Godzilla King of the Monsters (2019)

thumpMicheal Dougherty’s GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS is a brilliant addition to the GODZILLA canon. Brilliant? Really? Yes, and I will explain.

First, I must complain about the fact that these monsters (sillily called Titans) are NOT people in rubber suits. This is the singular major fault of the movie.

The rubber Godzilla suit’s appeal, to me, comes from the feeling that childhood play is brought to magical life.  Rubber suited Godzilla stands in for the child smashing through the complexly arranged bedroom dioramas of action figures.

Yet while the Godzilla costume is tactile, massive, heavy and its reality is felt in the action – it is slow, bulky, and overly static in its limited puppetry. All of which prove to be drawbacks for action sequences. Compare these two sequences:

hug 1hug 2

The older scene has none of the fluidity of the CGI. But that fluidity can be confusing to the eye, as its animation is fudged with shadows and purposeful blurring. The older scene is clearly limited by the bulky props and the coordinated timing of strings, while the CGI scene exists in a limitless canvas where everything can be expertly fine-tuned and manipulated.

Okay. Having said all that, GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS gets just about everything right.

In every single Godzilla movie ever made, the human story line is usually tedious and secondary to the Main Event – making a humongous mess of buildings. The humans usually have too much to do and too many meetings and usually end up fretting and failing.

So plot-wise, GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS carries on that proud tradition. The movie picks up where the 2014 GODZILLA leaves off, kinda. I mean, sure it does. There is a gizmo that can calm the TITANS down because it communicates an alpha sounding tone. That gizmo proves to be the prime mover for the human action. Ultimately, it sets up the final battle as well, ushered in by a kid. There is a side quest to help Godzilla that leads to heroic sacrifice and a super cool underwater lair, which adds a half an hour to the human screen time.

But let’s get to the stars of the movie. One by one, the iconic monsters get a great deal of screen time and each manages to squeeze in some real humor and personality. One of the problems with the newer remakes is the cold, deadness to the monsters. So seeing the sneaky sneer or a the playfully impatient snap of a head, brings back the much needed charisma to the individual monsters.

godzillaGodzilla. He is bulky, muscular, and very, very large. Again, his features are more professional boxer than adorable kitty cat. Unlike in the 2014 movie, we get to see a lot of him. Plus he has two of the best entrances of his career and neither have to do with his sniffing out the humans. But it is clear that Godzilla understands the role of the humans in his world, while he may not care, he tolerates them – like pets. Godzilla is the star of the movie and makes it known each time he is on screen. Plus there are throwback references to each of the traditional eras. Unlike previous incarnations, Godzilla powers up the atomic firebreath, often and without the traditional audience-teasing puffery.

mothraMothra. Without her fairies to wake her and a bit underused, her redesign works well. Mothra looks more insect like, which off-sets the magical splendor of her wing span and benevolent symbolic link to Godzilla. But again, I would have loved to have seen more of the inchworm larvae state squirting cocoon spray at monster and human, alike, because her awakening is excitingly promising. Unfortunately, she does not have a lot of screen time, but I do not fault the movie, since Mothra, by her very nature, is a martyr.

rodanRodan is a complete dick. I mean that in the most loving way possible. As the volcanic fire monster, his anger and painfulness seem to exude from his sharp edges and squinty orange eyes. His personality is the strongest of the monsters. He spends the most time interacting with the humans, singling them out and fighting them as one would swat at sleepy house flies. Rodan gets the best “death” scene and the best mugging bow at the end. One suspects he is currently angling for his own film, as we speak.

ghidorahGhidorah. Monster Zero. The false King. Emerging every time he snakes onto the screen, Ghidorah is a marvel. First he emerges from the ice, then sheets of rain, then thunderous bolts of lightning, then billowing storm clouds, each and every entrance calculated to obscure his size and minimize targets.  Monster Zero’s three heads interact like bickering siblings, shoving and snapping and teasing each other. His wingspan silouette is used to maximum effectiveness without getting in the way of the action. Instead the long snake-like necks dart around with a squirming deadly effectiveness. Ghidorah sees the humans and is interested enough to ponder them for a second or two. Lightning breath is finally scary and powerful, unlike the cartoon streaking randomness of the older films. Ghidorah’s storm is intentional and overwhelmingly placed.

So.

Overall, this is a brilliant addition to the canon. GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS will hold up for years to come. And may be remembered as the first Godzilla movie the American’s got right.

 

 

 

Cannibals aka White Cannibal Queen (1980)

cannibal facepaintJesus Franco’s awful CANNIBALS is awful. Not just because it is cannbisplotation, but because it skimps on the gore and natives – the two most important elements in this horror sub-genre.

The plot is as absurd as the cannibal tribe’s tailgating makeup and modest underwear poking out under their “loin cloths.” Basically, a man loses his family to a ridiculous cannibal attack on a boat – the cannibals eat a couple of the people and kidnap one daughter. The father’s arm is eaten off in the cannibal camp. Then he somehow escapes. The father survives the attack and after a silly recovery period, returns to the jungle to rescue his daughter.

Meanwhile, in the years that have passed his daughter has become the WHITE CANNIBAL QUEEN. So she is kinda ambivalent about leaving her pretty sweet jungle kingdom – especially, since it does not seem that the cannibal tribe is all that busy eating people.

Dad arrives and is again NOT eaten right up. Instead, his daughter recognizes him and tries to free him from his captivity. But instead of just running away, they team return and easily abduct the WHITE CANNIBAL QUEEN. A silly chase ensues that ends with hand to hand combat in a river. Anticlimaxes quickly follow one another and everyone just walks away. CREDITS.

That is waaaay more detail than the plot or this movie deserves. But there you go.

The worst part of Franco’s CANNIBALS is the gore. I suppose due to the lack of proper budget for a real special effects team, they just went to the local butchers and bought some scraps. Or maybe it was latex nonsense. It was impossible to tell as all the people eating is filmed in slow motion and incredibly close up. It is incredibly ineffectual and makes the horror boring.

Of course there are worse cannibal movies out there, but I challenge you to name one.

 

 

The Gardner aka Seeds of Evil (1974)

gardenerJames H. Kay’s only movie has at least three different titles, which is good since it’s been shopped around midnight theaters since its release. THE GARDENER aka SEEDS OF EVIL aka GARDEN OF DEATH’s lingering legacy rests solely on the naked shoulders of Little Joe.

The plot is, actually, coherent. A mysterious Gardner seems to have a way with plants on rich peoples’ estates. He is a magic man who does not own a shirt and lives in the greenhouse. Or somewhere among the pots. All the wives of leisure are particularly smitten with his firm body and lovely flowers.

There is a subplot about murder and a slight diversion into a detective story of sorts, as one wife attempts to piece together the Gardner’s shady past. In the end, the sinister Gardener turns into a tree, maybe, and is burned as revenge for all his/it’s killings.

The movie is actually better than it ought to be – the acting, aside from the ever awkward, wooden Joe Dellasandro – the cast of rich elites provide melodramatic banter and populate their patios and parties with a believable acumen. BUT. That is not to say the movie IS good. It is deadly boring and the single instance of horror is poorly lit and stupidly filmed.

It is amazing to see Joe Dellasandro pretend to care for plants tho. Its like your dumb friend got a job at the local plant store, he can’t help anyone, but looks great doing that.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

watzitRobert Aldrich’s KISS ME DEADLY is the second film outing for Mickey Spillane’s dirt bag anti-hero Mike Hammer. Ralph Meeker does a fantastic job embodying the sheer unlikeability of Hammer. Meeker exudes a womanizing sociopath with a lean stance and side smile. He is a selfish jerk.

The plot of KISS ME DEADLY seems standard enough. A barefooted woman is running down the night road only to be picked up by our blockhead Mike Hammer. Hey look everyone its Cloris Leachman in her film debut!

She ends up dead and Hammer ends up chasing the great whatzit, which turns out to be a nuclear bomb, I guess. In pursuit a lot of people end up getting bumped off – including Hammer’s best friend, Nick, auto mechanic. Though the mayhem Hammer maintains a stoic distance, hoping beyond hope, that he will become rich at the end of the picture. Instead he is most likely dead within a month due to radiation sickness.

KISS ME DEADLY has two great sequences. First is the police interrogation of Hammer where the cops ask each other questions and answer the questions themselves, while Hammer sits there quietly smoking. It is subtle and hilarious. Second is the whole sequence where Hammer waltzes into the big bad’s house. He is met by Friday, the perfect film noir dame, boozy, loose, and hiding her real agenda. It is a decadent slice of the idealized California criminal class – one that will constantly reappear as crime bosses love pools and bikini clad “girlfriends.”

The ending of this is truly hilarious even by 1955 standards…

 

Ice Station Zebra (1968)

war gamesJohn Sturges’ ICE STATION ZEBRA is a cinematic EVENT! It has a musical prelude, an intermission, and a musical finale to let the audience down easy after such a tense movie. Only the movie is not tense at all. In fact, it drags along like a glacier.

Based on a novel by Alistair MacLean, an author who proved to be the bain of my freshman year of high school. We were forced to read H.M.S. ULYSSES as summer reading because of the singular sacrifice of the plot. Gah.

Typical of the 1950s/60s thrillers, MacLean wrote heroes fraught with limited skill and intelligence. For instance, Ernest Borgnine’s “Russian Defector” is clearly the bad guy, but his slow and steady machinations would never work in today’s frantic, kinetic superhuman thriller world.

The whole movie creeps along at this snail’s pace. The longest action sequence is a model submarine narrowly missing juts of ice. The sequence is excruciating as the radar man calls out meaningless coordinates and the helm guys wiggle knobs. I am sure it is highly authentic to the actual steering methods of a nuclear submarine, but fictionalized procedural realism leads to hokey action sequences.

Ultimately, this is a movie about MEN doing MEN stuff. Whipping Marines into shape. Double-Crossing each other. Spying and shit. Digging in the ice. Standing on the Bridge looking into screens. Carrying guns. Men mistrusting each other. And finally, standing up to the Rooskis. No one has much to do, actually.

But there is an intermission.

 

Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly (1970)

girly_101970 was a busy year for Freddie Francis. Not only did he direct MUMSY, NANNY, SONNY, AND GIRLY, but he also helmed the Joan Crawford horror picture, TROG!

Part family satire and part horror comedy, MUMSY, NANNY, SONNY, AND GIRLY is all “strange film.” The premise is that of a clearly insane group of people all live as a family in a run down manor. They keep up appearances, of sorts, having devised a grand “Game” around family life…and murder.

Sonny and Girly scamper out into the world, frequenting parks, playgrounds, and hippie happenings to pick up a New Friend. This typically drunk, unsuspecting man is ushered back to their sick, strange, perverted home. The “family” inducts each New Friend around a dinner table – SYMBOLISM ALERT – where the Rules of the Game are explained. If the New Friend is willing to play the Game, he is kept alive, otherwise…CHOP CHOP.

So what happens when the latest New Friend has a game of his own to play? Michael Bryant’s hipster male escort introduces sex into the fake Family dynamic. Jealously and rage ensue as the three women turn on each other.

GIRLY is an odd film. Adapted from a stage play, the pacing is not great and the humor falls flat. But it is the failings of this movie as both a black comedy, sex romp, and social satire that give it much of its charm. It is a horrible world these characters inhabit, so completely disconnected and decayed, few films capture the banal insanity of family lunacy with such acute disdain. Not to mention the clear mean-spiritedness of “female competition” for male affection.

Ah British horror…

 

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

pretty danceDrew Goddard’s BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE has all the hallmarks of a Drew Goddard property. In fact, it’s Drew Goddard does Tarantino Noir, but that is not to disparage the film because it is highly enjoyable – if not all that original.

Five people arrive at a desert hotel. At first the conceit that the El Royale straddles two state lines seems like a big deal, but like most of the movie’s threads, it is really there just to add texture to the dialogue. Anyway, each person has a secret or ulterior motive for staying at the hotel, all of which convene in a climatic showdown in the main lobby.

There are some big stars in this movie sharing the stage, none of them are the primary focus of the narrative. Instead, the script is a game of sorts, interweaving the various characters together in a fun quilt of diving suffering and comeuppance. Like traditional crime noir, the darkness inside each of us is the prime mover, the ultimate Mcguffin. But Goddard is known for twisting the tropes in pseudo-meta ways. For instance, see CABIN IN THE WOODS, ALIAS or LOST.

The overlapping time line of the movie is borrowed most successfully. Unlike Tarantino who’s singular purpose is to demonstrate HIS wit, BAD TIMES AND THE EL ROYALE uses the wavy character’s timelines in credible plot building while never quite forecasting the bare knuckle surprise punches as the plot lines converge. Goddard is friendlier than Tarantino in presenting his material, more comic book than unwatchable art film.

All said, I really enjoyed watching this one and would recommend it to all the squares out there who might have missed this ensemble layer cake movie.  Plus Thor is great as a sleazy cult leader, menacing and believable.

Sisters Brothers (2018)

sisters brothersJacques Audiard’s adaptation of Patrick DeWitt’s novel THE SISTERS BROTHERS begins with a bang then crawls toward a lazy conclusion.

In the opening scene of the movie John C Reilly’s Eli and Joaquin Phoenix’s Charlie, the  hired killers of the title, attack a farm house with a chaotic glee. The fire that erupts in the barn provides the most gorgeously startling image of the movie – a galloping horse its mane blazingly on fire. It is a Dali-esque image which I thought would establish the weird reality of the novel.

The next few scenes where the brothers are in town accepting their next assignment for the evil and mysterious – The Commodore – continues the insanely funny banter between the two. In the novel, Eli and Charlie are constantly bickering, theorizing, and otherwise entertaining themselves at each other’s expense.  DeWitt’s dialogue perfectly captures the boredom and familiarity and long standing jokey grudges of bothers. Sadly, the movie abandons this back and forth relationship.

Lost, too, is the strangeness and incongruity of the wilderness. Nature is uncanny enough, as proven by the spider attack, but add man’s attempt to conquer that landscape and the result is dreamscape of ruinous wonder. While the movie does set up some of these moments, they seem after thoughts, stuffed in between plot points.

THE SISTERS BROTHERS suffers because it is too conventional of a western. The character’s weirdness is somehow lost in the pacing and writing, they are never given the opportunity to order a salad in a frontier saloon or marvel at the smallness of the human project under the endless sky.

Having said that though, I love westerns. And this is a fine one, if you are unfamiliar with the marvelous source material. In short, the book was better.

Sinful Dwarf (1973)

gaaahjack

Vidal Raski’s weirdly un-erotic SINFUL DWARF is an more an experiment in cinéma-vérité than it is a successfully executed video nasty. The most notable schlock element is the lumbering gait of the titular dwarf, Olaf. Aside from his atrocious accent, his most menacing trait are his arched eyebrows. A feature that became highly distracting to me because of his uncanny resemblance to Jack Black.

The plot is simple enough. In order to maintain their home, Mother and Son kidnap girls, get them addicted to heroin, and use them as prostitutes. The seediness of their attic dungeon is pretty amazing – they live naked on bare mattresses with a single toilet shoved into a closet.

Meanwhile, downstairs, Mother and her lady friend drink vodka until it is time to re-enact the old cabaret act. Mother dons costumes while Olaf hammers on the piano. There are three of the numbers – two more than the poorly light all butt humping “porn-y” sex scene. So hooray for show tunes!

Olaf’s behavior is incredibly consistent and regular, he just wants to fiddle with his windup toys and watch the goings and comings of the johns visiting the prostitutes. He sneers some, but does not seem to derive any pleasure from his voyeurism.

There is a hapless couple who fall into the clutches of these two weirdos. These two provide the bad sex and the driving engine of the downfall of the SINFUL DWARF. In a truly stupid scheme to kidnap the wife, the husband is hired by the drug dealer, Santa Claus, to run a box of heroin stuffed teddy bears around. This, of course, does not work out well for Olaf or his Mother as distraught hubby pieces it all together and runs to the cops.

The ending features a daring rescue, a dead cop, and a falling dwarf. Which is actually, very poignant.

 

 

The Killer Nun (1979)

killer nunGiulio Berruti’s silly KILLER NUN is a fine addition to the “nunsploitation” sub-genre of grindhouse video nasties. Anita Ekberg, frequent target of home robberies and on the downward spiral of her career, stars as Sister Gertrude – the head of a mental ward and the prime suspect in a series of patient murders.

Sister Gertrude has secrets. She likes drugs, cigarettes, and picking up men in bars but is she a murderer?

Things I learned while watching this movie:

  • Nuns sleep fully naked and often have to share a room. In the nude.
  • Mental institutes were filled with quirky characters who really can’t do calisthenics.
  • You can die from needle pricks to your face.
  • Nymphomaniacs love wheelchair sex in lightning storms.
  • The Catholic Church is full of secrets…

Little Joe Dallesandro makes a cameo as a sexy new doctor. As in so many of his movies, his thick dumb sounding New York accent is overdubbed. Mostly, he is in the movie to make the ending possible – where the sexy young nun can hide her crimes by sexing up the sexy doctor. All the while, the drug addicted Ekberg languishes in a straight jacket in a Nun’s loony bin.

This is a fine video nasty – there is infected track marks, a lot of full frontal male / female nudity, a couple long sex scenes, gruesome murder, and a plot that sorta makes sense. Not bad…