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My Year with Godzilla
Week 49: 'Godzilla: The Planet Eater' [2019]
Is Godzilla in it? Yes.
Sub or Dub? Dub

This anime trilogy concludes pretty much where it began for me - slow, confusing and a wasted opportunity. As teased in the previous installment, Ghidorah emerges to battle Godzilla, albeit from a different dimension. Or something. Characters talk some more about philosophical things, and this writer falls asleep some more. Sweet dreams.

Despite being nonplussed by the first two episodes, I was semi-looking forward to this one, believing we were finally going to get some kaiju action. Alas, 'twas not to be. If possible, I was perhaps even more confused by this third entry, which definitely put the 'God' in 'Godzilla'. There were probably some profound musings on the ethereal in this film, but I was busy sleeping, possibly dreaming of a better movie where, you know, entertaining things happen occasionally. I had to later read the Wikipedia entry for this film to find out whether Mothra actually did show up and I was napping. But, no, apparently she didn't. Oh well.

I'm not sure what the point of these films are, this one in particular. Ghidorah doesn't do much, Mothra remains an egg, Godzilla spends long periods asleep (so we have that in common). I'm all for a different take on the genre, but this just doesn't go anywhere. It raises more questions than it answers. Who is it for? Where's the enjoyment to be had here? Has anyone ever been able to sit through these more than once?

Visually, it does some interesting things now and then, but there is not enough story/action to justify the combined 4 hours and 50 mins runtime. I watched this on Netflix yet still feel someone owes me my money back. Or at least my time. I could have slept some more instead.
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BONUS: 'The Cloverfield Paradox' [2018]
Is Godzilla in it? No. Godzilla connection: Part of the 'Cloverfield' universe

The 'Cloverfield' anthology of films continues with this dumped-on-Netflix entry in which Earth is suffering through an energy crisis. Scientists are shot into space to fire up a particle accelerator in the hopes of engineering free energy. When the thing finally works, our space nerds - along with the rest of the world - begin to experience the worst day of their lives...

If '10 Cloverfield Lane' felt like a good movie persuaded to fit into the Cloverfield universe, then this one feels like the script was dragged kicking and screaming into an alleyway, knocked around a bit and had its family threatened. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed 'The Cloverfield Paradox', but it really doesn't need to be a part of this larger universe.

This film wastes no time with characterization, giving us the briefest of outlines for the multi-cultural cast. None of the slow build-up of the original 'Alien' film, for example, which this film often seems to want to be. Instead, we get the hint (in the clumsiest of ways - a TV interview streaming in the space station whilst the experiment is progressing) that their machine might unleash demons and all kinds of inter-dimensional hell. And, what do you know, that's what we get.

Yes, 'The Cloverfield Paradox' is ridiculous, but it's all kinds of entertaining ridiculousness. Weird things happen - such as a new character appearing from nowhere - and our crew scratch their collective heads a bit, shrug and move onto the next weird happening. None of it makes sense, the characters don't react realistically, and yet I didn't care. This film was my kind of bonkers and I happily rode their crazy train. Chris O'Dowd needs special mention for seeming to have the most fun with his role, almost mangling his words with his tongue so far into his cheek.

The film's 'Cloverfield' subplot is the most distracting element, and an attempt at heart-string-pulling, a la 'Gravity' fails. Is this a 'Cloverfield' prequel? Or an alternative Cloverfield universe? I honestly don't care. This is Grade A B-movie stuff, which may not be your particular beverage of choice, but is certainly my cup of tea.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
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BONUS: 'Monsters' [2010]
Is Godzilla in it: No. Godzilla connection: Features, er, monsters...

This film undoubtedly helped director Gareth Edwards secure the 2014 'Godzilla' gig. Here, he takes a realistic view of what a world with giant monsters would look and feel like. The film is set ostensibly in Central America, where the locals have learnt to live with the mayhem caused by the invading space beasts. A magazine owner's daughter has become trapped in the region, and one of his photojournalists is tasked with finding her. 'Monsters' captures their journey back to the US, via various means of transportation, both legal and nefarious.

This is not a kaiju film in the traditional sense, though we do get glimpses of the titular monsters (like giant octopuses). It's much more interested in the somewhat strained relationship between the main characters (a sleazy Scoot McNairy and an ambivalent Whitney Able) and how people adapt to extraordinary circumstances. The film feels real, from the set design to the improv acting of actual locals. The CGI is fine, serving its purpose. The will-they-won't-they element is a big part of this film, but didn't feel quite so natural in execution to me. I think a more ambiguous or even downbeat ending would have sufficed. Still, this is a solid film and worth a watch.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
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BONUS: 'Monsters: Dark Continent' [2014]
Is Godzilla in it? No. Godzilla connection: Sequel to 'Monsters'

The monsters from 'Monsters' have invaded the Middle East. A group of new army recruits from Detroit are deployed to deal with the extraterrestrial threat as well as local insurgents. It does not end well.

'Monsters: Dark Continent' is a film of two halves, neither of which I liked. The first part introduces us to our cast as they celebrate the birth of a new son, get drunk, involve in some bromance basketball and rough and tumble, and hook up with strippers before shipping out. You can almost smell the testosterone seeping from the screen. I didn't find any of the characters likeable and they were largely interchangeable. These are stereotypical cinematic grunts.

The second part revolves around their exploits overseas, mainly their mission to rescue four lost soldiers. There are some good action sequences here, but the film quickly follows a different path. As [spoiler alert] our boys start getting picked off one by one, their team leader Frater (Johnny Harris) starts to lose it.

There isn't really anything here that is original, and I found the whole thing depressing rather than entertaining. The our-team-leader-is-crazy storyline has been done before, of course, and the macho camaraderie is hardly fresh. The actual monsters play a small role in the film - though are well executed when they do show up - but the film isn't really about them. You could argue that the 'monsters' here are actually the ones who persuade working class lads like these to join up to have a chance to make something of themselves, only to chuck them into unwinnable situations as cannon fodder, and you might be right. No one really comes out well in this film, our survivors being future PTSD poster boys.

The film looks good - it's gritty and real and the CGI fits right in - and Johnny Harris probably comes out best in the acting stakes. As a war-really-screws-you-up film, it sort of works, but even with the inclusion of giant space aliens, it doesn't stand out from others in that genre. It's a shame, as it came close, but ultimately wasn't for me.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
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BONUS: 'King Kong' [2005]
Is Godzilla in it? No. Godzilla connection: Features Kong, a Godzilla nemesis

1930s movie director Carl Denham (Jack Black) leads an unsuspecting ensemble to Skull Island to shoot his latest picture. When starlet Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) is captured by the legendary giant ape, writer Jack Driscoll (Adrian Brody) heads a team to rescue her. Denham, however, plans to capture the beast and display him on Broadway, to predictably catastrophic results.

This 2005 film is an affectionate, flashy and overlong homage to the 1933 original. Director Peter Jackson displays the same finesse he had shown in his 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy with spectacular visuals and equal lack of restraint. 

I watched the extended edition - all 200 minutes of it - over two nights, which perhaps skewed my sense of pacing but was far more manageable for this late-40-something with a full-time job and a kid to put to bed each night. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the leisurely voyage to the island more than I expected during my first evening's viewing, in no small part to the supporting cast. None of the lead actors stood out for me - Jack Black had an interesting take on Denham, but made the tone of the film inconsistent - but the other roles were excellent,  Andy Serkis, Jamie Bell, Thomas Kretschmann and Evan Parke in particular.

Once on the island, the action is relentless and again inconsistent, swinging from exciting to ridiculous to boring within each set piece. Yes, the CGI is good and still mostly holds up (though CGI humans look cartoony), but there is just too much of it. Kong looked strangely like a grumpy Anthony Hopkins in close-up, I thought, and old-time New York had an uncanny valley effect of being lifelike yet off somehow. Jackson seemed to have recreated some of his LOTR sets with Kong's wall, as well as taking inspiration from his orcs for the natives.

There are obvious nods to the original film, but even with the improved graphics, nothing that surpasses it. Despite the love that went into this, it still felt a little soulless. If I had a spare 200 minutes again, I think I'd rather watch a double bill of the original Kong and 'Son of Kong', with still time to spare to watch the special features.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
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BONUS: 'Reigo the Deep Sea Monster' [2005]
Is Godzilla in it? No. Godzilla connection: Features kaiju
Sub or Dub? Sub

In the midst of the Second World War, the battleship Yamato encounters a legendary monster of the deep named Reigo. Um, that's about it.

Sometimes poor dubbing adds to the charm of a film. In a similar vein, less than accurate subtitles can be amusing too. However, in the case of 'Reigo the Deep Sea Monster', the subtitles were so bad as to be largely incomprehensible. It didn't help that the film isn't exactly visually interesting either, which made my overall experience of this low budget kaiju film a bit of a chore.

There isn't really a plot to speak of - at least, not one I could easily discern from the gobbledygook I was reading and the dark mess I was watching. The men of the Japanese warship Yamato (later to become an anime spaceship - a series I haven't seen, though I do own the 2010 live-action film) have to come up with a plan to defeat Reigo, who is seemingly too quick, too close and too low in the water to fire upon. (The method the youngest crew member devises is pretty ingenious, actually.)

The filmmakers obviously didn't have mega-yen to spend on this, but you have to applaud their effort. They get their point across, more or less, with miniatures, puppets and very basic CGI. It isn't good, but it somehow worked for what they were attempting. Most of the actors, to give them their credit, also went above and beyond to produce something worthy of the era, this appearing to be (again, as far as the subtitles allowed me to make out) a serious tribute to the real Yamato and her sailors. Yukijiro Hotaru, from the Gamera trilogy, is both the most recognisable face and has the meatiest role.

'Reigo' isn't a good film (I'm still not sure what the weird epilogue was about) but it's an honest one, with its heart in the right place, I think. Still, that's just an observation rather than a recommendation. (P.S. In researching this film for this review, I've discovered it has a 'parody' sequel. God help me, I've found it online and will add it to my watchlist tonight. I don't know why I do this to myself...)
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BONUS: 'Deep Sea Monster Raiga' [2009]
Is Godzilla in it? No. Godzilla connection: Features Godzilla-like kaiju
Sub or Dub? Sub

Why is it so hard to make a decent kaiju parody? The kaiju genre is so full of recognisable tropes, it should be easy to spoof, you'd imagine. Yet, here is another tired attempt which strings together a series of skits in the pretense of a plot and barely manages to raise a smile, let alone a chuckle.

Yukijiro Hotaru returns in this semi-sequel, this time playing the Japanese version of Del Boy (UK reference - look him up). Raiga shows up and the local officials gleefully scheme various ways to destroy him. Laughter-free shenanigans ensue.

There were several moments throughout this film that I felt decidedly left out of the joke, not knowing who any of these actors were. I deduced that one or more of Hotaru's daughters here were played by Japanese pop stars, and a lengthy cameo in the middle of the film was probably a well known stand-up (or, in this case, sit-down) comedian. The fact that he was there to recap the original film (complete with long 'flashbacks') made this already tiresome film seem even longer.

The effects had improved in the four years since 'Reigo', but still sub-par for a kaiju film. The only point I nearly laughed was when onlookers mistook Raiga for Godzilla, and the other actors tried to shush them. It's not much, but I take what I can.

There is really no reason to see this film unless you are desperate to witness a rubber-suited kaiju piss on a burning miniature building. If you are, you are beyond any help I can offer.
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Week 50: 'Kong: Skull Island' [2017]
Is Godzilla in it? No. Godzilla connection: Part of the 'Monsterverse'; features Kong, Godzilla's nemesis

In 1973, satellites detect an island thought to be mythical. Troops who were about to be demobbed from the Vietnam war are deployed on the pretext of mapping it before the Russians do. They discover an island of extraordinary beasts, including a giant ape. Cue helicopters, CGI mayhem and a cool soundtrack.

'Kong: Skull Island' is a prequel to a yet-to-be-released film, 'Godzilla vs. Kong' and certainly seems like it exists for that purpose alone. That's not to say that it isn't entertaining, but that it feels like an overly elaborate set-up.

The fact that this film is set in the 70s is interesting. It allows the filmmakers to indulge in some 'Apocalypse Now' type imagery, with some subtext about unwinnable wars thrown in (plus some cool tunes too, of course. Kudos to them for skipping 'Fortunate Son'; I was certain it was coming). But otherwise, the era seemed irrelevant and unnecessary. It's unlikely that any of the surviving members of the expedition will feature in any later present-day Monsterverse films, and I'm actually OK with that. I didn't buy that Tom Hiddleston or Brie Larson were from the 70s, neither looking nor acting like they belonged there. Larson in particular was wasted, the script obviously needing to add more female characters, but being hindered by 21st century expectations. Would she really have been accepted so nonchalantly by soldiers who were coming off a long deployment in Vietnam in 1973? I'm not so sure.

Samuel L Jackson plays Samuel L Jackson at his most Samuel L Jackson-ness. I couldn't help feeling that the role would have had to be completely rewritten if he had turned it down; at least, there would have been far less close-ups of the character's cold, glaring eyes. John C Reilly is similarly having a blast and it was infectious; the film sagged whenever the Middle Initial actors weren't on screen.

The effects are excellent and it doesn't leave us hanging to introduce the giant ape we plonked our money down to see. I wasn't so taken with the Skullcrawlers though can't fault how all the creations blended seamlessly into the film. The post-credits scene, explaining the Toho monsters connection, was clumsy and lazy but predictable in this Marvel-led era.

Overall, it was OK. I was expecting more, thus was left disappointed. I'll rewatch this one next year before 'Godzilla vs Kong' comes out, but can't imagine any other reason why I would revisit it after that. Like my Star Wars prequel blu-rays, it completes a set; I just don't have to see it.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
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I haven't seen King since theaters. But in theaters, I was grinning from beginning to end, and I loved it so much. I love the original King Kong, I haven't seen the others except King Kong vs Godzilla.
I haven't watched either of the recent Godzilla movies, but I'll try to watch King of the Monsters before Godzilla vs Kong, which I'm very much looking forward to.
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BONUS: 'Mighty Joe Young' [1949]
Is Godzilla in it? No. Godzilla connection: Features a Kong-like creature

Impresario Max O'Hara (Robert Armstrong) happens upon a giant pet ape in Africa and persuades his young owner (Terry Moore) to let him headline his new Hollywood nightclub. When the ape inevitably wrecks the joint, a scheme is concocted to smuggle him past the cops who intend to mete out their singular form of justice.

This is a lighter, frothier version of 'King Kong', again backed by Robert Armstrong in a Denham-like role. The star, however, is of course Joe himself, the ape, or rather Ray Harryhausen who articulates him. The effects here are wonderful, blending smooth stop-motion with back projection, animation and mattes. The scene where Joe jostles a lion in a cage still holds up today.

The actors play second fiddle to Harryhausen's wizardry, which is just as well as none shine here (Ben Johnson as the cowboy is particularly wooden). The story takes a couple of wild leaps along the way, from the expected mayhem in the nightclub, to a heist and finally a random (and red-tinted) rescue. It's rather breathless and ensures you get your money's worth for the full 93 minutes.

The depiction of the generic Africans and the casual exploitation of live lions seemingly being tossed around might make some uncomfortable, but otherwise it's a fairly harmless and entertaining film. The effects certainly equal, if not surpass, the original King Kong, even if the plot doesn't.
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I'm writing a book! Check out my progress at Good Morning, Page
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