Saturday, June 8, 2024

Junesploitation 2024 Day 8: Kaiju!



    THE GREAT WALL (2016, 4K UHD)

    Reliance on CG effects ultimately undermines the tension and effectiveness of these creature features. There's some fun to be had with each during Junesploitation!, but any of them would leapfrog the others if the filmmakers had just tried to mix-in some convincing practical effects. Shame.

    A year before his remake of "The Mummy" stormed the box office, Stephen Sommers was just another director whose work was curb stomped by "Titanic's" box office reign. Shame because, like "Hard Rain," "Deep Rising" is an action B movie with studio production values. The luxurious Argonautica cruise ship is hijacked by hi-tech pirates, but they (unlike we the audience) don't know the ship has already been taken over by a rubbery shape-shifting creature with a hunger for human flesh. Great premise, good set design (a ship with corridors wide enough for a jet ski to drive through) and a murders' row of acting talent (Wes Studi, Kevin J. O'Connor, Treat Williams, Famke Janssen, Anthony Heald, Djimon Hounsou, etc.) that ultimately add up to tedium due to the creature looking ridiculously phony. Doesn't help most of the characters are unlikable, which means you should cheer when they're torn to pieces. I couldn't care less, except for Treat and Famke. 2.5 METAL CORRIDORS FILLED WITH PICKED-CLEAN CORPSES (out of 5).

    A made-for-TV charming but cheap Canadian "Jaws" rip-off ('We're going to need... two boats!') with a giant squid instead of a Big White (and fisherman desperate to save their livelihood instead of tourism dollars), "Eye of the Beast" is only worth seeing for the chemistry between Matt Hooper-like James Van Der Beek scientist hooking up with Alexandra Castillo, the Chief Brody of this town. You really get to like these two and root for them not being torn to pieces by the CG tentacle that shows like clockwork every 20 minutes or so. Arne MacPherson stands from the crowd of fishermen as the Quint of the group (with a pregnant wife to boot), even though the story is too busy pitting up the Native American fishermen against the white ones for cheap throwaway tension. You can do a lot better than me. 1.85 PUZZLE-LIKE FIBERGLASS BOAT PIECES (out of 5).

    Yimou Zhang's epic tale of Chinese armies protecting the empire from a race of alien creatures by holding them at bay you-know-where, "The Great Wall" comes dangerously close to 'white savior' tropes by casting Matt Damon as the European thief that ultimately helps out Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing) and Strategist Wang (Andy Lau, mostly wasted) figure out the monsters' weakness. One of the most expensive Chinese productions of its time, sadly the $135 million budget seems to have mostly gone to generate armies of CG creatures, CG ropes, CG flying contraptions and CG mosaic temples that all feel like videogame assets. It's a fun but disposable action flick that somehow wastes Pedro Pascal and Willem Dafoe's talents. 3 CG ARROWS THROUGH THE EYE (out of 5).

    Last but not least, the latest PG-13 production from M. Night Shyamalan features his daughter Ishana as writer/director of her first feature. An adaptation of A.M. Shine's novel of the same name, "The Watchers" milks its Ireland folk tale myths and excellent location for great atmosphere (cinematography looks great) at the service of a supernatural hostage premise. Shame that a small cast of talented actors (Dakota Fanning, Olwen Fouéré, John Lynch, etc.) are wasted by not reacting at all like their lives depend on being in front of a two-way mirror at night to be observed by 'The Watchers.' When we eventually do see the titular creatures they're not only underwhelming but also look fake as eff in CG form. I've seen early season "X-Files" with better practical effects and less insulting cop-out endings than the one Ishana tries to pull off here. Welcome to the big leagues, kid. Better luck next time. 2.35 UNDERGROUND KID BIKES (out of 5).

  2. Godzilla vs Megalon (1970)

    Perfect saturday Godzilla cheeziness. Includes but is not limited to: a gigantic cicada like foe (#timing!), a Mr Roboto meets Green Goblin looking robot that somehow can talk to godzilla thru sign language, and an alien overlord played by a middle aged dude wearing a toga and a tiara. (Editors Note: i watched the MST3k version which makes me giddy as MST3K is one of my favorite things, ever).

  3. Godzilla Minus One (2023). Excellent. Wish I had gone to see it in theatres. Normally I would watch original language with subtitles, but this time decided to watch the English dubbed version, and it was okay once I got past the initial weirdness.


    RODAN was my original choice for this day, but I find myself away from home with access to Netflix this weekend. Knowing Godzilla Minus One had arrived on the site, deciding what to go with was easy. Being very familiar with the original Godzilla, it is striking how faithful Minus One is to the spirit of the original, dealing the aftermath of WWII and the atomic age. It also succeeds at being a very modern film. Its greatest strength, though, lies in the characters. Caring about them adds greatly to the stakes of when the destruction begins. I would echo Paul's desire to have seen this on a big screen.

    1. I read somewhere the version Minus Color is coming out by the end of summer

  5. Godzilla 2000 (dir. Takao Okawara) (American Cut, English Dub)

    I've had a soft spot for this one since seeing it in theaters in 2000 and fondly remember the audience guffawing at the ludicrous ending (those who've seen it know). This is a solid Godzilla movie with a mix of spectacular practical effects and abominable CGI effects (I'm glad they got better, hence the Oscar win for Minus One). Highly recommended.

    Prehistoric monsters from deep underground wake from their ancient slumber to run amok. This is a family-friendly monster movie, and there’s a lot of business with a sad little girl and her mom before we get to any kaiju action. Wikipedia alleges that the monster footage was clipped from older Japanese TV shows, most notably the Ultraman franchise. Said footage is some silly fun, but it’s quite a slog getting to it.

    Giant mechs are at war with each other on an isolated island, so one team of pilots must… I have no idea what the plot is. I looked it up, and turns out this is a prequel to a long-running series, so I’m missing the context. But you can turn off your brain for this one. It’s very heavy metal, meaning both the music and the comic magazine. The fights all emphasize flashy style, the character and mech designs are adorned with skulls and spikes, and scantily clad babes are plentiful. It’s basically an 86-minute music video.

    Bonus Universal monster-sploitation: SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939)
    Here’s Lugosi giving a stellar performance as Ygor. No mere hunchback, this Ygor is a master manipulator, despite his grotesqueness. Karloff is back too, and Basil Rathbone is our new mad scientist. They’re great as well. A lot of people consider 1939 a banner year for movies, and this is part of that wave.

  7. ATRAGON (1963)
    First-time watch on Tubi. 7/10.
    I've been in possession of an unwatched bootleg VHS tape of this movie for a couple decades. Thank Tubi for a free, 16x9 version of DVD quality.
    Manda, the Asia-style undersea dragon, is the least interesting thing about this flick from Ishiro Honda. An ancient civilization hidden under the sea is lashing out with earthquake attacks. Meanwhile, there's reason to believe a submarine captain thought lost in WWII is still out there. What this movie presupposes it, what if that captain had a secret base with a flying super-submarine called Atragon? The peplum-style world of Mu, the Atlantis-adjacent people, is pretty cool. The only real drawback to ATRAGON is the measured pacing that'll put you to sleep if you're not careful.
    Chase with RAIDERS OF ATLANTIS if it's not kaiju day.

  8. Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)

    Kaiju movies are a huge blind spot for me, so I'm using the opportunity to make an aquaintance with the giant turtle in its (his? her?) 90s reboot.

  9. King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1963) All of the nonsense in the first three quarters (Three separate comic relief characters, ancillary octopus attack, giving cigarettes to children) is worth it for the climactic throw-down: Godzilla uses his tail a lot, Kong gets energized by lightning. I’ve seen this movie dozens of times (Whenever Toy John hosted triple and quadruple features at the Portage Theater, this film was always on the bill. I think he owned a print.) I didn’t realize until today’s viewing how often it uses the main music cue from Creature from the Black Lagoon. The producers of the American version came by it honestly: Universal originally released this.

  10. The Mighty Peking Man (1977)

    Sure, it has more blue-screen than the Weather Channel, there's a laughable soft-soul love montage (with leopard), and there's no explanation as to why the titular monster is called the Peking Man (he's not from Peking, nor is he a man). Despite these factors (and more, including a disco number), I couldn't help but enjoy the Shaw Brothers' take on the giant ape flick. Man's inhumanity to nature is despicable as capitalistic greed runs amok, and the British are as bloodthirsty and traitorous as ever. The models are excellent, and I was rooting for complete, deserved destruction of Hong Kong. Plus, significant suspense is generated by the prospect of jungle girl Evelyn Kraft nip-slipping out of her loincloth bikini.

    Kaiju was a great Saturday matinee subject, and Peking Man didn't disappoint. I watched this for free at Internet Archive, where both dubbed and subbed versions are available. The print was excellent.

    PS: Internet search yielded this factotum: Peking Man (Homo erectus pekinensis) is a subspecies of H. erectus which inhabited the Zhoukoudian cave site in modern northern China during the Chibanian.

  11. Colossal (2016)

    Anne Hathaway's mental health/alcoholism physically manifests as a kaiju creature all the way across the world in Seoul. Both she and Jason Sudeikis play interesting twists on their normal personas. First saw it during its original 2017 limited theatrical release (the only film I've seen at Ithaca's iconic Cinemapolis) and have thought about it from time to time since. I liked it better then, but it's worth a first time watch for anyone who thinks the premise sounds interesting.

  12. Shin Godzilla (2016)

    Some truly all-time Godzilla moments, but I think watching this after Minus One might have dampened the impact a bit. I get the intentions of the third act, but it felt like it just kind of sputtered across the finish line.

    First-time watch. HBO VHS tape. 8/10.
    Godzilla vs. a giant mutant flower? A flying diamond-mirror weapon? Saradian terrorists? A message about scientists mettling? Great '80s production values?
    This was my first of this round of Godzilla films & it's pretty great. The pacing still maintains a heavy medium vibe, but there's plenty going on, including a large confrontation before the halfway mark.
    And my tape, despite being discolored & possessing fluctuating, low volume, was letterboxed!
    I'd love for this one to come back into print in HD from a source beyond Echo Bridge.

  14. Godzilla Minus One (2023), and Colossal (2016)

    I didn't go out on a limb at all with my picks today. Godzilla Minus One obviously just made sense, especially since I hadn't seen it.

    Colossal is one I never got around to seeing for whatever reason even though people generally love it. I thought it was smart and original, although given that every single character is somewhat terrible person (although clearly one character ends up being so much worse than everyone else) it's not exactly as fun movie to watch as the premise might suggest.

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  16. GODZILLA MINUS ONE (2023 Dir Takashi Yamazaki)
    Lives up to all the praise thats been thrown at it. Maybe its recency bias but this may be my favorite Godzilla movie next to the OG.

    Ghostbusters(1984 Dir Ivan Reitman)
    I've loved this movie since before it even came out. I was obsessed with seeing it. I even had dreams about the movie. Not just being a ghostbuster but just seeing it in the theater. I read and watched everything I could about it. I even watched Friday night videos nearly every Friday for the whole summer because I knew the Ray Parker song would be on. It was my pick for a birthday movie that year. I couldn't wait the 16 days to see it but was willing to do it. But my father had seen the movie and called my mother and banned my sister and I from seeing it. I saw Star Trek 3 that year on my birthday. ST3 is good. Its no Ghostbusters.
    Dad made a mistake though. He should have told his mom we were barred. In 1985 My sister and I finally conned my Grandmother into taking us to see it the movie at the now closed Capri Cinema in Mobile AL. Somehow it surpassed the movie I had built up in my head. Me and Sis got punished for that. Of course it was worth it. Its been one of my favorite movies since.

  17. The Host dir. by Bong Joon-ho

    I had this on my list for a while, and finally used today as an excuse to watch it. I started on Amazon Prime, but the video quality was a little fuzzy. I found that Hulu had much more definition... but I soon switched back because the lower quality stream kinda fit the movie better. There were surprising moments of comedy and satire that confused me at first, but later I got more comfortable and it all worked together with the main story well enough.