Film Review: Rampage (2018)

Release Date: April 4th, 2018 (Microsoft Theater premiere)
Directed by: Brad Peyton
Written by: Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, Adam Sztykiel
Based on: Rampage by Midway Games
Music by: Andrew Lockington
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Marley Shelton

New Line Cinema, Flynn Picture Company, Rickard Pictures, Seven Bucks Productions, Warner Bros., 107 Minutes

Review:

“Like my grandpappy always said, ‘Us assholes gotta stick together.'” – Harvey Russell

I wasn’t sure what to think going into this film. I am a massive fan of kaiju movies and I was a big fan of the Rampage video game when I was dropping quarters into it on the reg back in the ’80s. However, the game didn’t have a plot, really. It was just about playing as one of three monsters: a gorilla, a werewolf or a lizard. The only real purpose was to cause as much destruction as you possibly could: punching buildings into rubble and eating people hanging out of windows.

The film’s story actually did a decent job of explaining the creation of these giant creatures and their physics defying abilities.

For the most part, I really liked this movie. It was ridiculous in the best way possible and a ton of friggin’ fun. This is what a blockbuster should be. It doesn’t have to be scientifically accurate or attempt to be overly serious, it can be a balls to the wall smash’em up festival. And while that formula has worn thin and I’ve been critical of it in the past (*cough, cough Man of Steel), when done right and with an organic purpose, it can still work. It works here.

From a storyline standpoint, this is more engaging than the first Pacific Rim movie. I liked the plot of the second Pacific Rim much better, by the way. Rampage just does a good job with its human characters and also really makes you feel for George, the Rock’s large albino gorilla friend who turns into a menace, only to be cured of his aggression and turn into a hero that teams up with the Rock in taking down the other two monsters: the giant wolf and the giant alligator.

I also love the cast. The Rock, who prefers to just be Dwayne Johnson now but is and will always be The Rock to me, leads the charge but is backed up by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Joe Manganiello and Marley Shelton, the last two being in small roles, unfortunately.

But with The Rock, Morgan and Manganiello together in the same film, there is a testosterone overload that matches the beastly intensity of the three actual beasts in the film. I also loved Malin Akerman as a villainous corporate bitch in this. She was perfect, cold and still looking damn fine. In fact, having her and Morgan in this makes the film a mini Watchmen reunion.

I also really liked the Easter egg of having the old Rampage arcade game in Akerman’s office.

There are some goofy things about the movie. Okay, “some” is an understatement. However, it works for a movie with giant monsters tearing up Chicago and literally toppling the Sears Tower. I’m not going to get nitpicky and bitch too hard but sometimes the dialogue was forced and felt unnatural but this was usually in the moments where The Rock was yelling at green screen. There just seemed to be a disconnect at times, which isn’t the actor’s fault but for some reason certain bits felt off.

The creatures and their physical embellishments all worked for me and the special effects used to bring them to life was well done. I also like that they didn’t make the monsters too big like the Pacific Rim kaiju or the modern versions of Godzilla. The monsters don’t have to tower over the largest buildings, they just need to tower over the humans running away and the military might that confronts them.

Rampage isn’t a great motion picture in the terms of being cinematic art or something that the Academy would see as worthy of their consideration outside of special effects. However, it is a solid popcorn movie. Especially for those of us who can’t get enough modern kaiju films.

And if you are wondering if there is a scene where a monster eats a lady like in the video game, well… you won’t be disappointed. And frankly, it’s an awesome f’n moment.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The 2014 Godzilla remake, Kong: Skull Island and the Pacific Rim movies.

Film Review: Godzilla vs. The Wolfman (1983)

Also known as: Densetsu-no Kyoju Ookami Otoko tai Gojira, lit. Legendary Beast Wolfman Against Godzilla (Japan)
Release Date: Never released in a completed form (made in 1983)
Directed by: Shizuo Nakajima
Written by: unknown
Based on: Godzilla by Toho Co. Ltd., The Wolf Man by Universal Pictures
Music by: Akira Ifukube (stock music)
Cast: unknown

Unknown Running Time (about 15 Minutes has been released)

Review:

Godzilla vs. The Wolfman is a motion picture that was never completed. So I guess it is hard to review the film as a full body of work but being a big fan of Godzilla and the Wolf Man, as well as kaiju movies and “what ifs”, I had always been curious about this unfinished film.

This has been something that I’ve heard about for a few years but wasn’t sure whether or not it was some wild rumor or actually true. Well, I have now seen the footage that still exists and even shared it below, as opposed to the typical trailer I throw at the end of my film reviews.

From what I know of the plot, there is a werewolf loose in Japan. He happens to get irradiated and thus, grows to kaiju size. Godzilla crosses paths with this new menace and a big battle ensues. Godzilla is more similar to the ’50s Godzilla and what we would see a year after this in The Return of Godzilla. What I mean by that, is he isn’t the happy and heroic kid friendly kaiju of the late ’60s and early ’70s, he is more of a badass that doesn’t really care whether or not he ruins your town.

The werewolf transformation looks a lot like what was done in An American Werewolf In London and The Howling, a few years before this was made. For limited resources and not being made by an actual studio, it isn’t half bad.

The full-size giant Wolf Man suit is pretty damn cool. He looks like a white, arctic wolf and resembles a lynx more than an actual wolf but I dig it. As a monster, he is certainly very different than anything Godzilla has faced before. I love the unique take on the classic Wolf Man character. I guess he would be most similar to King Caesar from 1974’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla but even then, he is his own kaiju.

While this film did employ several people who had worked on Godzilla pictures before and after this, this was not being made by Toho like all the other films. This was essentially a fan film made by real kaiju movie makers.

Filming started in 1983 and went into the mid-’80s. The editing, sound design and visual effects production is still ongoing from what I’ve read. Currently, the clips that exist have Akira Ifukube’s old school Godzilla scores mixed into the action. I’m not sure if it is a place holder for something else to come or if this will even be completed. It’s hard to say but director Shizuo Nakajima claims that there is over ten hours of raw footage.

It is really well done for what it is and seeing it actually come together one day would be really cool. I just don’t know if Toho would ever allow that, as they’re very protective of the Godzilla brand.

As for now, I guess the world will have to enjoy the only footage that exists but at least we have something real to look at, as opposed to just rumors and speculation as to whether or not this film was just legend or fact.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: It’s pretty unique as a Godzilla movie but the tone is probably most like 1984’s The Return of Godzilla.

 

Comic Review: Kaijumax Season One: Terror and Respect

I love kaiju. I love comics. So how about a comic about kaiju?

I’ve heard good things about Zander Cannon’s past work and I laso heard good things about this series.

Unfortunately, and I am just as surprised as anyone, but this just didn’t resonate with me. It was very childlike in its art, which is fine but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. It was also very humorous and while I appreciate all the subtle references to other things within the kaiju genre, it wasn’t my sort of comedy.

I liked the concept, I liked the ideas, I even liked some of the characters but the story just doesn’t seem to stay on the rails very well.

This is more of an homage to the Ultraman pocket of the kaiju universe than say Godzilla or Gamera. I liked that too, as everyone wants to milk Godzilla to death and Ultraman is pretty underappreciated in Western culture. But ultimately, I’d rather just read an Ultraman story with a style of humor similar to what I like about that franchise’s comedic side.

Kaijumax was still a worthwhile experience because I love kaiju. This does resonate with others from what I’ve seen online, as far as reviews and reactions to it. I’m probably the odd man out and other kaiju fans will disagree with me.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Other releases in this series and also the IDW Godzilla comics, although those aren’t nearly as comedic.

Film Review: Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)

Also known as: Pacific Rim 2, Solar Rim (alternate titles), Pacific Rim: Maelstrom (working title)
Release Date: March 15th, 2018 (Vue West End premiere)
Directed by: Steven S. DeKnight
Written by: Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, Steven S. DeKnight, T.S. Nowlin
Based on: characters by Travis Beacham
Music by: Lorne Balfe
Cast: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Jing Tian, Cailee Spaeny, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Adria Arjona, Zhang Jin

Legendary Pictures, UpperRoom Entertainment Limited, DDY, Universal Pictures, 111 Minutes

Review:

This sequel has been a long time coming. It has been in development since the original came out and was a surprise success in the summer of ’13. Guillermo del Toro was slated to direct it, as he did the first one. However, as time rolled on, he left the project to work on other movies. He still produced the film, though.

I liked the original, even if I don’t feel like it holds up with repeated viewings. I had high hopes that this one would at least be an entertaining popcorn movie. I did have some skepticism, however, as the trailers didn’t due much to peak my interest. Nevertheless, I wanted to give it a fair shot because I have been a fan of kaiju pictures since I discovered them as a small child.

To be completely honest, this film that I had some low expectations for, ended up being better than its predecessor. I don’t think that most people will feel the same way but the issues I had with the first movie were mostly fixed with this chapter.

My biggest complaint about the first Pacific Rim is that everything looked generic. Jaegers looked similar and didn’t have exciting designs, all the kaiju were pretty boring and redundant minus a few alterations and every battle was at night giving more visual pizzazz to the cityscapes than the actual titans battling. I liked Pacific Rim but it was pretty unimaginative from a guy as creative as Guillermo del Toro.

Another problem with the first movie, is that it is too basic from a narrative standpoint. Monsters show up, man makes robots, robots smash monsters. Sure, there are a few side plot threads too but it’s a simple movie.

Lastly, the final battle was some shitty underwater thing and the big bad boss at the end wasn’t really that cool.

In this new film, all of these issues are corrected.

The Jaegers have much cooler and unique designs, color schemes and are mostly seen during daylight hours. Also, their enemies don’t just consist of generic kaiju. Our hero Jaegers fight an evil Jaeger, as well as Jaeger/kaiju hybrids and in the end, three powerful kaiju that form into one incredibly massive kaiju like some sort of reptilian Voltron.

The plot was also more layered, had twists and surprises and wasn’t a predictable experience. There were new threats that were unexpected, a main villain twist that was awesome and the mythos was expanded on and enriched by new concepts and developments.

The final battle was beautifully done with a much better final monster than the previous outing. Sure, it is a CGI festival but it is all out in the open, takes place in Tokyo like a proper kaiju movie, moves on to Mt. Fuji and has a pretty incredible final blow to the giant creature.

Pacific Rim: Uprising feels like an anime come to life in the best way possible. It’s over the top, ridiculous and incredible in its scope and scale. But it feels right. And it is f’n fun.

I found myself caring about this cast much more than the one of the previous film. John Boyega and Scott Eastwood were a better macho duo than Charlie Hunnam and Rob Kazinsky from the first film. They had more personality, better charisma and didn’t seem like generic muscle heads mindlessly locking horns, huffing and puffing, to prove who was more alpha whenever there were onlookers.

One aspect of this film that I loved was that regular people are now building their own Jaegers. The girl in the film built a small but very cool and effective Jaeger. Actually, it is my favorite robot from this film series. I hope that this is a concept that is explored more in a sequel. Having hundreds of patched together, homemade Jaegers running into battle would be a cool sight.

I already know that my opinion of liking this more than the original will not be a popular one. People love Guillermo del Toro like they they love Joss Whedon: with blind, undying faith because they created something really, really good once.

This film is also heavy on action… real heavy. People will say it’s a soulless imitation of that “auteur” del Toro’s original vision. Well, even with being action heavy, it has more narrative depth and more creativity crammed into that soullessness than the original film.

There is destruction on a massive scale, lots of battles and once you get to the first big action sequence, the film does not really let up on the high octane intensity. But that is exactly what this film is supposed to be. It’s a friggin’ kaiju movie. It also has giant robots. You don’t go to see these things for anything but entertainment and because it pairs well with a giant bucket of popcorn and a giant bucket of soda pop.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Pacific Rim, the 2014 American Godzilla remake, Kong: Skull Island.

Film Review: Big Man Japan (2007)

Also known as: Dai-Nihonjin (original Japanese title), The Demon, The Electric Man, The Man of Electricity (Alternate Japanese English titles)
Release Date: June 2nd, 2007 (Japan)
Directed by: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Written by: Hitoshi Matsumoto, Mitsuyoshi Takasu
Music by: Tōwa Tei
Cast: Hitoshi Matsumoto, Riki Takeuchi, Ua, Ryūnosuke Kamiki

Phantom Film, Shochiku, 113 Minutes

Review:

Some movies are so bizarre and unique that they sort of just exist on their own and there isn’t much you can compare them to. Big Man Japan is one of those movies.

The film is sort of a parody of the kaiju and tokusatsu genres in Japan. It is filmed in a documentary style and follows Masaru Daisatō, who is his generation’s version of Japan’s protector, Big Man Japan. BMJ, as I’ll call him for short, is a regular man that when electrocuted, grows to kaiju size and fights off evil kaiju that happen to show up and wreck havoc in Japan’s urban areas. The twist, is that Masuro doesn’t really care all that much about his duty and is sort of a lonely drunk that doesn’t have much to do when he isn’t called into action. When the action does happen, he’s pretty out of shape and not very good at his job. Masuro has a wife and child, who he barely sees, as well as a manager that takes advantage of him and sells his body to advertisers while she reaps the benefits and Masuro continues to live near poverty level.

The majority of the film is about Masuro’s life but there are plenty of kaiju battles between BMJ and a bunch of different monsters, each of which is incredibly strange and very original. We don’t have a rehash of GodzillaUltramanKamen Rider or Super Sentai styled giant beasts, Instead, we get humanoid looking giants with weird deformities and unusual powers. There’s a hugging monster, a stink monster, an infant monster, an eyeball tossing monster and a bunch of others. Each battle is different and entertaining but ultimately lead to BMJ fudging it up in some way. The final monster is a devil that BMJ can’t handle but he ends up having help from a family of giant space heroes that are an obvious parody of the heroes from Ultraman. In fact, that whole battle switches to an Ultraman styled fight once those heroes show up. It is a fitting and satisfying ending to the film, especially for fans of the Ultraman franchise.

The special effects aren’t great and are pretty silly looking. The battles aren’t a huge part of the movie, even though there are a lot of them, but the effects during those battles initially pulls you out of the film due to their lack of realism when compared to the documentary style of the rest of the film. However, after a battle or two, you adjust to the effects and they start to work just fine. Besides, they fit within the more modern tokusatsu style but may look cheap and unrefined to someone comparing this to an American blockbuster.

Hitoshi Matsumoto starred in, directed and wrote this film. He exceeded in each task and gave us something highly enjoyable, goofy and really, original. That’s hard to do but Matsumoto really hit it out of the park for his first feature length motion picture.

Big Man Japan might not resonate with everyone and it certainly only speaks to a particular audience, which is pretty minuscule in the United States, but it is so outside of the box that it is a worthy experience for those just wanting something different. I really like the film but I also love the kaiju and tokusatsu genres.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: General tokusatsu television programs from the era.

Book Review: ‘Ready Player One: A Novel’ by Ernest Cline

I have heard great things about this book for a few years now. I have meant to read it but life is a busy bitch most of the time. However, I definitely wanted to experience and know the book before the Steven Spielberg film adaptation of it hit theaters, which happens later this month.

I didn’t really know what to expect but I did know that the film primarily takes place in a virtual world and was littered with a shit ton of pop culture references, primarily from the 1980s. I grew up at the same time as the author (and the genius mastermind who built an empire in the book) and I knew that this would mostly likely jive with me.

It’s a book that really taps into the nostalgia of the 1980s and for someone who was there, it is really hard to avoid getting sucked into this tale. Cline wrote this with a lot of passion and it mirrors the passion I had, as well as my friends, back in the ’80s when we were experiencing all of these things first hand. Nostalgia alone can’t carry a story, however.

Although, with or without nostalgia as a real driving force in the creative direction of this book, the characters were all very good and you cared for them and their quest. Wade, the main character, really reflected a lot of myself and I’m sure Ernest Cline, in his love and appreciation for all of these pop culture things. He also reflected back who my friends were in childhood and in my teen years.

Wade’s friends were sort of a combination of typical ’80s kids mixed with the social norms of modern times, as nowadays, many people only know each other online and haven’t actually met in person. Not that that’s actually a bad thing but the book makes a point to remind us all to step outside of the OASIS (the virtual world) and to truly connect with people in the flesh. In fact, an important piece of advice is given to Wade at the end, and that is that true happiness can only be found “out there” (the real physical world).

Wade does find happiness but he finds much more than that too. He has to deal with tragedy, loss, a truly broken heart and the weight of the world being on his shoulders. While his goal is to win the contest within the story, his true goal is to save the digital world from a corporate giant who seeks to exploit it for profit and in effect, control everything in the real world due to how tied into the OASIS everyone has become.

There is a big ’80s pop culture boom going on, right now. Especially after the success of Stranger ThingsIt and other shows and films that sort of bring people back to that era from a childlike point of view. Ready Player One came out at the perfect time and maybe it will open the door to that cultural era for younger generations to appreciate.

I liked this book for a lot of reasons. But after reading it, I can’t really envision how this can even translate to screen. Sure, I’ve seen the trailers and they’ve got me pretty excited but this is such a unique story that I can’t imagine that adapting it won’t be an immense challenge, even for a legend like Steven Spielberg. I guess we’ll see in less than a month’s time how this pans out.

I’m not a big fan of dropping spoilers but sometimes it is unavoidable in a review. However, I’m not going to say how or when or why but this book has one of the most badass moments in literary history when Ultraman shows up to battle Mechagodzilla. I mean, holy f’n shit, that whole sequence in the book had me smiling like Aech after being exposed to Smylex hygiene products.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Just about every pop culture reference wedged between its covers.

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.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other Godzilla island movies: Son of GodzillaEbirah, Horror of the Deep, etc.