Archive for the Godzilla 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!

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

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Criterion After Dark: GODZILLA (1954)

Posted in 1950s Movies, 2012, Classic Films, Criterion After Dark, DVD Review, Garrett Cook Articles, Godzilla, Japanese Cinema with tags , , , , on February 14, 2012 by knifefighter

CRITERION AFTER DARK: GODZILLA (AKA GOJIRA) (1954)
Review by Garrett Cook

Art snobs and Ebert acolytes were recently given what, for them, must have been a nasty shock. The company from which they bought their treasured Goddard Blu-rays had betrayed them. The chilled, sacred quiet of Bergman country had been broken by the sound of thundering pop culture stomping over their fantasy world of cinema segregation. Begging Jim Jarmusch to intervene with his newly constructed superbanality ray, they watched as their notions of cinematic purity came crumbling to the ground like so many Tokyo office buildings. Riding on the back of my childhood messiah, Godzilla, I laughed and laughed and laughed. And I know that a fair share of Criterion fans, horror buffs and geeks laughed with me.

The induction of Ishiro Honda’s  GODZILLA (1954) into the Criterion Collection seems like a strange decision. Some might think it was to pander to the mainstream or to get genre fans to start buying Criterion DVDs. Others may see it as a decision similar to Criterion’s choice to induct Michael Bay’s ARMAGEDDON (1998), as a chance to show them the rampant absurdity and kitschiness of a silly, silly genre. And what sillier genre is there than the Japanese giant monster movie? This is a film genre that brought us a towering Frankenstein monster tossing rocks at a triceratops/puppy hybrid, sasquatches wrestling in the sea with a running commentary by Nick Adams, and a fire-breathing turtle fighting a talking shark submarine. Putting one of these films on the same shelf as  8 ½ (1963) or PIERROT LE FOU (1965) is going to make some cinephiles cringe. Particularly those who instinctually check Roger Ebert’s website to find out if movies are any good. Ebert has led me to some fine films, and, during his Amazon Associate Days, my favorite brand of oatmeal, but those who read his 1 and a half star tirade against the film will be incredulous about its Criterion status and its merits.

GODZILLA is my idea of an art film. Crisp black and white, strong message, transgressive politics, mutable reality and moments of deep visual poetry. When a lot of us think of Godzilla, we think Technicolor stomping and giant spider wrestling. We think flying through the air on a cloud of radioactive fire toward a sentient Lovecraftian slag heap from space. But this is not where Godzilla came from. Godzilla, (or as I prefer to call it, GOJIRA, its proper Japanese title) is a film about impossible choices, forbidden love, social responsibility and questions of divine forgiveness.

The film begins on a shining sea, bathed in shadows. The sailors on a fishing boat gather around and listen to a melancholy tune played on harmonica. There is a flash of light and the boat is aflame. And lives are over. And nobody knows why. The opening goes beyond being an expressionistic portrayal of a fishing boat destroyed by bomb tests (one of the catalysts for the film), but a suitable metaphor for any number of the victims of war. Even soldiers find their lives snuffed out in short order—lightning-quick explosions of mines or IEDs ending their existence in the blink of an eye. The terms are clear; this is not a movie about a man in a rubber suit. Though when you finally get a look at Godzilla, you can see how it could be.

Godzilla himself looks nothing like most viewers will remember him. The creature is truly menacing in black and white, facial features vague, texture and topography cancerous, a creature of spikes and bumps and deformities. It is not dinosaurian, draconic or friendly or cute; it’s an abomination, a demon whose motives cannot be fathomed and whose primitive mind will not accept reason or compassion. The more I look at this creature, the more amazed I am that it became the kid-friendly critter I grew up with. The transition is something like Karloff’s creature’s evolution into Herman Munster. He looks as much like an irradiated dinosaur pissed off at being awakened by atomic tests as he could. It seems unlikely that this creature could be stopped by anyone, especially the film’s reluctant and traumatized heroes.

The film’s protagonists all have relatable real world problems. Doctor Yamane, the paleontologist (Kurosawa regular Takashi Shimura, who was sensational in 1952’s IKIRU) has to choose between knowledge and helping to keep his country safe. His greatest discovery is something unfathomably terrible and a threat to mankind itself and he goes through a great deal of anguish. His daughter Emiko (Momoko Kochi) is in love with sailor Ogata (Akira Takarada), but engaged to brooding one-eyed scientist Doctor Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata), who has drifted away from her, consumed with guilt over the military applications of his invention. Even with the apocalyptic threat outside, the love triangle manages to hurt, the ethical conundrums of the scientists seem meaningful.

Hirata’s performance as Dr. Serizawa has always been one of the most appealing aspects of this movie for me. A sad, Byronic, but loveable character—a Victor Laszlo with the finer points of Rick Blaine—Serizawa  has the weapon that can destroy the monster but hates himself too much to use it and hates what the world could do with a weapon like this. His concern is a valid one. If the atomic bomb could wake up and mutate a monster like Godzilla, then what could his more powerful weapon do? He’s terrific. It’s the kind of acting one would think wasn’t necessary in a giant monster movie, but the kind of acting that really makes it work.

GOJIRA stands out for showing the human costs of this devastation. Not just in the anguish of Serizawa, but in the damage caused by the monster. You see mothers clinging to their children, telling them it’s all right because “they’ll be with daddy now,” you see victims in a hospital, mutated, burning and dying. You see the land scorched and the city ruined. In most giant monster movies, you watch the creature stomp around awhile until somebody comes up with a clever idea and kills it. GOJIRA isn’t like that. The creature ruins a city until a ruined man can find the courage to fight it. It’s great horror and it hurts like hell.

You want to see the movie in the cleanest, best format possible. You want to get the full effect of Akira Ifukube’s iconic music with great sound. You want it to look as good on your shelf as a movie of this caliber can look. Sony’s previous release of GOJIRA and its American counterpart, GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (the bastardized version we first saw in the U.S., with added scenes featuring Raymond Burr as reporter Steve Martin~ your intrepid editor), had good commentaries, slick packaging and good special features. If you have it or you would like a cheaper alternative to Criterion’s version, you may not feel inclined to purchase The Criterion Edition. But, Criterion provides great features, a no doubt beautiful transfer and cover art by Bill Sienkewicz.  This is very much on my list for the next 50% off sale. If you don’t have this movie and you want to see it the best way you can, get The Criterion Edition. The DVD version is only $23.98 at the Criterion Store and the Blu-ray not much more. This is geek culture history, a film that crosses the line between sci fi and art film, really getting the treatment it deserves. Criterion has done a great thing.

© Copyright 2012 by Garrett Cook

The original Godzilla (1954) may not be as cuddly and kid-friendly as you remember.

In the Spooklight: GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO

Posted in 2009, Aliens, Giant Monsters, Godzilla, In the Spooklight with tags , , , , , , on August 13, 2010 by knifefighter

Since my fellow CINEMA KNIFE FIGHTER L.L. Soares and I will be reviewing SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD this weekend, my mind has wandered to movie battles I’d rather be seeing. I’ve chosen this column from 2009 for that reason, so here’s my “In the Spooklight” column on GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO (1966), featuring everyone’s favorite kick-ass giant monster, Godzilla, kicking more giant monster butt.  Enjoy the destruction!

—Michael Arruda, 8/13/2010

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO
by Michael Arruda

He’s the biggest, baddest monster on the planet.  Yet, just how seriously can we take Godzilla?  And how seriously can we take a film with the title:  GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO (1966)?

These days, we can take Godzilla very seriously.  For the last 20 years, the Godzilla movies have become increasingly more adult.  But, alas, this wasn’t always the case.

In the 1960s and 70s, Godzilla was reduced to a friendly super monster, battling “bad” monsters and saving the human race from all sorts of evils time and time again.  Many of these movies were downright silly, including today’s “In the Spooklight” feature, GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO (also known as MONSTER ZERO).

Can such a movie be anything more than fun for the kiddies on a rainy Saturday?

Let’s find out.

In GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO, beings from another planet seek Earth’s assistance in defeating the evil monster King Ghidrah.  The aliens request that we give them the monsters Godzilla and Rodan to help them destroy Ghidrah.

But these aliens wear funny dark goggles and never smile, sure signs that they shouldn’t be trusted, and they soon turn all three monsters against humankind.  Not to worry, the resourceful humans find a way to break the aliens’ hold on Godzilla and Rodan, setting the stage for a climactic battle between these monsters and Ghidrah.

GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO is one of the few Godzilla movies in the series to include an American actor, Nick Adams, whose scenes weren’t inserted later, a la Raymond Burr in the American release of the original GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS! (1954).  Nick Adams was actually in Japan and actually appeared in the Japanese version as well.  Adams also starred in the Japanese Frankenstein film, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965).  Adams is quite entertaining here as the token American tough guy.  Tragically, Adams died of an accidental prescription drug overdose in 1968 at the age of 36.  He was a fine actor who appeared in several genre films, including the Boris Karloff movie DIE MONSTER DIE! (1965).

The special effects in GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO are OK.  There’s been better in the series, and there’s been worse.

It’s also directed by the man who directed the original GODZILLA movie, Ishiro Honda.

But what about Godzilla?  How does the “big guy” fare in this flick?  Well, for starters, he could have used more screen time.  More Godzilla and fewer aliens would have been a good idea.  His fight scenes are entertaining enough, as he gets to share the “good guy” role here with flying buddy Rodan.

Still, there’s no getting around the fact that GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO is one silly movie.  So, why in the world would you watch this movie?  Why would I watch it?  Why did I watch it?  And heck— why am I writing about it?

Because Godzilla is a gigantic part of horror movie lore.  If you’re into horror movies, you just can’t ignore Godzilla, or at least you shouldn’t.

Plus, there’s no denying that there’s something fun about watching Godzilla kick some bad monster’s butt.  And hey, you’ve got to dig those mini toy tanks that teeter along those miniature roads in those miniature cities!

So, how seriously can we take Godzilla?  Well, in GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO, about as seriously as we take Scooby Doo and Shaggy throwing cheeseburgers with the works at some masked phantom.

But that’s okay.  Sometimes you have to kick back and be a kid again.

So grab yourself an ice cream soda and some candy and indulge in the battle for giant monster supremacy in GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO.

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© Copyright 2009 by Michael Arruda