Film Review: All Monsters Attack (1969)

Also known as: Gojira-Minira-Gabara: Oru kaijû daishingeki, lit. Godzilla’s Revenge (Japan)
Release Date: December 20th, 1969 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa
Music by: Kunio Miyauchi
Cast: Tomonori Yazaki, Kenji Sahara, Machiko Naka

Toho, 69 Minutes

Review:

All Monsters Attack a.k.a. Godzilla’s Revenge is a film that a lot of people hate. And I’m not talking just people… I’m talking about actual fans of Godzilla. I guess because the film is just some little boy’s fantasy and most of the action is comprised of stock footage from the battles that took place in earlier films. Whatever, I still like this picture and I’ll explain why.

First of all, it’s a f’n Godzilla movie in an era where the franchise was the most magical and fun. Secondly, it’s about a bullied kid trying to work out his problems for himself, even if he becomes a bit of a dick at the end. Thirdly, the film is the boy’s fantasy but what young fan of the “King of Monsters” didn’t fantasize about the monster? Fourthly, aren’t all the Godzilla films just someone else’s fantasy, anyway? Fifthly, maybe the stock footage used in the boy’s fantasies is really just his memories of the battles he’s already witnessed, as we the audience have?

But I guess people hate Godzilla’s son Minya too but I’ve never figured out why. Sure, he’s goofy and odd. He looks like the Pillsbury Doughboy sans hat and covered in sculptor’s clay. But to a person that experienced the Godzilla franchise as a kid, he sort of represented all of us because which kid din’t want to go into battle alongside Godzilla? And if he wasn’t bizarre enough to begin with, he actually shrinks down to human boy size and talks with the kid in this movie. In fact, they become quick chums, as both are trying to deal with their own bully.

This is also one of those Godzilla island movies, which are some of my favorite because I’ve always loved the style and culture of the Pacific Islands and the Tiki aesthetic overall. Sure, these films were done in this style for budgetary reasons, as crushing giant cities in every movie became really expensive, but the style of these pictures has always worked for me and made them more fantastical.

This is a silly movie but that’s okay. The Godzilla films weren’t all that serious after the first one, anyway. This is also a really short picture at a meager 70 minutes. But it packs in a lot of action, has the kid foil the plot of bank robbers and overcome his bully nemesis.

Now I can’t say that this is a great movie or even a very good one but I enjoy it almost because of its cheapness, its flaws and its oddness. I can see why people dismiss this film but I like feel good stories and I’ve watched all of these films so many times that the stock footage bits sort of just happen without it really pulling me out of the story. And with all of this happening within a little boy’s imagination, actually makes the stock footage material work.

Film Review: The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

Also known as: The Difference, The Persuader (both working titles)
Release Date: March 23rd, 1953 (Boston premiere)
Directed by: Ida Lupino
Written by: Ida Lupino, Collier Young
Music by: Leith Stevens
Cast: Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman

The Filmakers Inc., RKO Radio Pictures, 71 Minutes

Review:

“You stink, Myers! You smell! Just like your clothes! Sure, you’ll make it to Guaymas, but they’ll catch up with you and put you out of your misery. You haven’t got a chance. You haven’t got a thing except that gun! You’d better hang onto it because without it, you’re finished! ” – Roy Collins

The Hitch-Hiker has the distinction of being the only classic film-noir directed by a woman. That woman was Ida Lupino, who went from being a very good actress to a pretty great director in a time when women weren’t often found behind the camera.

The movie is based on the crime spree of murderer Billy Cook, a psychotic who murdered six people on a 22 day rampage between Missouri and California that started the day before New Year’s Eve in 1950.

The character based off of Cook is renamed Emmett Myers and is played by William Talman in what is his most iconic role other than his 212 episode stint on Perry Mason as District Attorney Hamilton Burger. He is a sadistic killer and like a cat, likes to play with his victims before putting them down. In this film, we see him breakdown his captives over time.

In the story, two nice fishermen pickup a hitchhiker, Myers, and the rest is history. Myers bosses them around, plays games with them that force them into mortal danger and really doesn’t have much use for them other than his own amusement over their emasculation. This is a pretty deep movie for its time and it does things that weren’t common in motion pictures in the early 1950s. Being that this was directed by a woman is more intriguing. But it certainly wasn’t a statement about breaking men down in general, as the two who were victimized were nice, innocent people and it was the evil psychotic that pushed them to the limit. This was actually a film that tried to show what it was like to be held against your will by a psycho nut with a gun.

The acting and chemistry between the three leads was stellar and Lupino pulled great performances out of Talman, Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy. There were a few other characters in the movie but these three were the focal point and had to put this production on their backs.

The Hitch-Hiker is a darker and much better film than I expected it to be. It shows how well versed and comfortable Lupino was as a director in a male dominated industry. She lead her male cast towards creating something that was much better than a run of the mill film-noir.

Film Review: Double Team (1997)

Also known as: The Colony
Release Date: April 4th, 1997
Directed by: Tsui Hark
Written by: Don Jakoby, Paul Mones
Music by: Gary Chang
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Rodman, Paul Freeman, Mickey Rourke

Mandalay Entertainment, Film Workshop, Columbia Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Offense gets the glory.” – Jack Quinn, “But defense wins the game.” – Yaz

This film came out just as Jean-Claude Van Damme was spiraling down into the lowest part of his career. His vehicles kept getting worse thanks to atrocious scripts and low box office turnouts. He’d soon be downgraded to having his films come out as “straight to video” releases where he’d remain until resurrecting his career with JCVD. This probably isn’t the worst film he’s done but it’s certainly pretty well down in the murky barrel.

This was also a starring vehicle for Dennis Rodman, who was a part of the Chicago Bulls second threepeat team when this was made and released. Rodman was a sports celebrity superstar but even his involvement couldn’t elevate this film into anything worthwhile. Granted, two decades later, it has become some weird novelty movie that happens to have Dennis Rodman and Jean-Claude Van Damme in it.

The film also stars Mickey Rourke and Paul Freeman. I feel bad for them being subjected to this massive turd but it’s directed by Tsui Hark, which on paper, makes this lineup of talent seem pretty damn good. Hark, a massive director in Hong Kong, just couldn’t cut the mustard in the United States but that’s probably because he aligned himself with the sinking ship that was Van Damme, as his two American films, both featured the actor. But maybe he was trying to follow John Woo’s lead, as that approach worked for him.

Double Team is a really hard movie to sit through, even at 90 minutes or so. It’s got deplorable editing, a script that would be better used as lining in a chicken coop, a nervous and awkward Dennis Rodman, Van Damme looking bored, Mickey Rourke looking depressed and Paul Freeman just looking around with a face that says, “WTF am I doing here?!”

Dennis Rodman’s acting career never took off and he followed this up with an even worse movie called Simon Sez. Switch out Jean-Claude Van Damme for Dane Cook and you can see how bad that film was.

Double Team is a pretty big offender and should be thrown into movie jail, if such a place exists. As is customary with pictures this bad, it must be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely Liquid.”

Film Review: Iron Man (2008)

Release Date: April 14th, 2008 (Sydney premiere)
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway
Based on: Iron Man by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Jack Kirby
Music by: Ramin Djawadi
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Shaun Toub, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jon Favreau, Paul Bettany (voice), Samuel L. Jackson (cameo), Clark Gregg, Leslie Bibb, Tom Morello (cameo), Ghostface Killah (scene cut), Peter Billingsley (cameo)

Fairview Entertainment, Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures, 126 Minutes

Review:

“[reading the newspaper] Iron Man. That’s kind of catchy. It’s got a nice ring to it. I mean it’s not technically accurate. The suit’s a gold titanium alloy, but it’s kind of provocative, the imagery anyway.” – Tony Stark

I decided that it’s time to go back and rewatch the Marvel Cinematic Universe from the beginning, as the world patiently waits for the release of Avengers: Infinity War in less than three months. It’s been a really long time since I’ve watched the Phase One films, so I figured I’d start with the first, a film that I can’t believe is a decade old already. Man, time flies.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t watched the Phase One stuff in so long, but I truly forgot how great the original Iron Man is. It’s definitely the best of the Iron Man films and much better than most of the Phase Two and Phase Three movies. It was smaller, simpler and actually told a story instead of being a dozen big action sequences strung together by a fragile plot thread.

This is the origin story of Iron Man and really Tony Stark, even though some of the sequels to this flesh out his backstory more. This doesn’t get too bogged down in the origin stuff though, as it does a great job of focusing on the main story and moving forward. Plus, that post credits scene sets up what’s to come with the formation of the Avengers and a hint at something much larger than just Stark’s world. In fact, Nick Fury even states that Stark isn’t the first superhero, alluding to Captain America and possibly even Captain Marvel, who ten years later, still hasn’t gotten her movie.

Iron Man is just so well acted, well constructed and Jon Favreau did a fine job directing it, even though he got to play a role in it and other Iron Man-related films after this one.

This is small in comparison to the Marvel films that would come later but I think that’s why I like it so much. It’s a bit more grounded in reality, emotion and something actually genuine.

Robert Downey Jr. is the perfect Tony Stark but we all know that by this point. It’s like he was born to play the role and everything else before this, as great as many of his films were, was just preparation for this role, the biggest thing he’s ever been a part of.

Jeff Bridges was fantastic as the first ever Marvel Cinematic Universe villain. He was a powerful and charismatic choice and still, better than most of the other villains that have come and gone. Granted, other than less than a handful of characters, Marvel has had an issue with managing their bad guys in these pictures.

This was a perfect start to the larger Avengers universe. I think we knew how good this was, at the time, but seeing it now, with so many other Marvel movies having come out after it, helps put into perspective how good this motion picture was.

Comic Review: The Savage Dragon, Vol. 1: Baptism of Fire

I recently watched a documentary about the formation of Image Comics in the early 1990s. It was a company that I immediately aligned myself with as a fan, as every artist that I loved at Marvel left and went independent in an effort to buck the system and make more money, all while having the creative freedom to do whatever the hell they wanted.

Erik Larsen left his cushy job at Marvel, working hard on the top Spider-Man titles, and brought his creation The Savage Dragon to Image. In fact, this series was so huge and successful upon its debut that it has had a long lasting effect, being only one of two of Image’s launch titles that continued to be published from its 1992 debut all the way into the 2010s. The other title was Todd McFarlane’s Spawn.

I actually haven’t read The Savage Dragon since the ’90s but I stuck with it for several years until later high school social responsibilities monopolized my schedule. Plus, I got burnt out on comics for awhile, even though I was once an aspiring comic book artist. I think I just picked up on how bad a lot of the ’90s comic book tropes were and when I did read comics, I was more driven to check out all the older classics that were readily available in my comic shop or in trade paperbacks in bookstores.

While The Savage Dragon is still cool, it does fall victim to some of these unavoidable tropes, just as the other Image Comics titles did. It has clunky, uninspiring writing, bad dialogue and some pretty awful character designs, especially where the villains are concerned. I think a lot of artists, whether they realized it or not, were taking creative cues from comic book wunderkind Rob Liefeld in how he loved big odd-looking guns, cyber body parts, metal masked villains with huge capes and well… just about everything that became synonymous with ’90s comics. In this first chapter of The Savage Dragon saga, I don’t know if Larsen even knew where he was going or if this was just more about experimentation.

Dragon is a cool hero and I’m happy that Larsen didn’t try to answer the mysteries of his past too soon. This collection covers his original four issue miniseries before he would go on to have an ongoing series. Enough is established here to get you interested in the characters and situations but there really isn’t much of a traditional story arc in this limited series’ narrative structure. It serves as a four-part origin story with just enough origin to get things rolling but certainly not the whole backstory of how Dragon came to be Dragon.

While I did like my experience in revisiting the earliest Dragon story arc, I’ll have to get back into the longer running series in order to get a real feel for the character and Larsen’s larger vision.

Book Review: ‘Man Up!: 367 Classic Skills for the Modern Guy’ by Paul O’Donnell

Man Up! is a pretty cool book. For one thing, out of the 367 skills, there is certainly a lot of stuff for every guy to learn. I don’t care who you are, there’s new skills in here for everyone. Now whether each “how to” is the best way to accomplish these tasks would have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis and since there’s 367 of them, I don’t have that sort of time.

Regardless, the book is pretty thorough for as many skills as it runs through. And after reading through them all, everything seems pretty straightforward and pretty kosher.

It isn’t a massive book but it is a decent size. The sections are well organized and similar things are categorized together. The illustrations are well done and add to the helpful nature of the book.

I enjoyed Man Up! quite a bit.

Film Review: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Also known as: Star Trek IV: The Adventure Continues (working title)
Release Date: June 1st, 1984
Directed by: Leonard Nimoy
Written by: Harve Bennett, Leonard Nimoy, Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes, Nicholas Meyer
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Catherine Hicks, Majel Barrett, John Schuck, Brock Peters, Grace Lee Whitney, Michael Berryman, Jane Wiedlin (cameo)

Paramount Pictures, 122 Minutes

Review:

“They like you very much, but they are not the hell your whales.” – Spock, “I suppose they told you that?” – Dr. Gillian Taylor, “The hell they did.” – Spock

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was the perfect film to follow the emotional roller coasters that were Star Trek II and Star Trek III. It was lighthearted, a ton of fun and I guess, the first and only Star Trek comedy film. However, it is still grounded in its roots and the comedy is mostly because of the crew we know and love finding themselves having to adapt to 1987 San Francisco culture in an effort to blend in and accomplish their time traveling mission. It’s actually cool seeing all these confident, savvy crew members, who are always at the top of their game, suddenly being awkward fish out of water in every situation they encounter.

This is also the third and final part of the trilogy of pictures that I like to refer to as The Genesis Trilogy. They aren’t officially a trilogy but all three films share a common plot thread and happen literally one after the other.

Like the previous film, this one is directed by Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy. This is also a superior film to the previous installment, even though I like Star Trek III a great deal. I feel like Nimoy really learned a lot on Trek III and took the lessons of that experience, better honed his skills and turned out this science fiction masterpiece.

Unlike the directing situation, the film’s music was created by newcomer to the series, Leonard Rosenman. While I much prefer the James Horner scores of TrekII and III, Rosenman created a bold and beautiful theme for the picture and it is still one of my favorite pieces of film music from the era. The overall score is fairly redundant, especially if you’ve watched the movie nine dozen times like I have, but it works well and captures the right kind of emotion for this picture.

The writing on this was absolutely fantastic. It had to have been a fun project to work on, as the Trek writers got to explore new territory in a new way. It was probably a nerve-racking task, to some degree, as there was really no way to know whether or not the fans were going to take to this drastic change in tone. However, in the end, Star Trek IV is a defining milestone in the franchise and also changed how future Star Trek stories were written. Humor became much more apparent in the television series that followed this film. The Next Generation, which came out a year later, was full of humor and fun adventures that took its crew out of their comfort zones. I don’t think that show or anything after it would have existed in quite the same way if it weren’t for Star Trek IV. Also, had the film not been a huge success, we might not have had new Star Trek projects for later generations.

The thing I love most about this movie, is every character has a purpose and their own mission to accomplish. We get Kirk and Spock on a mission, Bones and Scotty on another one, Uhura and Chekov go their own way and Sulu gets to fly an old school helicopter. The Bones and Scotty material is comedic gold, as is Chekov asking where to find the “nuu… clee… ar… wessels”.

A real highlight though, is Catherine Hicks joining the cast in this film. Her chemistry with Shatner, who she shares almost all of her scenes with, is great. I love the restaurant scene between the two where Kirk reveals who he is, where he’s from and why he’s there. It’s kind of a shame that we never got to see Hicks return after this film, as I feel like she had a lot to offer the franchise beyond just this one appearance. Plus, she was incredibly likable and witty.

When I was a kid and I had a bad day, I gravitated towards this movie. It was the right mixture of badass sci-fi and wholesome humor. It always sort of put me in the mood I wanted to be in. It still works the same way for me and honestly, this is the Star Trek movie I have seen the most. I’ve owned them all, pretty much my whole life, but this is the one that just resonates with me more than any other.

While most people will see this now and probably find flaws and be able to pick it apart, it has always been a film that is a true classic, in my eyes. It has just about everything I want: action, adventure, humor, William f’n Shatner, a Klingon Bird-of-Prey, a good environmental message, camaraderie between beloved characters, a deep dish pizza, outer space, a powerful score, good special effects and redemption for the crew.

I don’t care what anyone else thinks; this movie is absolutely perfect.