Book Review: ‘The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: Vol. 2: 1984-2014’ by John LeMay

The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: Vol. 2 is a perfect continuation of what started in the first volume.

The first volume, which I have already reviewed, covered kaiju films through the Shōwa period. That is the era that most people are familiar with when it comes to the Godzilla and Gamera franchises.

This second volume covers the Heisei and Millennium eras. These are the films that were part of the attempts to resurrect the franchises in the 80s and 90s. They are lesser known in the United States but still beloved kaiju pictures.

John LeMay wrote this book in the exact same format as the previous one and I’m a fan of the way he organizes his information. He lists out the essential credits (similar to how I start my film reviews), then he gives a rundown of the plot, goes into the history and production of the film and then caps off each section with some trivia tidbits.

LeMay does a fantastic job of providing real context to each film he talks about. Also, the trivia bits are usually filled with facts that even I, someone who has been immersed in kaiju films for decades, didn’t know.

There are a lot of books you can get about kaiju movies but this and its predecessor are must owns for loyal fans of the genre.

Documentary Review: Room 237 (2012)

Release Date: January 23rd, 2012 (Sundance)
Directed by: Rodney Ascher
Music by: Jonathan Snipes, William Hutson, The Caretaker, Wendy Carlos, Rachel Elkind

IFC Films, IFC Midnight, 102 Minutes

Review:

If you are a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining, you will probably be pretty interested in this film.

Room 237 is a pretty meaty documentary about the hidden messages and imagery within The Shining.

You see, some people believe that Kubrick’s films all had hidden meanings and messages. Being that this is his most horrifying film, I guess it was the one that has generated the most theories and obsessive-compulsive analysis.

This documentary could be a journey into madness.

What I mean by that, is that this film allows five different “intellectual” types go on rants about all their theories and “discoveries” in this film. Some theories seem pretty plausible but most do not. Then there are those that go so far off of the deep end that it is hard taking any of this too seriously. One guy goes on a rant about how Kubrick used this film to cleanse his soul from the guilt he felt after the government supposedly used him to fake the moon landing.

This film is full of a lot of bullshit and unfortunately, in all these shared theories by people’s whose faces we never see on camera, no one offers up any real evidence. Everything we are presented with is just the speculation of people who have obsessed over this film for decades. If you stare at something long enough, you can start to make connections to anything you want. It’s like people who read Nostradamus’ bullshit cryptic poetry and think that he predicted the Holocaust and 9/11. In fact, I almost feel like Alex Jones woke up one day and decided to make a conspiracy film about The Shining.

The thing is, despite my criticisms, I still really liked this movie. While many theories were way over the top, this film was still entertaining as hell to someone who has watched The Shining almost annually and who suffers from a mild form of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I then saw my own “hidden message”. I saw that the people talking in this film, were actually symbolically stuck in Room 237. They became too fixated on all of this and walked into the room where you aren’t supposed to go. Now they sit in there, obsessed and haunted over things they can’t understand but have to decipher: trapped by an almost supernatural power that fuels their obsession and steals their sanity. And maybe that is the point of this film.

I think that this is a film worth watching if you are a Kubrick fan or just like conspiracy theories.

When questioned about this film recently, Stephen King referred to it as “academic bullshit.” I don’t really disagree with him but it is academic bullshit that is fun to watch.

Book Review: ‘151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen’ by Leonard Maltin

Along with Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel and Gene Shalit, Leonard Maltin was one of my favorite critics to read and watch when I was younger. I’ve always appreciated his work and his contribution to his craft and for how he has shined a light on several films I might not have seen or given a chance otherwise. Also, he gets brownie points for hosting those George Lucas interviews on the VHS re-release of the original Star Wars trilogy in 1995.

In Maltin’s 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, he gives us a list and a personal summary and account of 151 films that flew under the radar. These are Maltin’s favorites that never seemed to be big hits with the masses. Granted, despite the title, I had already seen about twenty of them and heard of at least half. I am a obsessive compulsive film watching freak, though.

In any event, Maltin gives his readers a big list of movies to check out. These are the films he is most passionate about that out of the thousands he’s seen, deserve to be recognized and enjoyed despite their lack of notoriety.

As with everything that Leonard Maltin writes, his passion for the subjects he discusses really shines through. Maltin has a keen way of sharing his enthusiasm and getting you just as excited about something as he is.

151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen is a pretty strong piece of work that sells these motion pictures quite well and I plan to use this book as a guide, as I work my way through the films I can get a hold of from this list.

This book also makes me appreciate Leonard Maltin, as a critic, even more. Additionally, it makes me want to delve into his other titles that I’ve missed over the years.

Documentary Review: Document of the Dead (2012)

Release Date: November 13th, 2012
Directed by: Roy Frumkes
Music by: Rick Ulfik

Synapse Films, 66 Minutes (1979 cut), 85 Minutes (1989 cut), 102 Minutes (2012 cut)

Review:

Document of the Dead is a documentary that has been released at three different times, as it has been updated and expanded throughout the years.

Initially, it was about the making of Goerge A. Romero’s 1978 classic Dawn of the Dead. Since then, it has looked behind the scenes at some of his other films, as well as checked in with the man and those close to him from 1978 up through 2006.

It is a sort of disjointed documentary, as the additions are very apparent in a way that distracts from the narrative. Also, the documentary jumps around a lot. It is entertaining and informative but it is a mess too.

I am reviewing the 2012 version, the final one released, so I can’t really say if the earlier versions, especially the 1979 original version, were more coherent. Anyway, it is the 1979 material that is the most compelling anyway.

Some of the cool things in this are seeing Tom Savini put the makeup on the Dawn of the Dead zombies, as well as his stunt work. Also, just seeing the behind the scenes stuff is cool, especially on an old school movie like this where DVD extras were still twenty years away.

Document of the Dead, while not a great documentary, is still a cool look into the world of Romero from a filmmaking point-of-view. For fans of Romero’s Dead series, it is certainly worth checking out.

Book Review: ‘Joe Bob Goes Back to the Drive-In’ by Joe Bob Briggs

After reading Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In I had to get my hands on its sequel Joe Bob Goes Back to the Drive-In.

This book is essentially more of the same. While the first book covers Joe Bob’s tenure as a movie critic for the Dallas Times Herald, this book follows his stint at the Dallas Observer, following his firing from the Herald. It also leads up to when he left the newspapers behind and went on to host The Movie Channel’s popular series Dirve-In Theater.

This book has tons of great reviews of drive-in and grindhouse classics. This volume spans the mid to late 1980s and even gets into VHS reviews, as changing technologies were causing drive-ins to shutdown across the United States.

Joe Bob writes in his gonzo style, as he did with the previous book. However, there are less personal stories about the colorful characters that populated his first volume. Here, we get more into his social and political views. He also experiments with the format a bit more. Honestly though, I liked his more straight up gonzo style that he used at the Dallas Times Herald, which is featured in the first book.

In any event, this is still a hilarious read and Joe Bob covers a lot of films, many I already knew and some I didn’t. The man had a talent for picking out some really obscure yet interesting pictures during his time as a film reviewer.

If you are a fan of Joe Bob Briggs, these books are great to have. The first one is slightly better but this one is still a great piece of work where Joe Bob pulls no punches and goes for the throat with every article featured in the book.

Book Review: ‘How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime’ by Roger Corman

How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime should probably be required reading for students in film school. While it doesn’t discuss the basics of making a film, it is a firsthand account of how to be frugal and resourceful when making a motion picture.

While this is an autobiography of filmmaking legend Roger Corman, it focuses much more on his life as a director and producer than it does on his childhood or his personal life. Sure, it discusses those things but the bulk of its focus is on Corman’s projects and the challenges he faced with some of his best-known films.

Corman runs through his very early pictures. He then gets into some of his late 50s horror classics like Little Shop of HorrorsBucket of Blood and a few others. After that, he gets to my favorite era of his career, those Vincent Price starring Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. Corman then delves into his projects with Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern and a young Jack Nicholson.

Following the bulk of his career where he was a director, Corman details the reasons why he started focusing on producing over directing and how he started his own production company New World Pictures. There is also a lot about his relationship with American International Pictures over the years. He even talks about one of his failures but also one of his passion projects, the William Shatner starring The Intruder.

The book also features the insight of several of Corman’s collaborators. We get to hear from Jack Nicholson, Dick Miller, Peter Fonda, Vincent Price, Bruce Dern, Dennis Hopper, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Joe Dante and more.

How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime is a pretty cool book for those who are fans of Roger Corman’s work. He spent decades bucking the system and very rarely failed. He paved the way for lots of young filmmakers and actors and was very instrumental in shaping the movie industry into what it is today.

When the independent studios rose, after decades of tyranny from the majors, Corman was front and center. He may not be as famous as Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese but they owe their careers to his hard work.

Book Review: ‘Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters’ by August Ragone

Eiji Tsuburaya might not be a big name to American film lovers but he is a special effects titan in Japan.

For those that don’t know the man, he was the one who created the special effects in the earlier Godzilla films. He was the man behind the monsters and also the miniatures and the elaborate sets.

He also worked on several spectacular war films for Toho when he was between Godzilla and other kaiju projects for them.

Tsuburaya took his experience at Toho and created his own studio, Tsuburaya Productions, where he gave the world Ultra Q and quickly after that Ultraman, which grew into a massive franchise with more monsters than even Godzilla could imagine.

Tsuburaya Productions also created a slew of other television shows and movies for Japanese kids. Some of his other works also spawned franchises. The character of Booska, a Tsuburaya creation, is essentially Japan’s equivalent to Mickey Mouse.

This book is nice and thick and pretty large. It is full of behind the scenes pictures of Eiji Tsuburaya on many of the sets where he created monsters and miniatures to do battle. The book is also a biography and it covers the life of the man and his work.

For kaiju fans, this book is definitely a must own. It has great information on the film and television projects that Tsuburaya worked on and it gives some insight as to why he made certain monsters the way he did.

This is one of the best things in my massive library and I can’t praise the book enough.