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Gojira tai Hedora (1971)
The weirdest, creepiest Godzilla flick of 'em all!
I've loved Godzilla for as long as I can remember, but "Godzilla vs. Hedorah" (or "Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster", the original U.S. release title) has always been my least favorite - until the last time I saw it.
The 70's produced the worst of the Godzilla flicks - a series of dark, hokey, and dull films which ultimately caused the end of the Godzilla film line (until the beginning of a new series in 1984). Executive producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was in the hospital for much of the time while the film was being made, so he didn't see the different direction which "Godzilla vs. Hedorah" took. For the first time since 1964, the film had a strong social message: stop the pollution! A series of grim, grungy images show the pollution which is seeping into the air and the sea. From it rises Hedorah, the smog monster, intent on gobbling down the world's smog and pollution whilst killing off Earth's people. Bullets go through it, knives do nothing to it. Who will stop this "demon of drudge"? Why, Godzilla, of course! Yoshimitsu Banno pointed the series in a different direction (which enraged producer Tanaka upon his release from the hospital), inserting funky tunes, a scene in a revolting dance club, and entirely unnecessary animations. Then there's the creepy-looking Hedorah, which actually becomes quite scary when you see it's glowing eyes in the dark gray night sky, while the eerie bass guitar plays quietly amongst the soundtrack's instruments. This is certainly the weirdest, creepiest Godzilla flick of 'em all.
A sequel to this film was planned, hence the "And yet another one?" title at the end of the film. In it, Godzilla would travel to Africa and battle another smog monster. But the project was shelved when Tomoyuki Tanaka banned director Banno from ever coming near a Godzilla film again, claiming that Banno had ruined the series. I can't really say that I'm sorry for that decision.
"Godzilla vs. Hedorah" is one of the most unique of the Godzilla films, and because of that, it's one of my favorites. It's a weird, creepy film, that becomes much more fun (and funny) when you watch it with the terrible English dubbing.
A very fine Godzilla movie and a considerable improvement over "2000"
The 'Millennium' series, the third Godzilla film series, began in 1999 with "Godzilla 2000: Millennium". It was followed by this film - "Godzilla vs. Megaguirus". The premise involves a seemingly crazy idea: launch a black hole on to Godzilla, absorbing and containing him so he can't stomp on Japan anymore. The idea turns out to be not so crazy after all, and so a test firing is done. Unfortunately, while the test seems successful, it creates a wormhole, mutating a dragonfly and creating a horde of vicious, large dragonflies.
"Godzilla 2000", while fun, was not a spectacular movie. "Megaguirus" is a considerable improvement. Although it has its share of hokey moments (not the least of which is Godzilla leaping four-hundred feet into the air), it features an interesting storyline and a good script, not to mention a terrific score (by Michiru Oshima). The highlight of the film is the opening sequence, in which the story of the original 1954 Godzilla film is re-created using the new suit.
While "Godzilla vs. Megaguirus" can't compare to some later entries in the 'Millennium' series - namely "Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah" - it's a fine Godzilla movie that should please fans. Be sure to stick around after the credits ...
The Dukes of Hazzard (2005)
Simple, silly fun
Not surprisingly, "The Dukes of Hazzard" bears little resemblance to the classic TV series on which it's based. Sean William Scott and Johnny Knoxville play cousins Bo and Luke Duke, who lose their brains from the TV show and become crazy young-'uns with raging hormones. The plot of this film involves Bo and Luke out to stop Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) from strip-mining Hazzard. Also, Bo wants to win the Hazzard Racing Tournament for the 4th year, but faces tough competition from Billy Prickett (James Roday).
Let me start off by saying that fans of the TV show will no doubt be disappointed. The characters in this film bear little resemblance to those of the series. In the last few years, many TV shows have been remade as movies (namely "Charlie's Angels" and "Starsky & Hutch"), and while these remakes may have been entertaining, there's little resemblance to the series that they are based on. The key to enjoying these films is to separate them from the TV series. I did that for "Dukes of Hazzard", and I had a great time.
The film has a great cast. Scott is very funny as Bo Duke. Michael Weston makes a very likable Enos. Burt Reynolds is enjoyable as Boss Hogg. Jessica Simpson is actually pretty good as Daisy Duke. Then we have the great Willie Nelson as Uncle Jessie, who is very funny in many of his scenes. Lynda Carter has a small part as a friend of the Duke family.
The script isn't top-notch, but who'd expect it to be? For that matter, who'd WANT it to be? This film can be summed up in three words: simple, silly fun. The script is fun. The cast is funny. There's a great soundtrack, including the classic "Good Ol' Boys" theme. And there's the General Lee.
If you're looking for a bright film, this would probably not be a wise choice. But if you're looking for a simple, fun film, this might be a good choice.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
"Obviously you're not a golfer."
To me, the greatest thing about the Coen brothers is how vastly different each of their films is. For example, after making the dark, dramatic "Fargo", they made this film - "The Big Lebowski", a comedy about a stoner who gets his rug stolen. What other filmmakers would make such a leap from film to film, and continuing doing so through all of their films? Only the Coen brothers.
"The Big Lebowski" stars Jeff Bridges as Jeffrey Lebowski, an unemployed man known to everyone as "The Dude". His life revolves around the nights spent bowling with his buddies Donny (Steve Buscemi) and Walter (John Goodman), the latter of which is an easily upset Vietnam vet. Life is good for The Dude - until two thugs beat him up and pee on his rug, mistaking him for a different Jeffrey Lebowski. The Dude goes to visit "the Big Lebowski" (David Huddleston) and tells him about it. Shortly thereafter, The Dude is beat up by three people he's never met, then ordered by the Big Lebowski to be the courier in an exchange - the Big Lebowski's wife, Bunny (a young Tara Reid) has just been kidnapped. From there on, things get worse and worse for The Dude. How he's gonna get himself out of it is anyone's guess.
"The Big Lebowski" is really a fantastic film. There is a well-written, clever, and funny script - which isn't really a surprise from the Coen brothers. Great directing and cinematography (the latter by Roger Deakins), particularly during some wonderfully quirky dream sequences. There's also a really cool soundtrack, featuring Bob Dylan, CCR, and more.
But what would the film be without the cast? Jeff Bridges is really great and funny as The Dude. The real highlight of the cast is probably John Goodman, who is absolutely hilarious as The Dude's over-the-top best friend. There's also good performances from Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, David Huddleston, and Sam Elliott. Coen brothers favorites Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, and Peter Stormmare also appear.
As I've said, the thing that is most appealing about the Coen brothers are the differences between each of their films. "The Big Lebowski" is one of their very best. It's a stoner movie - and it's one of the best movies ever made. Watch it, dude. You won't regret it.
Gojira: Fainaru uôzu (2004)
A unique, interesting, yet flawed way to close the series
"Gojira: Fainaru Uôzu" - a.k.a. "Godzilla: Final Wars" - can be summed up in one word: 'different'. Actually, make that two words: 'very different'. In 2004, the 50th anniversary of the original 1954 classic "Gojira", Toho announced that they would be making the final Godzilla movie for a period of at least a decade. The film would feature many - most, in fact - of Godzilla's classic friends and foes, to celebrate the anniversary, as well as the end of the "Millennium" series of G-films.
So how does "Final Wars" do as a finale to the latest and, arguably, greatest of the Godzilla series? Well ... read on.
The premise of "Final Wars" is far more complex than that of any other Godzilla movie. It's the near future. Godzilla has been imprisoned in ice for about forty or fifty years. Other monsters have remained hidden in the darkest corners of the Earth. A race of superhuman mutants have been created and used by the government to battle crime; the group has been named "M-Unit". Suddenly, the Secretary General of the United Nations (Akira Takarada) disappears. When he returns about a day later, he presents to Earth an alien race called Xilians. The race seems peaceful as they warn Earth about an asteroid heading towards the planet which will destroy it upon impact. They suggest that we unite and form the Space Nations. But a group of government workers suspect that all is not as it seems ...
"Godzilla: Final Wars" is directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, an apparently skilled director who also directed the popular cult film "Versus". Kitamura also contributes to the script, which is for the most part well-written, though it features some definite weak parts (most notably when a character makes a miraculous, seemingly impossible escape from imprisonment, and then explains it with "I managed to escape somehow"). The storyline is basically a re-working of "Monster Zero"'s story, with certain new elements added. The film starts off well and continues along well until the action really gets started; at this point, the train goes flying off the tracks and then keeps going. What I'm trying to say is that this film eventually becomes way too wacky and it keeps getting wackier. Towards the end of the film, the movie becomes an obvious rip-off of "The Matrix".
The greatest part of the film is the monsters. We see many monsters which we haven't seen since the original series, including Angilas, Gigan, Kumonga, Ebirah, and even Hedorah and King Shisa! Unfortunately, we also see Minilla, who really does nothing for the film at all. The monsters look cool and the special effects are very good. Unfortunately, the monsters get very little screen time; even Godzilla is in the film for a grand total of about ten minutes. A very interesting thing about the film is that it features the American Godzilla - here called "Zilla" - as one of the monsters! He is eliminated very quickly by Godzilla, though. It's a wonderful way for the Japanese to show Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin that their Godzilla is still the King of the Monsters.
The only other high point of the film which I can recall is the score, which includes new music by Keith Emerson. Very little of Akira Ifukube's classic music is used. There is quite a bit of American music used in the film, including a song by Sum 41.
"Godzilla: Final Wars" is a bizarre film. It feels more like some weird Japanese "Matrix" rip-off than a Godzilla film, primarily because the monsters have little screen time and are not essential to the storyline. It's a unique and interesting film to be sure, but it's flaws and the near-absence of anything we've come to love in the Godzilla films makes this a less-than-spectacular way to close of the "Millennium" series. Had this been just another entry in the series, I might like it more. And had the series closed with the fantastic "Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah", all the fans would be much happier.
Another flawed, yet interesting adaptation of Frank Herbert's brilliant novel
As both a fan of Frank Herbert's novel "Dune" and of David Lynch's work, I enjoyed the 1984 adaptation of "Dune". When I was younger, I enjoyed this mini-series far more, but having re-watched it over the last few nights, I find that this adaptation is far more flawed than I recalled.
The major flaws of this mini-series are weak performances by the actors, poor directing, and some less than amazing special effects (not to mention some unusual costume design). The performances in this, combined with the often dull cinematography, made me feel more like I was watching a play than an epic mini-series. The worst performance came from William Hurt, who seems as though he may fall asleep at any moment. Matt Keeslar makes a very weak Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen when compared with Sting's portrayal from the 1984 film. There are some good performances, though. Ian McNeice is terrific and often funny as the scheming Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. Saskia Reeves brings some life to the character of Jessica Atreides. P.H. Moriarty is great as Gurney Halleck, as is Karel Dobry as Dr. Kynes.
John Harrison, a former music video director, takes 265 minutes to (loosely) adapt Frank Herbert's novel to the small screen, and even then cannot capture the brilliance of Herbert's work. Most of the time the actors seem to have little clue what they should be doing. Most of the events depicted in the novel occur in the film, however they are often out of order.
The production design for the film is colorful, but perhaps a little too much so. The costume design is at once creative and perhaps a little silly. The special effects are often weak, though the sandworm effects turned out rather well. It's obvious that this was filmed on a stage rather than on location (you can tell that the background is made up of matte paintings).
Graeme Revell's score is very good, though occasionally I thought I heard tunes borrowed from Toto's score for the '84 movie.
This mini-series is at times dull, and at a few occasions very good, but all in all it fails to successfully adapt Frank Herbert's novel for the small screen. Interestingly, it helps accentuate the good points of David Lynch's adaptation, which I must say that I prefer to this. Fans of "Dune" should certainly check this out; I leave it up to them to decide which version they prefer.
The Interpreter (2005)
A dull, clichéd, highly unoriginal thriller saved by Pollack and the cast
"The Interpreter" has an interesting story: an interpreter for the United Nations, played by Nicole Kidman, overhears an assassination plot spoken in a language she and very few other people understand. Sean Penn plays the U.S. Secret Service agent assigned to investigate the interpreter and see if she did hear what she says she did.
"The Interpreter" is Sydney Pollack's first film since 1999's flop "Random Hearts". Pollack's directing is one of the two high points of the film. The other is the cast. Kidman and Penn are both very good and, paired with Pollack's directing, they keep the film going.
Other than those points mentioned above, the film has little going for it. About fifty minutes through the film I was sick of it. There's very little originality in the film; it's clichéd and predictable. I felt like I was watching another dumb thriller.
I don't have much to say about this film. I thought it was a dull, clichéd thriller, simple as that.
Superman III (1983)
The first of two extremely weak sequels
I'll be frank: SUPERMAN III is NOT a good film. Having heard both from people who loved the movie and hated the movie, I watched it with an open mind, but in the end it was clear to me that this movie is weak. Very weak.
Half of the movie revolves around Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor!), a dim-witted computer programmer who becomes involved in crime when he begins working for millionaire Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn). The other half of the film revolves around Superman (Christopher Reeve), as he is reunited with high school sweetheart Lana Lang (Annette O'Toole) and becomes evil when exposed to synthetic kryptonite.
One can't help but wonder what David and Leslie Newman, who co-wrote the previous two SUPERMAN films, were thinking when they wrote this film. It opens with a cringe-worthy slapstick sequence, and gets worse from there. Any and all scenes involving Richard Pryor are completely out of place in this film, making it seem more like an unfunny comedy than a superhero film. Director Richard Lester tries his best to make the movie work, but ultimately, it doesn't, thanks in part to the absence of Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor and the near-absence of Margot Kidder as Lois Lane (Kidder has a total of about three minutes on-screen). Christopher Reeve, however, is excellent as always, and Annette O'Toole is a good fit for the part of Lana Lang; interestingly, she portrayed Clark's mother, Martha Kent, on the hit Superman TV series SMALLVILLE.
SUPERMAN III is mediocre at best, a failed attempt to continue an excellent series. While it couldn't hold my attention for the 125 minute runtime, I can think of worse movies to watch late at night with a bowl of popcorn and a Coke. Superman fans may want to check it out; all others, steer clear.
The Howling (1981)
A howlin' good time
When I was in second and third grade, I was OBSESSED with werewolves. I loved "The Wolf Man" when I watched it, and when I finally saw "An American Werewolf in London" in fourth grade, it became one of my favorite films. There was only one werewolf movie I'd never seen: "The Howling".
I could have watched it, mind you. But I put it off. Because although I am fascinated with the werewolf legend, it just so happens that the animal I fear the most ... is wolves. I thought "The Howling" looked extremely scary, so I put off watching - until this Halloween, when I received it for a gift. So, at last, I sat down and watched the last major werewolf film I needed to see.
The film stars Dee Wallace as a popular Los Angeles newswoman who is involved in a near-fatal incident with a serial killer (Robert Picardo). A respected psychiatrist (Robert Macnee) sends her to a rehabilitation center called "The Colony", located in the Californian forest. Wallace believes there's something weird about the place as soon as she arrives - but once she begins to hear the howling, she believes there may be something deadly lurking in the forest ...
The only Joe Dante films I'd seen before watching this were "Gremlins" and "Gremlins 2: The New Batch", both of which I enjoyed very much. Dante directs this film with an obvious love of the genre and of the classic horror films. It really enhances the movie. The cast is good, but the only two performances which really stuck out to me were that of Patrick Macnee and particularly John Carradine. I thought it would've been nice to see Carradine's part expanded. I also thought it was good to see Dick Miller, though I couldn't place what else I'd seen him in at first.
I thought that half of the time, Pino Donaggio's soundtrack was good, and the other half of the time I thought they made the film seem hokey. I loved the film's ending tune, though.
The highlight of the film is indisputably the spectacular special effects by Rob Bottin. The scene where Robert Picardo transforms into a werewolf has been rivaled only by the transformation in "An American Werewolf in London", and "The Howling"'s transformation may be even better. The effects really made the film for me.
The film's script was nothing really original, and the movie was at times quite clichéd. But that's part of the fun of it. All in all, "The Howling" was not as scary as I expected it to be, but I enjoyed it very much and would gladly watch it again, if only for the special effects. Werewolf aficionados and horror movie lovers will have a howlin' good time.
Say Anything... (1989)
"She gave me a pen. I gave her my heart, and she gave me a pen."
Recently, I decided to rent all of Cameron Crowe's films and watch them. I already owned "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (okay, he didn't direct it, but he wrote it) and "Jerry Maguire", so next I rented "Say Anything ...".
"Say Anything ..." begins with Lloyd Dobler, a kind, well-liked underachiever who falls in love with Diane Court, a straight-A student who has just been accepted into a college in England. Lloyd wins Diane's affections after he takes her to a late-night party - but winning the approval of her father is a completely different matter.
Cameron Crowe is certainly a talented filmmaker. "Say Anything ..." was his directorial debut and third screenplay. It's one of those special 80's teen romantic comedies that is even more magical today than it was back in '89. As is typical with Cameron Crowe's films, "Say Anything" has a terrific soundtrack. The film also has a sort of laid-back, observational style of directing, with mixes well with the intelligent, funny script.
The casting is superb. John Cusack is - well, awesome as Lloyd Dobler. Ione Skye does a fine job of showing the confliction that Diane feels. And John Mahoney is perfect as Diane's loving, protective father.
The film has some great scenes. The second "In Your Eyes" scene is definitely one of the movie's greatest and most famous moments. Anyone who's seen the film will attest to the fact that it's a very memorable movie. And it has a great ending too! "Say Anything ..." is a marvelous movie, and definitely one of my favorites. It's well-written, -acted and -directed. It's moving, dramatic, and very funny. If you're searching for a sweet, well-made, romantic comedy, look no further than "Say Anything ...".
(NOTE: My family recently purchased a Surround system, and "Say Anything ..." was one of the first films I watched with it. The movie sounds FANTASTIC. If you have a Surround system, prepare for a great experience.)