Monday, 26 June 2017

Godzilla 2000 (3¾ Stars)

The title of this film seems to have been cashing in on the Y2K frenzy. It was released in Japan on December 12th 1999, just in time to see in the new millennium.

This is the first film in the second reboot of the Godzilla franchise. The first run was from 1954 to 1975, a total of 15 films. The franchise was rebooted nine years later, and there were seven films from 1984 to 1995. This should have laid the film series to rest, but then the American Godzilla film was made in 1998. In Japan the public and the film studios alike were horrified by the poor quality of the American film. I'll go out on a limb by saying that I think the American Godzilla film was good, but it wasn't Godzilla. The American monster didn't look like Godzilla, it didn't breathe flames like Godzilla, and worst of all it was a female! When it was released in Japan, dubbed into Japanese, it was refused to call the monster Gojira or even the anglicised word Godzilla. The monster was simply called Zilla, which to Japanese ears sounded like mockery.

What I'm building up to is that the negative reception of the American film in Japan led to the public demanding a real Godzilla film be made to show the Americans how it's done. The result was a second reboot, six films from 1999 to 2004.

"Godzilla 2000" doesn't go back to the very beginning. Godzilla is already known as a sea monster that lives on the sea bed near Japan. There's an organisation called the Godzilla Protection Network (GPN) which tracks Godzilla's movements on the sea bed, predicting possible earth tremors and tsunamis created by him. The Japanese authorities have come to accept Godzilla and leave him unharmed, as long as he remains in the sea. However, new missiles have been developed that could possibly kill Godzilla, so mines are dropped into the sea to coax him to the surface. Do they never learn? The missiles fail, and Godzilla wades into Tokyo to smash a few hundred buildings.

At the same time a giant rock is discovered on the sea bed, which is pulled up to the surface. It isn't until it's too late that the navy realises it isn't a rock. It's a UFO that is covered in barnacles after lying on the sea bed for 60 million years. Even though it's made of metal it's a living being, because the survivors of a distant race have merged themselves together to form the UFO. The UFO intends to change the Earth's atmosphere, which will kill all life on Earth, at the same time making the Earth habitable for its own race when they revert to organic matter.

Now, as all Godzilla fans know, there's only one thing that Godzilla likes more than smashing Japanese buildings: that's fighting with other giant monsters. Godzilla is the ultimate alpha male who won't tolerate anyone usurping his position as the biggest and baddest monster on the block. So there's a big, big fight. Half way through the fight the UFO adapts itself into a Godzilla clone, That's the smartest UFO I've ever seen.

The human race is unable to protect itself against the alien invaders. Godzilla is mankind's only hope. Who cares if he smashes a few hundred buildings if he can save humanity? The film ends with such beautiful dialogue that it could have been written by Shakespeare.

"Why does he keep protecting us?"

"Maybe it's because there's a Godzilla in every one of us".

Despite the superior production quality, "Godzilla 2000" isn't up to the standard of the first films made 45 years earlier. There's no love triangle. The special effects have grown a lot better over the decades, but they're not up to Hollywood standards. The American film had a budget of $130 million, whereas "Godzilla 2000" only had $8 million available, which shows in the inferior special effects. The Japanese film's monster looks like a giant puppet, but it made Japanese audiences happy, and hey! It's made me happy as well.

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Saturday, 24 June 2017

The Matrix (5 Stars)

Today I introduced my son Benjamin to Netflix. He's never used it before, so I invited him to share my account. He was overwhelmed by the selection offered. I didn't want to influence him. I told him he could pick whatever he wanted for us to watch together. And he picked "The Matrix". A brilliant choice. He hadn't seen it before, but he'd heard it was good.

Now he finally understands why I make seemingly random comments like "There is no spoon".

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Friday, 23 June 2017

Constantine (3½ Stars)

Today is the first time that I've watched "Constantine". It's one of those films that I deliberately avoided because it starred Keanu Reeves. I've never liked him because of his inability to express emotions. On rare occasions his coldness fits a role, such as the Matrix trilogy and "John Wick", but that's an exception.

The story is based on the DC character John Constantine who appears in the comic "Hellblazer". The film's theology confused me. Maybe I would have understood it better if I'd read the comic first. I know Marvel comics well, but my knowledge of DC comics is patchy.

Constantine is a man born with the gift -- or is it a curse? -- to see demons that are invisible or disguised to everyone else. He's been destined to go to Hell because of a suicide attempt when he was young, a mortal sin in the eyes of the Roman Catholic church. If I understand the film correctly, he actually died, but God brought him back to life because He intended Constantine to work for him. He works as an exorcist in the service of the Catholic church, God's church on Earth. That's ironic: a man destined to go to Hell is working for God.

God and the Devil are portrayed as two equal opponents in a big game. Which of them can win the most souls? God isn't portrayed as being any better than the Devil. They're just different, both of them caring more about winning the Game than they do about the humans on Earth.

There's even neutral ground, a club where the angels and demons are allowed to spend time together drinking and dancing without hurting one another. That's much like the Continental Hotel in "John Wick".

The best thing about the film is Tilda Swinton as Gabriel. She's fascinating in her personality and her misguided morality. Gabriel's role in the story highlights the ridiculous nature of the Game. I assumed that she was intended to be the Biblical angel Gabriel, but I've read reviews in which other people see her as being a half-angel, an offspring of an angel and a human.

It's a film that I might watch again, if only to try to understand it better. One of my fellow film bloggers, the author of the excellent blog Score The Film, tells the reader for every film whether he will watch it again. I don't do that, because in my case it wouldn't say much about the quality of the film. Usually I would only watch a film again if I consider it very good, but it's not necessarily the case.

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Thursday, 22 June 2017

Godzilla raids again (4 Stars)

This is the first sequel to "Godzilla", made in 1955, only four months after Godzilla was killed in the first film. So how could he be raiding again? And come to think about it, did he ever raid anyone or anything in the first film?

The original Japanese title translates literally as "Gojira strikes back". That makes slightly better sense, except that being dead would make it difficult for him to strike back. Don't complain about Gojira's name being anglicised as Godzilla. When the film was first released in American cinemas in 1959 it was called "Gigantis the Fire Monster". The first film had been called "Godzilla, King of Monsters" in America. The name change was to tell the audience that Gigantis was a new monster, because the original monster from the first film was dead.

I admit that the name change makes sense, but it's not what the original Japanese film makers wanted to say. Far from being a folk legend, as in the first film, the Gojira is a dinosaur that died out two million years ago. There are even pictures of the Gojira in Japanese dinosaur books. That's funny. When I was a child I never saw pictures of a Gojira or a Gojirasaurus. Godzilla #1 and Godzilla #2 both belong to the same breed. Both used to live on the sea bed and were driven to the surface by the atomic bombs. That almost makes sense.

The sequel tells two stories. In the first story a pilot crash lands on a small Japanese island called Kamiko. When another pilot is sent to rescue him they see Godzilla fighting with another giant dinosaur that they recognise as an Angilas (called an Anguirus in the American version). That's another dinosaur that I never saw in my children's dinosaur book. The pilots return to mainland Japan. They're stationed in Osaka, the second largest city in Japan. Soon afterwards Godzilla swims to Osaka, followed by the Angilas, and they fight in the city centre, destroying everything as they battle. Eventually Godzilla wins and swims back to sea. The end.

That's the end of the first half of the film, at least. The second story takes place a few months later, in winter. It seems to be a simplified copy of the story from the first film. A fishing boat is destroyed. The pilots that we met in the first half of the film investigate and see that Godzilla did it. They discover that Godzilla still lives on the small island where they first found him. The Japanese air force makes multiple strikes to stop him from doing any more damage.

The first Godzilla was killed, but this one is only trapped. Oops! Yet another spoiler? I deserve a spanking. That was a wise choice by the screenwriter. If they killed Godzilla in every film we would need 29 Godzillas by now.

Unlike the first film, which has been remastered for Blu-ray, the second film has only been released on DVD and is now out of print. If you want a copy you'll have to pay expensive collector prices. Or do what I did: watch it on Amazon Prime.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Loving (4½ Stars)

"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow and red, and He placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with His arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix. (Judge Leon Bazile, January 22nd, 1965).

I've been waiting to see this film for months. The story fascinated me. It's a true story, supposedly well known in America, but I had never heard about it until a few months ago.

In 1958 Richard Loving -- a very appropriate name -- was a 25 year old construction worker in Caroline County, Virginia. When his 18-year-old girlfriend Mildred Jeter became pregnant he asked her to marry him. The problem is that they weren't allowed to marry, because he was white and she was black. Issues like that were governed by state laws, not by federal laws, so they travelled to Washington D.C. to get married. On returning home their house was raided by the police and they were arrested. As the sheriff pointed out, it wasn't a problem that they lived together or even that Mildred was pregnant, because white men were allowed to have black whores. The crime was that they were married, because they were expressing that marriage between different races was something normal.

In court they were sentenced to one year in prison, but the sentence was suspended on condition that they left Virginia immediately and didn't return together for 25 years. They went to live with Mildred's relatives in Washington. Richard kept his job in Caroline County, even though he had to drive 85 miles to work every day. At first they were happy together, but slowly it became a burden for Mildred as she had first one, then two, then three children. She had lived all her life in the countryside, and life in a city was unbearable for her. In 1963 she wrote to the American attorney general, Robert Kennedy, and asked for help overturning the ruling. Two young, inexperienced lawyers were appointed to represent them by the American Civil Liberties Union. That was the beginning of a long, hard court battle.

The two lead actors put on excellent performances. Both Richard and Mildred were uneducated, although Mildred had more natural intelligence. Richard didn't understand much of what was happening, so he kept his head down and did what he was told. Mildred was more astute and willing to fight for justice. Actors are highly educated people, it's in the nature of their work, so Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga do an excellent job in dumbing themselves down, if you understand what I mean. Richard loved his wife, but he was a man of few words and didn't know how to express it. Mildred was an outwardly emotional, which we see in Ruth Negga's facial expressions every time the camera lingers on her. She was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress, but she lost to Emma Stone in "La La Land". That's totally ridiculous! Sometimes I wonder if the Academy Award judges ever take time to watch the films they vote for.

The couple are now remembered on June 12th every year, celebrated as Loving Day. I've only found out about it now. Please remind me to celebrate it next year.

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Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Godzilla (1954) (5 Stars)

That's a big poster for a big monster!

Yesterday I noticed that Amazon Prime contains 12 of the 29 Japanese Godzilla films. I immediately decided to watch some or all of them, beginning with the original 1954 film. I'm not sure whether I've watched it before or not. I know I watched a few black and white Godzilla films on television when I was young, but I don't know which ones. All I can remember is a big monster knocking building over while people ran away screaming.

This is a classic. I loved it from the very beginning. As well as the big monster knocking over buildings it has a love triangle and a clear anti-war message. Don't forget that the film was made in 1954, only nine years after Japan was pounded by two atomic bombs, so the Second World War was omnipresent in Japanese minds.

The film starts with a freighter being mysteriously sunk near Odo Island, Japan. A naval ship sent to investigate is also destroyed. Soon a giant dinosaur-like monster is seen wading onto the island and trampling local houses. The local villagers call it Godzilla (Gojira in Japanese), based on a creature in old folk legends, but it's probably not the same creature. It's a creature that lives on the sea bed, feeding on fish, but the water has been polluted by radiation from the atomic bombs, so he has to come to the surface to feed. Supposedly Godzilla is feeding. We never see him eating anything, he just walks around at random trampling buildings flat. He only comes to the surface at night because he doesn't like the daylight.

I don't know how close Odo Island is to mainland Japan because it's a fictional island. Godzilla soon finds his way to Tokyo. I've been told that famous Tokyo landmarks of the 1950's are among the buildings that he destroys.

I assume the film was intended to be a one-off, because at the end of the film Godzilla is destroyed. Oops, is that a spoiler? And yet 28 sequels were made in Japan, plus six (possibly alternate universe) films in America. Maybe it was a different Godzilla? I'll have to watch the first sequel soon, made in 1955, to see what the explanation is.

The film has been remastered for Blu-ray, but obviously Amazon Prime only hosts the old version. The picture is fuzzy throughout, but it didn't spoil my enjoyment of the wonderful film.

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Monday, 19 June 2017

Coco Austin Lingerie Promotion

Next month I intend to do a special promotion of Coco Austin's lingerie articles. Each day I'll be highlighting one of her garments that can be bought at Amazon. What has this to do with films? Nothing. I'm making an attempt to earn some money as an Amazon associate. She sells other items on her own web site, Coco's World, but I'll only be promoting the items for sale on Amazon.

This isn't a completely random choice. I've recently received a small commission after one of my blog's visitors bought lingerie. Thank you, whoever that was. Now I want to encourage more of my visitors to do the same.