been doing a good job of that so far.

MA: Am I supposed to be speaking for someone else?

The rest of the cast is forgettable, not because they’re bad, but because they’re— forgettable.   I was really surprised at how poorly developed the characters were in this movie, because I’d been hearing so many good things about it.

LS: What about Robert Kazinsky as the Australian Jaeger pilot, Chuck Hansen? Fans of the series TRUE BLOOD will recognize Kazinksy as the vampire Warlow from the newest season of the HBO series, and he’s good here as Raleigh’s main rival. And Max Martini is good as Chuck’s father and co-pilot, Herc (a father and son mind meld? That’s got to be messy).

MA: I found them terribly bland.

LS: Well, I sort of agree with you there. They’re okay – they fill a need in the conflict – but they are kind of bland. I like Kazinksy as an actor, though.

MA: People are singing praises about Guillermo del Toro and this movie, but I can’t say that I recommend it.  There’s a lot going on visually, but to be honest, I wasn’t impressed.  The battle scenes bored me, the monsters didn’t scare me, and in spite of the fact that this movie looked good, there really wasn’t anything creative about its action scenes.  I found it all rather flat.

The screenplay by Travis Beacham bored me.  He also wrote the screenplay to CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010).  Both movies share unimpressive stories and wooden characters.

I’m a huge Idris Elba fan, and he’s the only reason I didn’t hate this movie.  I enjoyed his scenes, and he’s in this one a lot, which helps.  I also liked Ron Perlman’s performance, but he’s not in it as much.  Everything else about PACIFIC RIM I could have done without.

I give it two knives.

LS: Fine, you’ve had your say. Now I’ll tell you why you’re completely wrong.

(ALARM goes off again, as ROBOTIC VOICE announces a new threat)

ROBOTIC VOICE: New menace sighted that needs immediate attention.

MA: Not again!

LS: What awful timing.

(They activate their robot again and go out to face their  next threat: BARNEY THE DINOSAUR. One hundred tons of pure purple evil, singing a song in a high-pitched voice as he destroys buildings)

MA: Oh no.

(People run  screaming as MA and LS launch their robot at the monster. BARNEY puts up a good fight, and there is a sudden appearance of a second Kaiju, BABY BOP. But the robot soon makes short work of them. The robot puts chunks of dinosaur meet on skewers and starts a fire)

LS: Dinosaur steaks everyone. Come and get it!

(Waves of people come running, this time carrying gigantic bottles of A-1 STEAK SAUCE) pacificrimMA: Now that we’ve fed the city twice over, we can go back to our review.

LS: Okay. I was just about to show you why your negative review was so wrong.

MA:  No, you’re going to state why you liked the movie.  I’ve stated why I didn’t like it.  Right and wrong have nothing to do with it. But if you prefer to use those moralistic terms, be my guest.

LS:  You know I hate critics who bring their moral perspective into movie reviews. That was a low blow!

MA:  I know.  But you started it.

ROBOTIC VOICE:  Stop fighting!  You’re supposed to be working together.

MA:  Yeah, yeah.

LS:  Whatever.  Where was I?  Oh yeah.

When we were kids, we saw a lot of GODZILLA movies. And many of them featured humans building giant robots to fight the monsters. In fact, there is pretty much a whole genre of Robots vs. Monsters movies in Japan, including the several TV series based on the character Ultraman.

Whenever I watched these kinds of movies, though, there were a few things that struck me. First of all, when you’re a kid and you want to see monsters fight, the last thing you want to do is watch scenes involving a human storyline. But all of these kinds of movies had some human subplot to familiarize us with the men and women inside the robots, or striving to use science to solve their Kaiju problem. The thing is, in almost every case, the human storylines paled against the monster stuff, and were mostly uninteresting. I remember constantly thinking, “Screw this, just get to the fights.”

In PACIFIC RIM, it was one of the few times where I was as interested in the human storyline as I was in the monsters. I thought the characters were well-developed, and it was interesting to see the process that went into becoming a pilot: the training, the mindset. I thought the whole two pilot mind-meld thing was fascinating and the ramifications were very interesting. Two minds bonded, sharing thoughts and emotions, is a fascinating concept.

MA:  Are you kidding me?  What training?  The pilots are already fighting the monsters before the opening credits role!  It’s a neat concept, sure, but there’s no story development here.  It’s just thrown at us.

LS: So the fight training I saw with Raleigh was a hallucination? If you are going to make sweeping, general statements, then what’s the point of this discussion? Keep talking in generalities. I’ll talk about specifics.

MA:  You’re talking specifics?  I thought you were just hurling insults.

How’s this for specific:  the training sequences are about as well developed as a scene from TOP GUN (1986).  It’s superficial! What are you talking about?

LS:  I especially liked when Mako co-pilots a Jaeger for the first time and freezes up with the vivid memory of her childhood, wandering the streets of Tokyo alone and crying as a giant crab monster destroyed the city. The little girl’s complete terror and anguish during this flashback makes for a very convincing scene.

MA:  Did the crab monster destroy the city?  We see it destroy one street.  That’s not very cinematic.  And as far as it being a convincing scene, why?  Because she was crying?  What did she lose?  We have no friggin idea!

LS:  You’re especially dense this time around, aren’t you, Chocky? It’s her memory. She’s not going to remember every building in the city – she is going to remember her perspective. As for what she lost – I don’t think I need to draw you a detailed diagram do I? She’s a child, she’s alone, she’s crying. You can’t figure that one out yourself?

MA:  Figure it out for myself, which means it’s not a very cinematic scene.  Look, you called it a very convincing scene.  I strongly disagree.  It’s a little girl crying.  I don’t see why that’s so special.

LS:  Also going the “science will solve this” route, I found Charlie Day’s adventure in trying to find a solution (and in turn going to find Hannibal Chau) just as entertaining. Throughout, Idris Elba is solid as a rock as the man in charge of it all.

Another problem I had with the old monster movies was that the monsters were never really convincing. They always looked like guys in rubber suits, or puppets, and while some of the creature features were more convincing than others, they never really scared you or made you believe in what was going on. They were a lot of fun, but they resembled wrestling matches with costumes.

In PACIFIC RIM, the monsters are amazing. The special effects in this movie are top-notch and the monsters are really convincing as living creatures.

MA: Yes, the monsters here are convincing looking, but they are way underused.  These things should be terrifying.  They’re not.  That’s because tangling with a giant robot isn’t exactly fear inducing.

LS:  I agree that the monsters are underused. I wanted more of them. And I wanted more of them without the robots’ involvement, so we could really see them in action. But the point of the story is that, once one of these things shows up, the robots are deployed immediately to minimized damage and deaths. Which makes perfect sense.

The robots are pretty cool, too, but they did remind me of giant version of Iron Man. The creatures, on the other hand, were completely new, and I loved that each one was different from the next. Where one might look a bit like a shark, another one would look completely different and have behavior more similar to a gorilla. And the way the creatures got more and more complex as the movie went on was fascinating. I saw PACIFIC RIM in 3D – one of the rare times when I actively sought out a 3D showing – and it did add to the experience, especially during the battles. Del Toro does a very good job of making the creatures and robots look HUGE. They have a heft and a dimension to them, and this is crucial in making us believe what is on the screen.

MA:  Interesting.  I saw it in 2D.  I don’t want to be the one to say it, but perhaps 3D is the way to go with this one?  You liked the 3D effects?

LS:  Yes, I thought they added to the “bigness” and the chaos of the movie, especially during the monster fights.

Yet another issue I had with the old movies was that you never really got a sense of the human toll in all this. Sure, the monsters would smash up Tokyo, and people would be running away screaming, but you saw this in all of the movies, and it got kind of boring fast. In PACIFIC RIM, you get more of a feel of how devastating the damage and amount of deaths are. There are very real repercussions to these attacks—it’s not just a matter of rebuilding a city later on and going back to normal. Some cities in PACIFIC RIM are completely wiped off the face of the map. During the battles, buildings are destroyed, bridges are smashed, luxury liners and train cars are used as weapons. And very few people escape alive.

MA:  Really?  There are scenes of mass killings?

LS:  Do you need to see stacks of bodies to know there’s a human toll? Maybe if this was rated R they could get a little more explicit about the actually numbers of human deaths, but this is PG-13, and there are going to be some limitations.

For the first time for me, the whole “monsters attack a city” thing felt real, and had real consequences. It wasn’t just a fun wrestling match between monsters. And I thought that was pretty terrific.

MA:  I didn’t get this sense at all.  It felt exceedingly fake to me.  I had a stronger feel for world danger in the recent WORLD WAR Z than in this movie.  PACIFIC RIM played out like a weak fantasy in my book.

Where’s all the devastation and damage you’re talking about?

LS: I’m starting to wonder if we even saw the same movie at this point.

I also think you approached this one in exactly the wrong way. Del Toro is not trying to make some “big statement” here. It’s not an art film. It’s not PAN’S LABYRYINTH. It’s an action movie first and foremost. It’s also one helluva good one. He basically schools people like Michael Bay and shows them how it should be done.

MA:  I didn’t see much of a difference between this and a Michael Bay movie, which is a big reason why I didn’t like it all that much.  Sure, it might have some better ideas in it, but unlike you, I wasn’t impressed with what it did with these ideas.

LS:  I mean just look at the basic concept, “Robots vs. Monsters.” On the surface, this is a pretty silly idea, and in anyone else’s hands, I wouldn’t expect much from it. But del Toro sells it. You mention TRANSFORMERS, but that’s based on a toy and the idea of robots that are alive and aliens from another planet. The Jaegers from PACIFIC RIM trace back to Japanese horror films, an entirely different source material.

But this wasn’t meant to be rocket science. I hope you didn’t go into the theater hoping it was going to change your life, because it wasn’t meant to. It was meant  to be a fun riff on a nostalgic concept from our childhoods.

MA:  I didn’t expect it to change my life.  I expected it to be fun.  And it was, to a minor degree, but for me to sit here and listen to you call it a masterpiece cracks me up!

LS:  If fish is brain food, then PACIFIC RIM is fish for your inner fanboy. For everyone who’s ever been nostalgic about those silly old monster movies with Godzilla and Jet Jaguar fighting Megalon and Gigan. This is a big “what if?”: What if someone took one of those silly old Toho movies and had a big budget and good actors and turned out something that was the caviar of monster movies. That is all PACIFIC RIM aspires to. To take you back to what it felt like as a kid watching Creature Features on TV and watching Godzilla do the happy dance. On that level, PACIFIC RIM pays off in the way no brainless summer blockbuster has in years. This movie has a brain. Not a huge brain, but compared to the comatose state of most blockbusters, a small brain is still a big step up.

It’s brainless fun for people who have friggin brains!

MA:  I agree that it had a big budget, but that it’s it.  I’d rather watch an old Godzilla movie.

LS:  I also thought that PACIFIC RIM was the exact opposite of another recent blockbuster, THE LONE RANGER, which was overlong, had too little action, and was just plain bad. PACIFIC RIM was just as long, and yet the time flew by for me. In fact, I wanted it to go on longer. I wanted more of these characters and these creatures. The action was top notch, and while we do get a long middle sequence that focuses on the human story, I was interested enough in the characters involved to follow them gladly. I imagine the creature sequences were expensive as hell to create – they were so well done. But the human story was equally convincing from a visual standpoint. The bunkers, the military base where the pilots train, the mysterious lair of Hannibal Chau, life on the city streets, it was all as real and believable as the monster battles.

MA:  Yes, PACIFIC RIM is full of action, but it’s not exciting action.  You wanted more of these characters?  Of these cardboard cut-outs?

LS:  Just about every summer blockbuster has characters that are cardboard cutouts. I thought these characters were better developed than most. I don’t think a lot of the characters seemed cardboard at all.

As someone who has seen a lot of summer blockbusters, I can tell you that the large majority of them fail to live up to expectations. They’re big and loud, and – while trying to reach the largest audience possible – pretty hollow. It’s all action and no substance.

MA:  That’s a nice description of PACIFIC RIM.

LS:  You’re nuts!  I didn’t feel that way once while watching PACIFIC RIM at all!. I thought it was one of the rare times where a movie exceeded my expectations. The trailers and TV commercials for this movie don’t even scratch the surface of why this movie is so good. In fact, the commercials make it look a lot dumber than it actually is.

MA:  No, the commercials describe it exactly as it is.

LS:  Between the well-thought out plot and the fleshed out characters, I totally disagree with your assertion that Travis Beacham’s script is unimpressive. And for the record, Beacham came up with the original story, but he co-wrote the script with director Guillermo del Toro, and I’m sure that is what separates this from something like CLASH OF THE TITANS, which looked okay but had a very weak script. Del Toro is a visionary, and I’m sure he added a lot to make the script smarter and more visually astounding.

MA: Except that it’s not smart nor is it visually astounding.  It’s an ordinary story with some decent special effects that were nice but certainly didn’t blow me away.

LS:  Del Toro is the guy who gave us PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006) and the HELLBOY movies, and I have been a fan for a long time now. I remember seeing his first feature film, CRONOS (1993), in an art-house theater when it first came out, and being totally captivated by it. I’ve watched his career closely ever since, and while not everything has impressed me (I wasn’t that big of a fan of MIMIC, 1997, or BLADE II, 2002, yet they both have some individual scenes that are terrific), most of his stuff has. I loved CRONOS and THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (2001), two much smaller, more intimate horror films. I thought the HELLBOY movies were action-packed, a lot of fun, and, often times, visually arresting. There’s a giant monster in HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY (2008) that resembles a gigantic flower, for example, and it’s as visually intriguing and satisfying as it is formidable. In a lot of ways, del Toro is a poet who uses celluloid as his verse.

At one point he was supposed to direct the new HOBBIT movies, and I’m glad that fell through. PACIFIC RIM is so much more interesting to me. This is the summer tent pole movie I have been waiting for. And it’s not a sequel, it’s not part of a franchise (yet), or based on an old TV show. It’s completely original and fresh and exciting. There’s a reason why del Toro has such a strong and devoted fan base—he’s one of the few directors these days who consistently delivers the goods. He is just as much of a fan of this stuff (more so!) than we are, and treats each project as a form of personal expression. His movies have heart and soul and aren’t just another product to get us to spend our money.

MA:  Original?  It’s giant monsters vs. giant robots.  I don’t know what makes that so original.

LS: Original to U.S. audiences. Not everyone has seen every Toho Godzilla movie ever made like us. And it’s an original take on the subject—a serious take with a decent enough budget to make take it to a level we haven’t seen before.

Del Toro’s dream project has always been to bring H.P. Lovecraft’s classic novella, AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS to the big screen, but the expense to do it right has been prohibitive. I hope PACIFIC RIM is a big enough hit to give him the chance to finally make that movie.

And, for the record, I enjoyed PACIFIC RIM and its characters so much, that I was left wanting more. So the inevitable sequel (if it does well) doesn’t fill me with as much dread as most sequels would.

I absolutely loved this movie and would not be surprised if it is the best summer movie we see in 2013. I give it four knives.

MA:  Well, you’re not alone.  People are gushing over this one.  I just don’t see it.

LS:  That’s because you’re looking at the walls!

MA:  Ha, ha!

LS: By the way, like a lot of movies these days, this one has a hidden scene at the end. You have to sit through some of the end credits to see it. So don’t be in a hurry to leave the theater.

(ALARM goes off)

ROBOTIC VOICE: Another threat has been detected. Please respond immediately.

(LS and MA mind-meld and their robot goes out to meet the latest challenge…the KRAKEN from CLASH OF THE TITANS)

LS: I always wanted to punch that guy in the nose.

MA: I think this one will be a bit more of a challenge, so we better give it our full attention.

Until next time, goodbye from Cinema Knife Fight.

LS: I think I’ll pretend he’s you and really eff him up!

MA:  It’s an effective strategy.  I pretended Barney was you.  Very satisfying.

(Cue Dramatic Music as the film dims and goes black)

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives PACIFIC RIM~ TWO KNIVES out of five!

LL Soares gives PACIFIC RIM~ FOUR KNIVES out of five!

Cinema Knife Fight: COMING ATTRACTIONS for JULY 2013

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Based on Comic Book, Based on TV Show, Coming Attractions, Ghosts!, Giant Monsters, Guillermo Del Toro, Johnny Depp Movies, Paranormal, ROBOTS!, Samurais, Superheroes, Supernatural, Westerns with tags , , , , on July 5, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT – COMING ATTRACTIONS:
JULY 2013
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene:  The wild west.  A group of masked OUTLAWS on horseback wait by a train track.  A train whistle shrieks in the distance.)

OUTLAW #1:  Here she comes.  Right on time.

OUTLAW #2:  I can’t wait to see the look on the conductor’s face when our man Willoughby guts him like a pig!  (snorts and spits tobacco).

(Train approaches.)

OUTLAW #2: Here she comes.  Look fast for Willoughby!

(The outlaws hoot and holler as they see Willoughby with a knife to the conductor’s throat. 

OUTLAW #2:  Stick him, Willoughby!  Stick him!

OUTLAW #3 (points):  Wait a minute.  Who the hell is that?

(A man in black appears behind Willoughby and pummels the outlaw over the head with a sledge hammer.  The man in black faces the camera— it is L.L. SOARES.  He continues to pummel Willoughby with the sledgehammer, stopping only to give the outlaws on horseback the finger.)

OUTLAW #1:  What the—?

OUTLAW #2 (points):  Lookee there

(MICHAEL ARRUDA, dressed in white with a white 10 gallon hat, walks on the roof of the train.  He smiles for the camera and lifts a submachine gun which he uses to blow away the outlaws on horseback in one swift sweep.)

(Dissolve to the train station)

CONDUCTOR:  That was friggin amazing!!!  Thank you, gentlemen, for stopping the Whippersnapper gang.  That was terrific!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Shucks, it was nothing.  What we’re really good at is reviewing movies.

CONDUCTOR:  You don’t say?

L.L. SOARES:  He does say!

MA: In fact, right now, we’re about to do our COMING ATTRACTIONS column for July, where we preview the movies we’ll be seeing in the month ahead; in this case, July!

CONDUCTOR:  You guys are better than the Lone Ranger and Tonto!

MA:  That remains to be seen, but wouldn’t you know it, our first movie in July, opening on July 3, is THE LONE RANGER (2013), Disney’s big budget production, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto.

Lone-Ranger-PosterNow, as much as I’m a fan of the Lone Ranger character, going back to my days as a kid when I used to watch reruns of the old LONE RANGER TV show from the 1950s starring Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto— I even had a Lone Ranger toy— I simply wasn’t all that excited about this movie.

LS: Hey, I remember that old TV show, too!

MA: I used to be a big fan of Johnny Depp, and I really enjoyed his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, but lately I just haven’t been into his roles as much.  His Barnabas Collins in the recent DARK SHADOWS (2012) disaster may have been the last straw.  So, the idea of seeing Depp play Tonto does nothing for me.

Now, all this being said, I have to admit that I’ve actually enjoyed the trailers for this one, and although I won’t go so far to say that I’m looking forward to it, I will say that I’m not dreading seeing THE LONE RANGER as much as I was a few months ago.

It’s directed by Gore Verbinski, by the way, the guy who directed the first three PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, as well as American remake of THE RING (2002).

LS:  Yeah, I’m pretty much in the same boat. I’m a Johnny Depp fan from way back, in the days when he mostly appeared in independent movies. I understand him going for the big bucks now that the first PIRATES movie made him a bankable star, but I haven’t been excited to see a movie starring him in a long time. And yeah, DARK SHADOWS was pretty horrible.

The trailers for LONE RANGER don’t look completely awful. I’ll certainly go in hoping it’s a decent movie. But I don’t have a lot of hope.

On July 12 we’ll be reviewing PACIFIC RIM (2013).  This is one of the movies I’ve been wanting to see most this year. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the guy who gave us PAN’S LABYRINTH and the HELLBOY movies, among others, this one has real potential. And what a cool cast. Idris Elba, Ron Perlman, even Charlie Day from IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA!

Pacific-Rim-movie-bannerPACIFIC RIM looks like a cross between TRANSFORMERS and CLOVERFIELD, as giant monsters rise up from the Pacific ocean to terrorize mankind, so the humans build giant robots to fight them. If anyone else made this movie, I’d think it was a pretty goofy idea, but with del Toro involved, I think it has a real shot at being an enjoyable flick, and smarter than it sounds. At least I hope so. Like CLOVERFIELD, it looks like it’s trying to make giant monsters scary again.

MA:  You have more faith in this one than I do, and you know what?  I hope you’re right!  Because I would be really into a cool giant monster movie!

But for me, the problem is the trailers just remind me too much of the TRANSFORMERS movies, and that’s not a good thing.  But like you said, del Toro’s involvement should lift this one to a higher level, and I certainly like that Idris Elba and Ron Perlman are in the cast, but I’m guessing in a movie like this, they probably don’t have large roles.

I just think this one’s going to be a monstrous flop.

LS:  Oh, give it a chance! It might surprise you.

MA:  I hope so.  I certainly would be happy if this one turned out to be more like CLOVERFIELD than TRANSFORMERS, but I won’t be holding my breath.

LS:  The horror movie THE CONJURING opens on July 19, and I’ll be reviewing this one solo.  This could be interesting, with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as a pair of paranormal experts who investigate a haunted house where Lili Taylor lives with her kids.

The-ConjuringMA:  I’m sorry I’m going to miss this one.  The trailers look really creepy, and it’s directed by James Wan, who directed one of my favorite horror movies of the past few years, INSIDIOUS (2010), a movie that I like even more now than when I first saw it a couple of years ago.

I also like the cast, led by Patrick Wilson, who played the dad in INSIDIOUS, and Vera Farmiga, who’s currently starring as Norman Bates’s mother on the TV show BATES MOTEL.

LS: Yeah, I enjoyed the first season of BATES MOTEL, and I’m a big Farmiga fan.

MA: We finish July with THE WOLVERINE (2013), which opens on July 26.  Now, I’m a huge fan of the Marvel superhero movies, and I like the character of the Wolverine a lot, and I especially enjoy Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of the Wolverine character in the X-MEN movies, so why aren’t I all that excited about this one?

X-Men-Origins-Wolverine-2-For one thing, the title is about as blah as you can get:  THE WOLVERINE, especially considering the title of the last Wolverine movie, X-MEN ORIGINS:  WOLVERINE (2009).  Here’s a look at some future titles as the series continues:  THIS WOLVERINE, THAT WOLVERINE, WTF WOLVERINE, and THE MICHIGAN WOLVERINE

There you go.

It’s directed by James Mangold, who directed the western 3:10 TO YUMA (2009), a movie I liked a lot. 

I’m not all that excited about THE WOLVERINE, but strangely, I am looking forward to seeing it.

LS:  Yeah, I’m a Wolverine fan from way back when Chris Claremont and John Byrne were the creative team on The Uncanny X-Men comic books. So it’s cool to see the character doing so well in movies. However, while he’s been good in the X-MEN movies, I wasn’t a big fan of his last solo outing in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, which I felt was kind of a misfire.

MA:  I actually liked X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. 

LS:  You would!

Hopefully James Mangold can get the character back on track. This adventure takes him to Japan, where the character had a lot of storylines in the comics. There’s been a kind of “modern samurai” take on Wolverine for a long time, and I’ll be curious to see how this translates to film.

But man, you’re right, that title is incredibly lame.

MA:  And that wraps things up for July.  (turns to Train Conductor)  So, how did we do?

TRAIN CONDUCTOR:  A very entertaining column.  But I still wish you’d consider catching outlaws on a full time basis.

MA: Sorry.  No can do.   We have too many movies to review.

LS:  And I have a new novel to write.

MA:  Me, too.

LS:  A writer’s job is never done.

(MA & LS ride off into the sunset).

(SHERIFF approaches the TRAIN CONDUCTOR.)

SHERIFF:  Who were those masked men?

CONDUCTOR:  Sheriff, those men were Cinema Knife Fighters, the toughest, meanest, sons of bitches this side of the Mississippi.  And when they’re not hunting down outlaws, they review movies.

SHERIFF:  What’s a movie?

—-END—-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

FAREWELL TO RAY HARRYHAUSEN

Posted in 1950s Sci-Fi Films, 2013, 60s Movies, Giant Monsters, LL Soares Reviews, Michael Arruda Reviews, Mythology, Obituaries and Appreciations, Special Effects with tags , , , , , on May 14, 2013 by knifefighter

(The following tribute to Ray Harryhausen is appearing both on my blog and here at CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.—Michael Arruda)

A Tribute to RAY HARRYHAUSEN
By Michael Arruda

Special effects master Ray Harryhausen with some of his creations.

Special effects master Ray Harryhausen with some of his creations.

Ray Harryhausen, the greatest stop-motion animator in the history of motion pictures, passed away on Tuesday, May 7, 2013.  He was 92.

I had the pleasure of meeting Harryhausen at a convention in the late 1990s, and the thing I remember most about the experience—besides the fact that he was a classy guy and that he brought many of his miniature creature models with him—was Harryhausen’s love for telling stories.  It wasn’t just about the special effects with Harryhausen.  It was about the story.  It was important for him that his creatures lived in a world that seemed real yet magical at the same time.  On the movies that Harryhausen worked, much time was spent hammering out background stories, imaginative settings, and exciting conflicts.

Harryhausen’s genius wasn’t only that he was a master of stop-motion animation effects, but that the creatures he created using these effects lived and breathed in stories that were as memorable as the creatures themselves.  Of course, it helped that he was a master animator.  His movie creations are like no others.  He gave them sculpted bodies, facial expressions and incredible movement, bringing them to life long before CGI technology.

To watch a movie with special effects by Ray Harryhausen is to enter another world.

From MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949), the first major movie he worked on, under the direction of his teacher and mentor, King Kong creator Willis O’Brien, to CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981), Ray Harryhausen’s movie magic has no equal.  O’Brien may have created the most memorable stop-motion effects ever in KING KONG (1933), but by sheer volume alone, Harryhausen is king.  He dominated the special effects scene from the 1950s through the 1970s, and during these decades, no one else came close to achieving the consistency and quality of stop-motion animation effects.  Simply put, he was the best at it.

Harryhausen working on the model for MIGHT JOE YOUNG (1949)

Harryhausen working on the model for MIGHT JOE YOUNG (1949)

And the argument can be made that in a couple of his films his animation rivals O’Brien’s work in KING KONG, in films like THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) (arguably his best), and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1962).  The sword fight between Jason and his men and the army of skeletons in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS  is one of the most exciting and ambitious stop-motion effects sequences ever put on film.

Here’s a partial look at Harryhausen’s movies:

MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949)—Other than Kong, Joe is the most remarkable giant ape in the movies. The fiery climax, in which Joe rescues children from burning building, is must-see cinema!

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) —rivals GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS! (1956) as one of the scariest prehistoric-beasts-on-the-loose movies ever.  Memorable conclusion involving Coney Island roller coaster.  That’s Lee Van Cleef as the marksman at the end taking aim at the monster. 

IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955)

EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) —Ray Harryhausen destroys Washington D.C.!   See his alien spaceships attack the nation’s capital!

20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957) —Attack of the Ymir!  Yep, that extraordinary monster from Venus is one of my favorite Ray Harryhausen creations. The Ymir was unnamed in the movie, and only picked up the name “Ymir” later from fans.

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) —My pick for the best Ray Harryhausen movie of all time.  It contains his finest special effects, one of his most memorable creations, the Cyclops, it’s briskly directed by Nathan Juran, has a phenomenal villainous performance by Torin Thatcher as Sokurah, the magician, and a rousing music score by Bernard Herrmann.

The Cyclops from THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958)

The Cyclops from THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958)

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961) —That animated crab is the real thing!  Harryhausen used a real crab in the giant crab sequence, animating it like one of his models.

-JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963) —My second favorite Ray Harryhausen movie.  The sword fight with the skeletons is spectacular!

FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1964) —I’ve always loved this story by HG Wells, and Harryhausen’s effects here don’t disappoint.

ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966) —Harryhausen joins the Hammer Films family and animates dinosaurs that chase scantily clad Raquel Welch in this Hammer prehistoric adventure.

THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969) —in the subgenre of horror westerns, this film ranks among the best. 

THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974) —Harryhausen’s follow-up to THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD is nearly as good and contains some of Harryhausen’s best special effects, including a great sword fight between Sinbad and the goddess Kali.

Sinbad vs Kali. One of the best scenes in 1974's THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

Sinbad vs Kali. One of the best scenes in 1974’s THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (1977) —Released the same year as STAR WARS (1977) it was criticized for having outdated special effects.  Suddenly, Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation was passé. 

CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981) —Harryhausen’s last feature, one of my least favorites, yet still features some fine moments, including a very creepy Medusa sequence. 

In my family, we all know who Ray Harryhausen is, but it pains me that Ray Harryhausen is not a household name.  He should be.

For me, there are few moviemakers who have been as influential as Ray Harryhausen.  The movies he’s worked on have been some of the most imaginative innovative creative films I have ever seen.  They are the real deal.  Movies that captivate fascinate and entertain.

To watch a Ray Harryhausen movie is to arouse your imagination.

Ray Harryhausen, the master of stop-motion animation, maker of movie monsters and fantasy worlds, of movies that will live in imaginations for years to come, thank you for sharing your genius with the world. 

You will be missed.

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

 *****

Ray HarryhausenRAY HARRYHAUSEN: SOME AFTERTHOUGHTS
By L.L. Soares

Harryhausen was one of the best. CGI may have made his style of effects seem outdated and quaint, but it wouldn’t exist without his pioneering stop-motion process. Back when it took incredible amounts of time and effort to create even a few minutes of film, Harryhausen had incredible reserves of patience and talent.

The cool thing about Ray Harryhausen was not that he just did effects, but that most of the movies he worked on REVOLVED AROUND his effects. How often did that happen, where the special effects guy was the dominant figure in movies? And not just flimsy plots to keep the action going, but decent storylines, that made his creations shine.

Michael has touched upon some of the highlights. I’d like to give my personal take on these as well.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) —I remember seeing this one as a kid and being blown away by it. Harryhausen’s dinosaur on the loose was remarkable and effective, especially to a child’s eyes. And this one featured a rare collaboration between the two Rays – Harryhausen and Bradbury – as the movie was based on Bradbury’s story, “The Foghorn.”

IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955) —This was one of my favorites, involving a gigantic octopus that rose from the ocean depths to cause havoc on the surface world of humans. The way the octopus moved was uncanny, and convincing. A really underrated entry in the 1950s “giant animals” genre.

The giant octopus from IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955)

The giant octopus from IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955)

EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) —Sure, it might look a little dated now, but it also is immediately recognizable as the work of Harryhausen. I still think that ten minutes of this movie is more visually interesting than all of the similarly themed  INDEPENDENCE DAY(1996)

20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957) – My favorite Harryhausen film. I loved the story that this movie told, as well as the monster at its heart. The Ymir was a vaguely humanoid, prehistoric-looking creature from the planet Venus. In this one, Harryhausen made us care about the monster, and believe in him. The scene where the confused Ymir fights an escape elephant remains a classic.

The "Ymir," one of Harryhausen's best creatures, from 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957)

The “Ymir,” one of Harryhausen’s best creatures, from 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957)

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) —I remember seeing stills from this one in issues of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine, and hoped I’d finally get to see it for real. Back when I was a kid, a lot of these movies showed up on television, but you never knew where or when. It wasn’t like video and Netflix where you just call it up and watch it. It was a crapshoot. I remember watching this movie on a Saturday afternoon on a tiny black and white television, with fuzzy reception, and being astounded by it. The amazing Cyclops became one of my favorite fantasy movie creatures, as well as the two-headed giant bird, the Roc.

JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963) —Like Michael, this is my second favorite Ray Harryhausen movie, too. It didn’t have the heart of a creature like the Ymir, but it featured some of Ray’s most iconic effects. The sword fight with the skeletons might just be Harryhausen’s most memorable scene ever. I bet this one influenced a whole generation who would grow up to give us the computer effects that replaced it. But this movie had to come first.

The unforgettable battle with the skeletons from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963)

The unforgettable battle with the skeletons from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963)

ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966) —Sure it makes no sense historically; dinosaurs and cavemen never existed at the same time—but this one is a classic, and was a pretty big hit at the time. The cool-looking dinosaurs almost diverted my attention away from the curves of star Raquel Welch. Almost.

THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969) – Long before COWBOYS AND ALIENS (2011), there was this classic “Cowboys and Dinosaurs” film. Cowboys lassoing a Tyrannosaurus Rex never looked so good.

THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974) —I think I liked the story of this one even more than THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. Not only did it feature such amazing creatures as the flying homunculus and the living ship’s figurehead, as well as the amazing Centaur and the Griffin (their fight is legendary), but it also starred such genre legends as the beautiful Caroline Munro and, arguably the best Dr. Who ever, Tom Baker, as the villain. The sword fight between multi-armed Kali and Sinbad is my favorite scene though, and is almost as iconic as the skeleton sword fight in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.

SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (1977) —Starring John Wayne’s son Patrick as Sinbad and another former Dr. Who, Patrick Troughton. It also features such Harryhausen creatures as the Troglodyte (a giant, fur-covered caveman with a horn on his head), a sabre-toothed tiger and a giant walrus. The Troglodyte model Harryhausen used for this one was used again (with slight changes) as Calibos in Harryhausen’s last feature, CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981).

Harryhausen was one of a kind. And as Michael said, he will definitely be missed by fans of science fiction and fantasy cinema.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: CROCODILE (1981)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1980s Horror, 2013, Animals Attack, Bad Acting, Giant Monsters, Grindhouse, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , on April 4, 2013 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 61:
Godfather of the SyFy Channel Movies…
By Nick Cato

CrocPosterWhile anyone can turn to the SyFy channel on any given Saturday to see an endless list of horrible, made-for-cable killer shark/alligator/piranha/octopus films, back in the late 70s/early 80s, JAWS-inspired rip-offs had to be seen in your local theatre. 1981’s CROCODILE is one of the more memorable of this hokey sub-genre.

I hit the (now defunct) Amboy Twin Cinema one chilly afternoon in late November of said year for a solo-viewing, and while films like GRIZZLY (1976) and PIRANHA (1978) were better made JAWS rip-offs, CROCODILE has that certain low budget charm that makes it more memorable … at least if you’re a trash film junkie.

A hurricane destroys a small island somewhere off the coast of Thailand. As houses become rubble, we see crocodiles scampering around trying to survive the chaos. Then the quick opening credits feature a couple of naked women being eaten by the crocodiles, causing applause from the small daytime crowd who chomped popcorn around me. A doctor and his family are then seen eating dinner, wondering if the hurricane had been caused by an atomic explosion (and just why they think this is anyone’s guess).

They use this as an excuse to travel to a resort beach-side hotel where the doctor’s wife and two daughters are eaten by an over-sized croc. Pissed, the doctor, along with the fiancé of one of his daughters, vows revenge. You can almost hear JAWS’ famous theme music kick in at this point.

The men visit a crocodile expert who says the only way a crocodile could have survived in the sea would be due to radiation, which caused much deserved laughs among my Saturday afternoon creature feature brethren. The film then goes into a few badly edited sequences of the croc wiping out some waterfront towns and eating a bunch of people, and in the film’s most memorable scene, the sucker consumes an entire water buffalo! Good thing PETA members were unaware of this or the film would’ve probably been picketed.

THIS is when the JAWS rip-off-ness kicks into high gear: our two heroes employ the help of a local fisherman who agrees to use his boat to hunt the croc down. Meanwhile, my fellow suburban grindhouse mates laughed for a good ten minutes when the local police set a trap for the croc underwater in a river: a king-sized bear trap stuffed with a huge chunk of meat. Of course it doesn’t work, so our trio heads out to sea along with an irritating news reporter (a.k.a. LUNCH) to track the monster croc.

Most of the scenes of the croc attacking the villages are quite phony, and there are times you can’t tell if the close-ups are cheap stock footage of a real croc or a sad attempt to make a latex croc head. Another PETA moment features someone stabbing a regular sized croc in the head, making me wonder if the director had some kind of real-life vendetta against aquatic animals.

The JAWS rip-off goes so far as our makeshift seamen using brightly-colored barrels to attempt to lure the croc to their boat! The only thing missing was the fisherman telling the boys a spooky night time story about his experiences with a croc swarm during World War II.

The continuity in this flick is ridiculous, especially when you have the croc, in some scenes, almost as big as Godzilla, then in others, maybe a few feet larger than the people it’s eating (one poor guy has his legs chomped off and tries to swim with stumps in a particularly cruel, but effective, scene). And speaking of Godzilla, this Thailand import features atrocious overdubbing and acting that’s better left forgotten.

With an abrupt ending that leaves the audience wondering if the croc and the main hero are dead or alive, most people at this particular screening booed and tossed the rest of their popcorn at the screen. Me? I loved every second of this terrible croc-caper despite all its shortcomings.

Who knew three decades later films like this would be big money makers (such as LAKE PLACID (1999) and regular fare on cable TV stations such as the SyFy network.

If you want a killer croc film that works, try ROGUE (2007). If you want a JAWS rip-off that’s insanely entertaining, is so-bad-it’s-good, and will actually make you cheer for the monster, CROCODILE is your film.

Remember to watch your step next time you visit Thailand…

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

Great original poster for CROCODILE from its 1980 Thailand release.

Great original poster for CROCODILE from its 1980 Thailand release.

BRANDED (2012)

Posted in 2012, Bizarro Movies, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Conspiracy Theories, Dystopian Futures, Giant Monsters, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Parasites!, Satire, Weird Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: BRANDED (2012)
By L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: L.L. SOARES is walking down a street in Moscow, when he sees a bunch of people running)

LS: What are you running from!

PEOPLE (speaking in Russian): Brand Names are trying to kill us.

(They are pursued by giant signs for MCDONALD’S and COCA-COLA. Watching this, LS scratches his head)

LS: Well folks, this is going to be a weird one.

I left the theater after seeing the new movie BRANDED, and I was scratching my head then, too. I am going to try to explain this one, but it’s not going to be easy. I am also going to have two ratings this time around. One for mainstream, normal audiences, and another for people who like movies that are especially…weird. Because BRANDED is not going to appeal to everyone. I’m still not even sure what I think of it.

First off, when I saw the trailer for BRANDED, I thought it was a science fiction movie where weird aliens were using brand name products and advertising to control and feed off us. I went in expecting scary flick set in a future where everything is out of control. (See the BRANDED trailer, here).

But, sitting through the first 45 minutes or so, I thought I walked into the wrong movie. Because nothing horrific happens; nothing bizarre takes place. Instead, we get a pretty standard story about an advertising firm in Moscow. Misha Galkin (Ed Stoppard) gets out of the debt of a failed advertising agency when an American businessman named Bob Gibbons (Jeffrey Tambor) buys him out and hires him for his new firm. In return, Bob asks Misha to record everything he sees when dealing with their clients. As Misha describes it, he’s kind of an “advertising spy,” and the whole thing is a little odd to him. But he’s doing well. He’s winning advertising awards, making lots of money, and hovering near a promotion. The one thing Bob insists is that Misha not get involved with his daughter, Abby (Leelee Sobieski), who has an eye for him. Misha says he won’t, but of course, he dives headlong into a passionate love affair with her. Bob goes nuts and fires him.

Meanwhile, a group of fast food CEOs are at a conference table in some kind of mountain retreat to see a kind of advertising demigod, called the Marketing Guru here (and played by Max Von Sydow), complaining that their profits are dwindling and people don’t seem to want fast food anymore. The Guru tells them he has a plan to turn their fortunes around. Instead of their changing to meet the needs of the world, the world will change to become more reliant on their products. They will make it “cool” to be fat, and burger joints will become desirable again. It sounds far-fetched, but it begins to work. They start out in three “third world” markets to test it out. One of these is Russia, where Misha is.

Fired from his job, Misha becomes the producer of a reality show Abby is putting on Russian television. It involves finding an overweight girl and having her undergo a series of surgeries to become thin. But something goes wrong, and she falls into a coma during the procedure. Public outcry causes the police to arrest Abby and Misha for a while.

Misha (Ed Stoppard) and Abby (Leelee Sobieski) are lovers in a world gone mad. Or is it just Misha who has gone mad?

After he gets out of jail, Misha decides to leave the city and herd cows for a living. Several years pass.

Eventually, Abby finds him again, but he has changed. After trying to convince him to come back with her to the city, and failing, she leaves.

It is up to this point that I was very puzzled about BRANDED. Just what kind of movie was this? Where were the strange monsters/aliens from the trailer? Was this just a straight-forward drama about advertising and disillusionment?

Misha has a dream. In this dream, he is told how to build a bizarre platform/altar to perform an ancient pagan ritual that involves the slaughter of a red cow. When he does it for real, he is overwhelmed by the power of the ritual and passes out. Abby comes back for him and brings him home to Moscow with her.

It is in this part of the movie that things start to change from normal to just plain weird.

Because of the ritual, Misha can now see “the truth” that no one else sees. And what he sees is living brand names that are controlling our lives and desires. Misha finds a very different world than the one he left. A fast food franchise called The Burger dominates the world. A majority of the planet’s inhabitants are now extremely obese (of course, Misha and Abby are still thin and attractive). Misha even finds out that Abby gave birth to a son he didn’t know he had – a dim-witted, obese little boy who is always asking for money for hamburgers.

Misha begins to freak out because he sees the “living brands” everywhere. They are horrible, gigantic monsters that attach themselves to every human being, and hover like behemoths above the city. Misha thinks he is going insane and almost kills himself. Abby and his son leave him. But then he has a change of heart and  goes back into advertising, intent on using his newfound knowledge of living, breathing brand names—the monsters —to start a war between the monsters. He begins by taking on a vegetarian Chinese food chain as a client, and taking aim at the creatures behind The Burger.

From here, the movie just gets stranger.

What the hell is going on in BRANDED?
“Don’t ask me.”

There are some interesting images in BRANDED. From that strange cow-slaughtering ritual (that seems like something out of an Alejandro Jodorowsky film) to the huge, balloon-like CGI monsters that Misha sees, sitting on the roofs of all the tall buildings in Moscow. There’s a weird scene where Misha walks out on a balcony during a rainstorm and just starts screaming all of a sudden. And there’s another strange scene where all of the advertising in Moscow disappears, making it look like an ancient city again.

Needless to say, BRANDED is not for everyone. It is not a conventional, normal narrative film. There is a narrator who pops up every once awhile to give us voice-over explanations of what is going on (the voice of Mariya Ignatova). And I think it’s trying to be more of a satire on the advertising business than a literal science fiction/horror film.

There weren’t a lot of people at the showing of BRANDED I went to. It hasn’t had a very strong promotional campaign—and after seeing the movie, I can see why. Several people in the audience I saw BRANDED with walked out half-way through. Many of the people who stayed were shouting at the screen by the end.

But I can’t say I didn’t like BRANDED. I’m a big fan of strange cinema, from the movies of David Lynch and Jodorowsky, to surreal odysseys like BEYOND THE BLACK  RAINBOW (2010),  to oddities like Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM (2003). So BRANDED struck a chord in me. I’m actually surprised a movie this quirky got a fairly wide release in movie theaters.

The acting, for the most part, is pretty good. I like Jeffrey Tambor (probably best known for his roles on the TV shows ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT and THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW), and Leelee Sobieski (previously in JOY RIDE, 2001, and the awful remake of THE WICKER MAN, 2006)  is pretty good in this one (didn’t she seem to disappear from acting for a while?). Ed Stoppard (also in THE LITTLE VAMPIRE, 2000, and NANNY MCPHEE RETURNS, 2010)  as Misha is the heart of the movie, and keeps you watching throughout. And how can you not love an appearance by the legendary Max Von Sydow? The script and the direction on the other hand are very strange. It took two people to direct this one – Jamie Bradshaw and Alexander Doulerain in their English feature film debut – and they both wrote the script as well. The production values are a little stilted at times. The CGI monsters are so unreal and weird looking, that it makes them look both very fake and sort of disturbing.

It’s rated R, but aside from a few f-bombs, there’s no real reason for the rating. Even during the movie’s most passionate sex scene, Stoppard and Sobieski keep their clothes on.

For mainstream audiences, I give this movie one and a half knives. I don’t think most people will like it. It’s just too strange. And I wasn’t even sure if I liked it at first.

For people who dig really weird movies, I’d give it three and a half knives. Just because it’s so off the map. A movie so far removed from the kinds of films Hollywood is doing that it deserves a look as a curiosity. Like going to an old fashioned freak show.

Personally, I think I liked it. But like BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, which I saw earlier this year, I can’t tell if it’s a bad movie made by inept directors, or a low-budget masterpiece that simply didn’t have the money to match its big ambitions. And therefore, it kind of ends up somewhere between the two extremes of bad and good.

I guess you can tell, based on this description of the film, whether or not it sounds intriguing to you. So it’s up to you whether you’ll be seeking this one out on Netflix when the time comes.

(LS’s cell phone rings)

LS: Hello?

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  It’s Michael. Where are you?

LS: I’m in Moscow. Where are you?

MA: Madrid.

LS: So I guess it’s an International Monday here at Cinema Knife Fight.

MA: So how is it there?

LS: A little weird. I’m reviewing the movie BRANDED. But, aside from a Coca-Cola sign ripping some people to shreds, it’s pretty quiet.

MA: Okay, meet you back at headquarters. See you next week.

LS: Later.

(The camera follows LS as he continues to walk down the city street. He suddenly raises an umbrella and opens it up, just in time to protect himself from a downpour of blood as a giant monstrous BURGER KING devours some customers)

-THE END-

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

For Normal Audiences, LL Soares gives BRANDED ~ one and a half knives.

For assorted weirdos and people who appreciate strange films, LL Soares gives BRANDED ~three and a half knives.

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: THE LOCH NESS HORROR (1981)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2012, Bad Acting, Campy Movies, Giant Monsters, Grindhouse Goodies, Monsters, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , on June 28, 2012 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES
A VERY Messy Nessie…
By Nick Cato

If there’s anything special to point out about 1981’s THE LOCH NESS HORROR, it’s  the fact that it’s a PG-rated monster movie, yet still qualifies as a grindhouse film (you’ll see why as this column unfolds).  And while I had just started to get into R-rated films in 1981, my life-long obsession with monsters, coupled with the AMAZING poster for this flick, caused me to hit the (now defunct) Amboy Twin theater one Saturday afternoon for a solo viewing, fully aware there’d be little violence and a 99.9% chance of nothing too objectionable.

In an attempt at a scary opening, a man (in 1940) is watching a plane through his telescope when it takes a dive toward a lake.  The man follows the plane down, but instead of seeing it hit the water, the Loch Ness Monster’s head pops into the viewfinder.  It’s an un-dramatic sequence but sets us up for the events to come, which take place forty years later.

A couple of dopey-looking scientists are floating on Loch Ness in a rubber raft with cheap-looking equipment when Nessie sticks her head out of the water.  (NOTE: While the film slows down, I have to give the director credit for these two well-paced opening segments).  Not scared—because, y’know, scientists just don’t scare easily—our heroes decide to dive into the loch and see if they can locate the creature.  What they find are the remains of the forty-year old plane (featuring two pilots whose bodies look like as good as new!) as well as a large egg that we assume belongs to Nessie (it does).  One of the guys is eaten, but the other manages to make it to shore with the egg, where an old man in a mobile camper is waiting.

When they go to sleep that night, Nessie comes out of the water and drags the egg-stealer back into the lake as he screams in his sleeping bag (!), leaving the old man to look on in (poorly acted) horror.  Laughs erupted around the decently-crowded afternoon screening.

After this, THE LOCH NESS HORROR becomes an orgy of incoherence.  I’m assuming the screenwriters only wanted to show off their cheap-looking Nessie costume (that no one told them looked about as menacing as a Muppet), as they bring in several college age-looking characters, for no other reason than to become monster chow.  And for some reason no film critic in the world will ever be able to explain, the old guy in the camper kidnaps one of the college girls.

At this point it should be noted that it’s PAINFULLY OBVIOUS this film was not shot in Scotland, and the actors were most likely friends of the filmmakers who weren’t taught how to speak like Scotsmen and women.  The kidnapped girl has one of the worst Scottish accents you’ll ever hear—but apparently Nessie liked her—because the monster ends up eating the old bag that kidnapped her, picking him up by consuming his whole head (a great little scene that had us all cheering!).

WHEN the crowd cheers for the monster, you know you’ve entered GRINDHOUSEVILLE.  There are several fun monster-eating scenes, and while not graphic, they each brought a satisfied grin to my seventh-grade face.

BACK to the incoherence: we find out the plane that crashed in the beginning was a Nazi craft, and Scotland’s military has been trying to cover up something it was involved with (but again, WHY we’re never told).  NOTHING is ever explained, and thanks to the Nessie-feeding sequences we eventually just go with it and learn not to care.

We DO learn (about halfway through this mess) that Nessie ONLY kills those with low moral standards.  Why?  Who knows!?  Perhaps she’s a Jehovah’s Witness, or an underground Mormon?  Or maybe some bizarre cult financed half the film and wanted this obscure fact thrown in there?

If there’s ONE reason to see THE LOCH NESS HORROR, it’s for a sequence where Nessie’s trying to hide from some soldiers.  She hops out of the lake and hides behind a tree (remember, this is NESSIE, who must be 50-70 feet long) and the soldiers walk right by her without noticing anything!  This is UNBELIEVABLE stupidity at its finest.

There’s also a silly axe murder (don’t ask), a few scenes of Nessie stalking the van holding its egg from behind the bushes (it’s amazing how this huge creature hides behind tiny vegetation while on land) and plenty of Scottish stereotypes (one guy even wears a kilt through the whole film), enough that I’d love to know what Scottish folks thought of this.

This disaster of a film concludes (SPOILER ALERT!) when a bomb planted in the aforementioned Nazi plane goes off, taking out Nessie and the guy who planted it.  One of the college students then drops the Nessie egg into the lake, and the HORROR ends as we hear the baby-Nessie heart beat, promising the Loch Ness Monster will live on (but thankfully there was never a sequel).

Director Larry Buchanan has delivered some real gems in his day (including 1967’s MARS NEEDS WOMEN and 1966’s ZONTAR: THE THING FROM VENUS) but this one has to be in the Top 5 of his worst offerings.

Recommended for hardcore Nessie completists and those who may be on a mission to see every single cheap monster movie ever made.  Everyone else, run away like your pants are on fire…

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

You simply DON’T steal Nessie’s eggs—and cute college girls—and live to tell about it!