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"Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil."

~Ephesians 5:16

Sunday, August 25, 2013

King Kong Escapes Review

King Kong Escapes, like Frankenstein vs. Baragon, was a joint effort between Japan and America. Fresh off his battle with Godzilla, TOHO was eager to use Kong in another feature. This movie is unique in many ways. It has a rather small Japanese presence, since two of the main actors are American and it barely takes place in the city. (In fact, it only takes place in Tokyo in the exciting climax.) This would technically be the fourth ever King Kong movie. It's what you get when Director Ishiro Honda grabs the 1933 classic and remakes it Godzilla style.

The story starts out in a submarine. Two scientists are studying papers of a giant ape, known as the King Kong legend of Mondo Island. They didn't plan on going, but after an iceberg falls on the sub, they're forced to land there. Kong awakens to the screams of a woman about to gulped by a dinosaur called Gorosaurus. Later Kong heads to the city where he'll have to battle his mechanic double built by the evil Dr. Hu, Mechani Kong, Apparently this is based on an old cartoon called The King Kong Show. Not many people are going to know that unless they visit the Wiki. (Now I'm quite interested in that toon.) From the start with Akira Ifukube's familiar theme, you can tell this is going to be a good movie. It has heart, it's fun, and you never feel like you want it to end. It's pretty much everything Peter Jackson's remake wasn't.

The main characters are Commander Carl Nelson, Susan Watson, and Jiro Nomura. The first two are American, while the latter is Japanese portrayed by famous Godzilla actor Akira Takarada. Nelson is portrayed by Rhodes Reason. He's a pretty solid character people will like. The most interesting of the three is definitely Susan, portrayed by Linda Miller. Her child-like voice and demeanor was pretty unique, and sometimes unintentionally funny. (Try to hold back from laughing in when she shouts, "Kong! King Kong!") The relationship between her and the title character is established nicely. Dr. Hu, portrayed by Hideyo Amamoto, is the antagonist. His look is a bit cartoonish, (then again it is based on a cartoon) but he succeeds in being a pretty entertaining villain. One of his highlights is when he shoots down the native. The other 'villain' is Mandame Piranha, portrayed by Mie Hama. (She was in the 007 film, You Only Live Twice.) She is very interesting right from the start, being the true leader but later has a change of heart. She is definitely one of the best characters in the whole thing.

The interesting thing about King Kong is that he's not a villain at all and is very human-like. This being a TOHO kaiju movie, they know how to handle monsters whether they created them or not. Despite being a giant gorilla, Kong expresses great emotion, even more so than the human cast. Suitmation will always be able to show that better than CGI. Admittedly, the Kong suit isn't as good as the one featured in King Kong vs. Godzilla. The factor tying this into the Godzilla-verse is Gorosaurus. TOHO could have gone the easy route and just put in a generic Tyrannosaurus/Allosaurus/V-Rex like all the other Kong movies did, but they made their own monster. (Which then appeared a year in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS.) Gorosaurus just looks good and his 'kangaroo kick is pretty cool. The fight between him and Kong was definitely a highlight. It's a shame he didn't get to do anything after DESTROY ALL MONSTERS.

The main antagonist for King Kong however is Mechani Kong, a robot dublimate. It's a pretty fantastic creation, it looks amazing forty-six years later. The climax in the city with it and Kong was pretty exciting. And also without the Robot Kong it's quite possible we would have never gotten a Mechagodzilla! All of these scenes are accompanied by Akira Ifukube's wonderful soundtrack. One of the themes that plays throughout the film you'll recognize from the early Godzilla movies.

Overall, King Kong Escapes is definitely the most fun Kong movie. With good characters, a classic evil villain, and giant monster/robot fights, it's a must see for any kaiju or Kong fan.


Monday, August 12, 2013

Frankenstein vs. Baragon Review

The 60's were the golden years for TOHO kaiju films. It gave us some of the all-stars, such as Mothra vs. Godzilla, MONSTER ZERO, and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. One slightly overlooked film in that era is Frankenstein vs. Baragon. (Known in the US as 'Frankenstein Conquers the World.') Directed by one of the best directors of kaiju films, Ishiro Honda, this vs. movie is a truly unique one. It grabbed an American monster, much like what they did with King Kong Escapes, and turned his story into a Japanese giant monster movie. Its sequel, War of the Gargantuas. is much more well known. This film however is superior in a few ways. It features a great cast, compelling story, and some fantastic monster action.

The story has quite a unique start, with the prologue taking place in Nazi Germany back in 1945, World War II. The heart of Frankenstein, (technically Frankenstein's monster but like always we'll refer to the creature as such) is transported to Japanese hands. It is lost however in the midst of the Hiroshima attack. The heart later grows into a being and as the movie progresses he grows at such an amazing rate, to the point where he himself is nearly the size of Godzilla! It's a necessary thing, because he's going to have to battle an underground monster called Baragon. What I found interesting about the beginning of this movie was the very tiny use of monster scenes. Baragon gets a very small appearance in the first 50 minutes, besides that it's all about Frankenstein's story. In fact, before the climax hits, you're going to think Baragon was just put in to say the movie has a giant monster with no real relation to the story. The final fantastic half hour will change that mentality. The film does such a great job establishing Frankenstein's story that when Baragon shows up it's all the more satisfying. The primary reason why that was so well done is thanks to the cast.

Nick Adams is the main star, portraying Dr. James Bowen. You'll know him from his fan favorite portrayal of Glenn in MONSTER ZERO. Kumi Mizuno also stars, as Dr. Sueko Togami. You'll know her as Miss Namikawa also in MONSTER ZERO. They have such great chemistry together, it's very natural. Interestingly, all this time I thought this movie came out after Monster Zero, but this actually predates it. They must have done such a great job that TOHO wanted them back for the next Godzilla movie. Adams is by far one of the greatest actors of that era. He has sense of likability, authority, and plain cool demeanor throughout. The only line that bothered me was in the final scene when he said, "Perhaps, the best thing would be for him to die. After all, he's only a monster." After Frankenstein delivered Dr. Ken'ichiro Kawaji to him and Miss Togami, you would think he would have said something nicer about him. Mizuno appears to be such a veteran when it comes to acting her role to her best ability. Her motherly nature to Frankenstein was great, it's a shame she wasn't in much kaiju films post Monster Zero.

Baragon is what makes this a kaiju film, and he doesn't disappoint. The simple design is very effective, and I'm not sure making him 'cute' was intended, but it's a nice touch. One of the best scenes is when it focused on a group of chickens then the next scene it shows feathers coming from Baragon's mouth. It's rare that we see kaiju eating other creatures, so that was pretty neat. Overall Baragon is one of TOHO's best classics, it's truly a shame he didn't get to do anything in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS.The climax of the film makes up for Baragon's lack of appearing, The fight is fun and satisfying. It's also unique, since it's basically a giant human battling a dinosaur. All of this is accompanied by Akira Ifukube's wonderful soundtrack.

Overall, Frankenstein vs. Baragon is definitely one of TOHO's best. The story is nicely developed with one of the best climaxes from any giant monster movie. The team of Nick Adams and Kumi Mizuno act beautifully on screen. The International version is the one to watch, only cause of the completely random ending with the giant octopus. This is a definite must-see for any kaiju fan.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

OZ: The Great and Powerful Review

OZ: The Great and Powerful was one of the more interesting films to come out of 2013. Directed by Sam Raimi, (director the Spider-Man trilogy) this movie serves as a prequel to the 1939 classic. The Wizard of OZ is in every sense of the word a true 'classic.' It is considered by many as one of the greatest movies of all time. With its pretty visuals, fun characters, and engaging story, it's a timeless tale. Many wondered if we would ever see a remake. (Not that anyone would ever want it.) Instead, this film took a more interesting route, deciding to tell the story of how the Wizard came to OZ and ultimately became its king. It also showed us how the Wicked Witches came to be. With its pretty visuals and likable characters, The Great and Powerful is a nice little movie for the family on a Saturday afternoon. It's not great however, just mildly entertaining.

The story follows Oscar "OZ" Diggs who gets sucked into a tornado. (Sound familiar?) The tornado brings him to the land of OZ, which is strangely named after him. It turns out there's a prophecy saying a man with the same name as the land will come and slay the Wicked Witch. Things aren't what they seem however, and in the end it'll be up to some tinkers, munchkins, and scarecrows against flying baboon monsters. The film starts out nicely, in black and white and with a smaller aspect ratio. An appropriate start, since that's how the original movie started. It's here that we're introduced to Oscar. The intro was a nice start, but once Diggs lands in OZ is when the true magic begins. But first, the cast.

James Franco (Harry Osborn from the Spider-Man trilogy) plays the title character. The main thing about him is his quirkiness, basically a toned down version of Robert Downy Jr.'s Tony Stark. Yes he's a ladies man from the start. Sure, some of the quirkiness is sometimes funny, but often it's not and it comes off as overacting the role. For example, the most awkward thing is when he lands in OZ. He protects Theodora from the baboons like he's an expert and she's not. Then he's not shocked at all to run into a flying, talking monkey. He takes it all in stride like it's an everyday occurrence, So yes, I definitely think they should have gone with someone else for the main role, or changed the script. Mila Kunis plays Theodora, the lady that becomes the Wicked Witch of the West. She play's the part well, fooling the viewer into thinking she's the good witch. However, the highlight is definitely when she transforms into her familiar green self. The acting is kinda cheesy, but it's appropriate and a nice homage.

Michelle plays the lovely Good Witch. It's interesting since she's a younger version of the one we know from The Wizard. No real complaints. Rachel Weisz plays Evanora, the Wicked Witch of the East. She plays the part really well, with beauty but deceit lurking. The other major characters are quite interesting. We have the little China Girl, whom was definitely one of the best, You can't help but feel very sorry for her in her first scene. Although, she went from broken little girl to having a sassy personality really fast, it was almost too fast. Though her scene in the house is the most touching. Then we have Finley, the flying monkey that becomes OZ's assistant. He's the Donkey to Shrek, the character everyone's going to like from the start. So yeah, the characters are pretty fun but OZ himself lacked that charm.

The land of OZ is a truly magnificent place to behold. Despite its age, the 1939 film's visuals look great. So you could imagine how glorious it would look with today's effects. It looks cartoonishly bright, but that's part of the charm. From the Emerald City to the Dark Forest, the scenery is quite lovely. CGI is abundant, but looks pretty good for the most part. The China Girl for example is amazingly done.There are a few key things I liked. The transformation into the Wicked Witch of the West was fantastic, and the laugh ranks as one of the best. It was also cool how the baboon creatures were portrayed as threats from the start. The climax of the film is pretty exciting. The scene with the scarecrows walking in the fog was really well done. And the scene with OZ's head in the smoke was pretty much his only 5 star acting performance. Danny Elfman composed the soundtrack.  (Who also did the soundtrack for the first two Spider-Man films!) It fits the movie well, there's even a few memorable themes.

Overall, OZ: The Great and Powerful is not really a 'great' movie. It's fun, with its bright scenery and characters. In the end however, it's unremarkable and I can't help but think they could have done a prequel story better with a different direction. For a much better fantasy movie, watch Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.


Monday, August 5, 2013

Jack the Giant Slayer Review

Jack the Giant Slayer was not a very well hyped film. The trailers did nothing for people. The posters were incredibly lame, showcasing shots of the rather off-putting giants. I'll be honest, I didn't have any real expectations for it. Everything pointed to it being a very generic action movie, like Battleship. (And I didn't have kind words for that film.) Honestly, it should have been rewritten to be Jack and the Beanstalk. It doesn't really know what kind of movie it wants to be. The PG-13 rating keeps it from being called a kids movie, but with some rather odd comedy like a giant picking his nose and one cutting the cheese, you have to wonder what kind of audience the film was trying to attract. It has too little substance for adults to get into, yet Director Bryan Singer didn't seem to have a kids movie in mind either. Nonetheless, Jack the Giant Slayer was definitely better than expected. It's far from being good, but it's at least decent. (Which I really can't call Battleship.)

The story follows Jack, whom goes on a journey to rescue Princess Isabelle. Why does she need rescuing? Well, these magical beans sprouted into a giant beanstalk, taking the Princess into the Kingdom of the Giants. Things take a turn for the worst when the Giants figure out a way to come down and wage war with humanity. The story itself is decent enough. The giants early on are painted as legitimate threats. The whole CGI flashback was a bit odd in a live action movie, but it got the point across. At its core, the story is a fairy tale. It has a handsome young guy rescuing a lovely princess from perils and in the end they get married. (Which was very nice to see.) The best scene is the very first Giant scene. The camera angle, the way it moved and snatched up one of the men like nothing, it successfully captured the threat of these guys, Sadly after that they started to lose their mystique.

Jack, portrayed by Nicholas Hoult, is an alright protagonist. (Sadly despite the title calling him a Giant Slayer, he only slays three giants in the course of 114 minutes.) Though, the film doesn't really focus on character development at all. The movie is less about Jack and more about the events happening around him. This is not a bad thing, but character development is rather weak. The lovely Eleanor Tomlinson portrays Princess Isabelle, solid character. But, her plot of not wanting to do an arranged marriage has been done already recently in Brave. It's truly a shame the movie couldn't give her more of a role, she seems like a fighter but was caged up, then on the run for the majority of it. King Brahmwell was a pretty mediocre character. His lines sometimes felt forced, such as not appeasing his daughter. Elmont, the Captain of the Royal Guard, is definitely one of the best characters, with a fun personality. Roderick, the antagonist for half the film, was pretty generic. Thankfully he's killed off so there can be an actual villain to write home about.

The Giants is the main reason why we're here. They don't disappoint early on, but by the end you've just about had it with them. There's only two notable ones, Fallon and Fumm. Fallon is the true antagonist, and ironically had the best acting performance. His opening lines to the Princess were fantastic and pretty funny. Sadly, he is brought down by his second extremely annoying head. Seriously, was there a need for it? And that is the interesting problem with the film. The comedy scenes are greatly juvenile and pretty much out place in what should be a serious story. The climax is mildly exciting, the scene with all the Giants emerging from the forest was pretty cool. It is kind of anticlimactic when Jack comes out with the crown however. The soundtrack is pretty mediocre, you will not remember any of it after you're done watching.

Overall, Jack the Giant Slayer is this year's Battleship, just a little better than the latter. Some scenes are great, such as the beanstalk sprouting and taking Jacks house, the very first scene with a Giant, and some of the climax. Ultimately however it's just another action movie with little redeeming qualities. It's somewhat fun, but lacking substance.