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My Year with Godzilla
BONUS: 'Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris' [1999]
Is Godzilla in it? No. Godzilla connection: Daiei's answer to Godzilla, distributed by Toho
Sub or Dub? Sub

Mutated Gyaos return in this final entry in the Gamera trilogy. Here, Gamera learns it's best not to piss off a small child by killing her cat. Practical and CGI effects combine to make this an awesome, dark and bloody finale. Small children (and cats) beware.

'Gamera 3' is much more a sequel to 'Gamera 1' than 'Gamera 2', referencing the first sequel in passing, but adding flashbacks and a continued storyline from the original film. It's rather unique amongst kaiju films so far in that the heart of the story concerns the collateral human damage that giant monsters can cause. Rather than anonymous buildings being demolished by these beasts, we see the victims as they are crushed, blown skyhigh and other fatal occurrences. No wonder that Ayana (Ai Maeda) hates Gamera for stomping on her parents (and cat, the titular Iris) and ends up forming a bond with the newly tentacled Gyaos, much in the same way that Asagi (Ayako Fujitani, who has an extended cameo here) did in the previous films. 

There's perhaps a little too much plot - the 'Gamera cemetery' and the evil scientists don't really lead anywhere significant - and it has the same issues as the previous film, with too much exposition and not enough Gamera for the bulk of the film. Still, it's an extraordinary film and, overall, an incredible trilogy considering that Gamera is often seen as the red-headed stepchild in the kaiju genre. Most of the effects look great, though some of the CGI looks dated now. 'Gamera' has certainly moved on from its kiddie fare background; this is shocking and gory and not for very young eyes. The film sets up a direct sequel that never happened, unfortunately (2006's 'Gamera the Brave' ignores the trilogy, apparently) but nevertheless, this film sends Gamera off on a high note.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
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Week 38: 'Godzilla' [1998]
Is Godzilla in it? Well...

Nuclear testing in French Polynesia results in the creation of a new species. Nesting instincts leads the titular beast to Manhattan, where it quickly spawns mini versions of itself. Can a worm scientist, a TV anchorman's assistant, a cameraman and a French secret agent save the city, nay the world? And will anybody care?

Despite its title, 'Godzilla' is a giant-creature-invasion movie, not a Godzilla movie. There is no attempt to create a character for the beast. Although it may have been the result of nuclear testing, this is no 'Gojira'; it's merely a plot point, no deeper than any other US giant radioactive creature film from the 50s. It is not a (largely) invincible Force of Nature. It is a fish out of water run amok, a la King Kong or the T-Rex from 'The Lost World'.

For every thing this film gets right, it gets another four wrong. For starters, Matthew Broderick is miscast. Either he didn't know what sort of character he was supposed to portray, or he couldn't pull it off, but I did not buy into his part for one second. It doesn't help that he is surrounded by broad caricature characters that are unfunny and annoying - the lecherous, egotistical TV anchor; the brassy Bronx broad; the doofus cameraman (nicknamed 'Animal'); the shouty Military Leader. Worst of all are the mayor and his sidekick, based on film reviewers Ebert & Siskel (ho ho... No). The only one who comes out of this with some respect still in place is Jean Reno, although the filmmakers do their best to sabotage that with his (again, unfunny) obsession with American coffee and his faux Elvis impression.

There are some good scenes on occasions - maybe not original, granted - such as the trawlers being pulled under (cf. 'Jaws'), the shot of Godzilla breaking the pier as it wades ashore (cf. 'Jaws' again) and some of the city destruction still holds up OK. But for a 2 hr 20 min movie (yes, it's also too long), these snippets aren't nearly enough. Setting aside the G-Fan nitpicks ("Godzilla doesn't look like that"; "Godzilla has atomic breath, not fire"; 'The military never kills Godzilla", etc), it's still difficult to turn your brain off, sit back and enjoy it as a big, dumb popcorn movie. For all its flashes and bangs (and there are a lot of flashes and bangs), there's not a lot of entertainment here. It's unfunny, but worse, un-fun.
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BONUS: 'Dragon Wars: D-War' [2007]
Is Godzilla in it? No. Godzilla connection: Possibly none.

I don't remember why I decided I needed to watch this film as part of my Godzilla-kaiju year-long marathon, nor why I placed it after 'Godzilla' [1998], although with hindsight it sort of fits. Both take Asian legends, Americanize them and end up with disappointing messes.

Every 500 years, a dragon can become godlike, with the help of a young woman with a dragon birthmark on her left shoulder. In 1507, the woman and her lover kill themselves before the dragon can be deified; now, in 2007, their reincarnated selves must join forces in Los Angeles and basically witness mass destruction. By dragons. While running away. Something like that, anyway.

This is a very confusing film. There are possibly more nuances to this film than I've described here, with explanations of what the hell I was watching flying over my head, but it doesn't matter. If you came for War between Dragons, you would not feel short-changed, plot-be-damned.

It's disappointing, however, as the special effects are well done. The dragons (they look more like giant snakes for the most part) move well and interact with backgrounds realistically - or as realistically as a dragon taking down 21st century buildings can be. The acting, though, is phoned in by everyone, especially Jason Behr as the most un-enthused TV reporter in the history of local news. Robert Forster pops up repeatedly (he has shape-shifting abilities. Sure, why not?) and Craig Robinson is wasted (as in, he was not given enough to do; it is also possible he was drunk and/or high, but I cannot corroborate that). The story is overly complex (flashbacks within flashbacks gives you an idea that there's a lot of backstory to catch up with here) and the humour is misplaced.

Even so, I was mildly entertained. I mean, it has dragons and destruction and Amanda Brooks is pretty and... yeah, that's about it. It's the sort of film that if you were eating a really good snack while watching it, you may have a better memory of the snack the next day.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
I'm writing a book! Check out my progress at Good Morning, Page
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BONUS: 'Godzilla: The Series' [TV] [1998]
Is Godzilla in it? Let's be generous and say yes.

'Godzilla: The Series' is an animated show following the set-up and characters from the 1998 film. Here, Nick becomes the adopted father of the only surviving Godzilla baby from the film's final scene, which grows quickly and becomes the characters' savior in each episode. In this universe, there are further giant mutations - rats, bugs, bats, etc - that Godzilla has to battle and defeat. The cast of characters are largely the same - Nick, Elsie, Craven, Audrey, Hicks and Animal - with some new additions, such as the cool sidekick/comic relief Randy and the sexy French secret agent Monique (Phillipe, from the film, makes a cameo appearance in one episode as her boss).

The plots aren't far removed from the 1978 Hanna-Barbera cartoon series, with Godzilla following our heroes around and fighting off the monsters. With giant foes to battle, the character of Godzilla is more in line with that of the Toho films than the 1998 film this series is based on, and even retains his atomic breath. There's a good three-episode-arc titled 'Monster War' , which features many of the kaiju seen in earlier shows coming together to try and defeat our giant hero, and is the best example of the writers/animators love for the original source material.

The animation is fine, as is the voice work (check out the Wikipedia page - a lot of well-known actors contributed their skills) and the series is entertaining overall. I watched 12 of the 40 episodes and feel I got my fill.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
I'm writing a book! Check out my progress at Good Morning, Page
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Week 39: 'Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack' [2001]
Is Godzilla in it? Yes.
Sub or Dub? Sub

Godzilla returns in this Ignore-Pretty-Much-Everything-After-1954 sequel. Can an unlikely alliance of Not-Famous-Enough-For-the-Title Baragon, Mothra and Ghidorah defeat Evil-Force-of-Nature Godzilla?

This film, affectionately known as GMK, feels like a love letter to the Showa era Godzilla. Apart from a couple of throwaway lines at the beginning about a monster "resembling Godzilla" attacking the US a few years previously (which made me chuckle), kaiju do not exist in this universe. Even Godzilla himself - not unlike the Jedi in 'The Force Awakens' - is seen as something legendary, an urban myth, by most people. So when Baragon, Godzilla et al start to reappear, havoc reigns.

GMK has an interesting mix of darkness and fantasy. Godzilla doesn't mess around in this one - he's no hero here, No More Mr. Nice Guy, rampaging and trampling whoever or whatever gets in his mindless way. The devastation is akin to that of 'Gamera 3', with noticeable deaths. Yet the film felt strangely more whimsical, perhaps due in part to the goofy-looking suits. Baragon comes off worse in this respect and is difficult to take seriously, with his silly floppy ears. Mothra gets a make-over and seems more buglike with too many legs, and Ghidorah gets all chunky with too-short necks. Godzilla, perhaps to enhance his evilness, gets a zombie-like stare.

The Baragon-Godzilla smackdown is straight out of any Showa film, as is the brief love triangle subplot. There's the obligatory reporter with a relative in-the-know, plus some comic relief. Though there's no multi-coloured egg for Mothra, there are a couple of pseudo-twins thrown in as a wink to the audience. (I laughed again when the suggestion to name these monsters to avoid confusion was brushed aside as being "far-fetched"!) It's new and familiar all at once and I thought it worked.

The effects - suits aside - are good to excellent with plenty of destruction. And explosions - so, so many explosions. I can't say I completely followed all of the plot - What was the significance of the stones? Who was the mysterious old man? - but it doesn't matter; I still had fun.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
I'm writing a book! Check out my progress at Good Morning, Page
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BONUS: 'Yongary' [1967]
Is Godzilla in it? No. Godzilla connection: South Korea's answer to Godzilla
Sub or Dub? Dub

A giant monster, named Yongary, emerges in South Korea. Scientists and the military scratch their heads on how to deal with this new phenomenon, while Yongary just scratches himself. A lot. When he isn't dancing. 

'Yongary' is a tedious film that had me pressing the pause button often. There is an over-long set-up, introducing the not-very-interesting characters, including the obligatory 1960s brat. When Yongary finally surfaces, it's anti-climatic. The suit is poor and the miniature sets so-so. I'm not sure if the excessive scenes of the beast scratching himself due to some reaction to ammonia from the oil refinery was supposed to be funny, but it wasn't. Equally confusing is the dancing scene - possibly to add some sympathy for the poor kaiju, if the ending is anything to go by - but by this stage I'd already checked out. Scratch yourself, dance, have a sit down and eat a sandwich - knock yourself out. I no longer care.

This is one of those cheesy effects movies that are probably best viewed in standard definition. I watched the blu-ray and the lack of money for this production can be all too clearly seen. The opening shot of space is noticeably a painted dropcloth - you can see the panels behind it holding it up - and the pipe for Yongary's fire-breath is evident every time it opens its mouth. The dub (the only audio option available) isn't great either, with my favourite part being the guard who literally repeats himself regarding how and when Yongary will be dealt with. Stuff like this may make it sound charming and worth seeing. It isn't and don't.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
I'm writing a book! Check out my progress at Good Morning, Page
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BONUS: 'Reptilian' [2001]
Is Godzilla in it? No. Godzilla connection: Update of 'Yongary', South Korea's answer to Godzilla

Shady archaeologists uncover bones of a mysterious creature with a link to an alien civilization. As the aliens return, they reanimate the creature, called 'Yonggary', in order to destroy the Earth.

Director Shim Hyung-rae, torn between making an alien invasion movie and a giant monster movie, decides 'Sod it' and opts to do both, with limited success for either. Of course, it doesn't help that the screenplay is poor, the dialogue appalling and the acting atrocious, but he worsens it with lacklustre direction and confusing edits. In short, it's an awful film.

And yet, it does have a vague appeal. The effects for the spaceship aren't half bad, and it's disappointing that every other effect suffers in comparison. The Reptillian himself looks like a bonus feature from an actual SFX film, showing the early rendering for placement and scale before the real effect was created. The aliens are puppets - a budget hybrid of 'The Terminator' and 'Alien' - and speak with such heavy reverb that I couldn't understand a word they said. (Though as the screenplay is so dire, perhaps this was a blessing.) It is so close to being 'So bad, it's good', but unfortunately, even under 100 minutes, it's too long for that and outstays its welcome.

There are two films at war with each other here, and characters we spend the most time with in the first half are fatally sidelined by the time the second half begins. Nothing makes any sense - the aliens can make the creature disappear at will, but to where? Or why? - but who cares? This is not a film to enjoy sober anyway. It is better than the arduous 'Yongary' from 1967 (this is not a sequel nor even a reboot so don't feel you have to subject yourself to that particular torture to understand 'Reptillian') and probably best viewed slightly altered. I wasn't, alas. More fool me.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
I'm writing a book! Check out my progress at Good Morning, Page
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Week 40: 'Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla' [2002]
Is Godzilla in it? Yes.
Sub or Dub? Sub

Godzilla bad. Mechagodzilla good. Or is it..?

Like 'GMK' (as the cool kids call it), 'Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla' (GAM?) ditches all but a few previous kaiju films in the franchise. 'Gojira' is still canon here, of course, but so is 'Mothra' and, more surprisingly, 'War of the Gargantuas', all of which have their flashback moments. An anti-kaiju strikeforce was set up in 1966 to combat rogue monsters, and it seems they've had precious little to do for 33 years. Suddenly, during Typhoon 13, Godzilla surfaces (not the Godzilla, not 1954 Gojira, but another one) and the Special Forces dust themselves off and spring into action. Obviously rusty by this stage, they don't do a stellar job, letting Godzilla escape while helping to deplete their own numbers in the process.

Enter the top Japanese scientists, who get the coolest job in nerdom - create a Mechagodzilla from the skeleton of the original Gojira! Using its DNA in its onboard computer (don't ask me how), Mechagodzilla is ready to go within 4 years, which is lucky as that's just when Godzilla reemerges, wouldn't you know.

This is another incredibly fun film whenever a giant monster or giant robot is on screen (or, preferably, both at once). Godzilla looks great here, as does his Mecha version, and the miniatures crumble, explode and generally end up the worse for wear with gusto. There's some actual claw-to-claw combat, not far removed from the 1970s kaiju wrestling bouts, and is it me or was the building-with-a-hole-in-it a piss-take of 'Godzilla' [1998]..?

The human story is less compelling. Yumiko Shaku is both gutsy and brooding as the lead pilot, but she either didn't show enough depth or had enough to work with to make her more sympathetic. The awkward Dad and plant-carrying daughter (I truly thought we were headed for Biollante territory, discovering that it was spliced with her dead mother's DNA, but no) were a drag whenever they appeared, I thought. But humans have always been secondary to the raison d'etre of these movies, I've found. Shove them front and centre to let the audience catch their breath, then get them out the way so the monsters can fight.

Another fun Millennium Godzilla film, which is gearing up to be my second favourite era after Showa. 'Godzilla: Tokyo SOS' (reviewed in 2 weeks time) is a direct sequel to this one. I'm hoping for the best.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
I'm writing a book! Check out my progress at Good Morning, Page
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BONUS: 'Garuda' [2004]
Is Godzilla in it? No. Godzilla connection: Thai kaiju
Sub or Dub? Sub

Garuda is an ancient bird-like god in Thailand. I'm not certain how big it is supposed to be in legend, but here it's a little on the small side for a kaiju movie. No matter, as this isn't really a monster film at all, more of a horror in the 'Alien' genre. Garuda is uncovered during expansion of the Bangkok subway. A half-French, half-Thai scientist (Sara Legge) and her (American?) idiot of a partner are dispatched to investigate, along with a group of surly-looking soldiers. These are some kind of kaiju force - at least, the frequent flashbacks of them fighting a type of giant water snake suggest as much.

This film was written with 14 year old boys in mind; for all I know, it might have been written by 14 year old boys. The female scientist is gorgeous and loses her clothing (PG-style) as the movie progresses, even ending up in a water-soaked white tank-top at one point. The soldiers are cool, with facial scars who scowl while they chain-smoke unlit cigarettes. There are gun fights, blood smears, mild swearing and explosions. Oh, and a CGI bird monster.

The sets are well done and CGI is OK, but there wasn't enough here to keep me from napping. Twice. The film is overlong but 20 minutes could easily be excised if all the dramatic slow-motion sequences were played at normal speed. Yes, there are loads of slow-mo effects here. A lot of effort was put into this, I'm sure, and it's far from the worst kaiju film I've seen. It just wasn't for me. If you know any 14 year old boys, however...
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
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Week 41: 'Space Amoeba' [1970]
Is Godzilla in it? No. Godzilla connection: Features kaijus Gezora, later of 'Godzilla: Final Wars' and Kamoebas, later of 'Godzilla: Tokyo SOS'.
Sub or Dub? Dub

Strange blue particles infest an unmanned rocket and crashland off a small island in the South Pacific. As fate would have it, the same island is the site of a new tourist destination. The particles begin to inhabit various marine life, causing them to mutate and grow in size. When a photographer, company reps and a competitor land on the island, they must try and survive the battle of the mutants.

Ishiro Honda went on a kaiju hiatus following this film, the first with special effects not overseen by Eiji Tsuburaya. Still, his legacy looms large over this film, as the costumes and effects are excellent. We have a squid, a crab and a turtle, as well as some cool island dwellings being destroyed. The animated tentacles don't hold up so well, but it's otherwise impressive work.

The story is basic and the acting is adequate, but I was less engrossed than I expected. With all the action taking place on a small island, it felt more like a Doug McClure-type film. I missed the larger scale urban destruction, I have to say. Still, I can't fault it for what it is, as it's well done.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
I'm writing a book! Check out my progress at Good Morning, Page
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