Monday, April 12, 2021

Godzilla VS. Kong (2021) directed by Adam Wingard


I thought the first Legendary Godzilla movie had a ton of flaws like killing the one engaging character 20 minutes in and showing most of the monster fight scenes on TV screens instead of giving us clear shots of the action but it wasn't unwatchable and the effects and cinematography was pretty good. The second gave us even less characters to get involved with but did have a ton of posters, including an awesome King Ghidorah with a fight between him and Godzilla in Boston's (my home town) Fenway Park which was enough to keep my attention for a goofy movie about giant monsters. Godzilla VS Kong continues the trend of making the humans not just uninteresting but somehow makes them so dull you feel like that might be sapping your own personality out you since nature abhors a void. 

To try and find a positive... it's colourful. That's it. The monsters fight for no good reason they story isn't one and every element seems to have been pulled out of hat and just inserted randomly. It manages to make less sense than any of the early Toho monster movies and introduces conspiracy theories like the hollow earth and fluoride in tap water! WTF? The characters are so dumb and unappealing cardboard cutups that there is suspense, not way to care about is going on even if you could decipher a plot line form this mess. You can't even figure which characters are where on the earth. There is no sense of time as they seem to go form the USA the Hong Kong without having to book a flight, pack or get a hotel room in more seconds. There is no sense of scale either. The giant monsters could be any size, they have no real sense of weight or how huge they are. There are not consequences you would care about to anyone or anything in the entire film. It just happens and they mix dull over tropes with confusing and incredibly dumb but not fun elements.  then the put in Mechagodzilla for 10 minutes.

No one wins this battle of the titans. We all lose. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

American Swinger (2008) directed by Jon Har & Matthew Kaufman



 In the 1970s Larry Levenson decided to open a straight sex club in New York at the Continental Baths with had been a gay bathhouse that had hired the likes of Bette Midler and Barry Manilow at one point. Soon the place was called "Plato's Retreat" and it became infamous. 

The film is, rightly, mostly about Levenson and his obsession with being some sort of king of the sexual revolution. Have taking over the gay club he immediately forbid sex amount the male guests (women on women was perfectly fine, of course) as well as alcohol, drugs and prostitution. These restrictions proved hard to enforce and honestly they didn't seem to make make of an effort making the place a haven for drug use and prostitutes. His plan was to open Plato's Retreat all over the United States, which never happened and the original club was eventually plagued by tax fraud and the changing policy landscape which included the rise of AIDS in the 1980s. 

The documentary is well done, I learned a lot about this famous club. It also has a few clips from Levenson and his then wife being interviewed by Phil Donahue which did nothing if not reinforce what a shitty, mean spirited and exploitative show he had. The directors show the many ides of the sexual revolution but despite all the talk of freedom and acceptance of non tradition (heterosexual) lifestyles - I have to say it comes across pretty clearly that the high minded "sexual liberation" was certainly a thing for many of the club goers but there was an overarching feeling that this place was more than a little sleepy and exploitive as well. 

I found it interesting to see how AIDS affected the straight sex scene in the 80s as most times AIDS is mentioned, if not every time it's only about the gay community's experience with it. The people interviewed show how far their heads were in the sand about the danger and how easy it was for straight people to buy into that a disease could only effect gay people and not them. One woman highlights this and states she realized she was only still alive by sheer luck and not all her friends from the time were not so lucky. 


This is an interesting view of the sexual revolution that lets you decide what to think of the players in the Plato's Retreat saga.

Friday, March 5, 2021

A Room with a View (1985) Directed by James Ivory


I recently had the chance to rewatch this film. I had seen it on release and it was a sensation at the time with its take on the British historical romance genre. It's intellectual, touching and funny at the same time with great actors in early roles and started 

A short list of some of the people in this film might give you an idea on how good it is. No one in the cast disappoints which is amazing considering for many of them this was one of their first projects. Danial Day-Lewis was also in "My Beautiful Launderette" this year and both films were out at the same time and I would say that fact catapulted him into international stardom as a serious actor. The 2 characters he played could not have been more different and many people had no idea it was the same actor in both films. It cemented in many people's minds what a "Merchant/Ivory production" should be even though they had produced films together for many years at this point already. It was nominated for an incredible 8 Academy Awards. 

At it's base (which is an E.M. Forster novel) it's a simple girl meets unsuitable boy on holiday fall in love story. Even the main character's engagement to be married nor everyone's impeccable manners can keep them apart in the end. 

If you have never seen it, seeing it now might take some patience as the pacing is slow by today's film standards but it's worth it. Julian Sands is super handsome as the romantic lead and Maggie Smith plays a role that could have easily been the same character she played in Downton Abbey decades later. 

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Goodbye Cinefex magazine

Cinefex magazine, the most incredible source of information and inspiration about special effects for over 40 yers is shutting down, apparently due to the COVID downturn. 

As someone who bought the first few issues at his corner store and would continue to buy them when money allowed (the magazine was not cheap  to buy but beautifully done and worth every single penny)and continued to get digital versions on the iPad when finances allowed I find this new devastating. A lottery win for me would have started with finally getting a full year subscription. Every issue was eye opening and they made the transition from physical effects to digital and now the current hybrid model with grace and kept on top of all the advances in visuals the cinema was able to pump out. It coved not just current films but went deep in the past to have well researched articles about classic films and effects pioneers like Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhaussen. 

It is a HUGE loss to film and effects fans alike. Maybe it can come back? Who knows but if it does I will be first in line to get that new issue. If there is anyway to buy back issues I would like on the iPad I'll be doing that as well. 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Lucy (2014) Directed by Luc Besson

 


Luc Besson has made some amazing films and some pretty bad ones. It is a mixed bag. To me, this movie exemplifies that. It had some great actors giving interesting performances and some nice visual touches but while the sort starts out with promise the undeniable dumbness of the main conceit of the film catches up to it by the end and it left me feeling... MEH. The main character is hard yo feel anything for and the whole using only 10% of your brain thing one of those stupid ideas that has never.... never... had any validity to it but somehow keeps itself alive in the mind of popular culture. It would have worked better as a super hero original story where it could have dropped all pretence of trying to transit anything "deep" to the audiences watching it. 

It moves along at a pace that I think works and the effects are very well done but without a sympathetic lead and a ridiculous premise it takes far too seriously, it just falls flat by the end.  So not boring but not something to go out of your way to watch and if you do, expect very little from it and you'll be fine.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Animated short film: A Vine on a House, based on the short story by Ambrose Bierce

 


My latest gothic horror animation is based on a very short story by Ambrose Bierce, read it here if you like, and is itself fairly short. Like my previous Bierce animation, this one also strays quite a bit from the text as I try to make it relevant and more visual. For all the character, save one (the man on the porch) I used a free character generation application called "Make Human" which lets you create realistic humans with slider controls, including dressing, rigging and weighting. This means you can, hypothetically start using them in minutes and creating them takes only a few minutes as well. It is a huge time saver, especially for subjects that are not required to be created in a specific style or have to do anything unusual or complicated. I used this as a starting point and repainted the clothing myself and added controls to the rigging to make moving then less of a bone by bone affair and it worked for the most part. 

The setting itself took few months to put together. It is one location but one that ages and rots over a long time period. I wanted the fade from past to present to be noticeable but for the house to retain enough features that no one would thing the location had changed. 

I found the Make Human models were not suited for some of my rigging techniques. At least I could not figure out how to use them which was  ashamed because there are some plugins I rely on for every project that I could not use. I did find some work arounds but making them walk was really a challenge so I had to limit that as much as possible. 

This IS a horror short so there is some blood and violence but nothing like we see on TV show everyday. I do hope there is a little shock or 2 for people watching, however.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Gorgo (1961) and Gappa (1967)


 I was working on a poster for Gorgo for fun and after rewatching the film I realized I had seen something else really similar.

Gorgo is the giant monster story of mercenaries finding a treasure and a giant monster who turns out to be a baby with parent that comes to find it after it has been put in a sideshow in London. The two main characters also just sort of kidnap/save a young Irish kid. Doing so saves his life but it still seemed sort of sketchy. In the end the monsters return to the sea from which they came. The effects are pretty good thought monster is sort of goofy looking. The giant props work well and there is enough monster on major city destruction to satisfy kaju fans. 


Gappa, goes by a few names but has a similar story. The detail are different and follow well established Japanese monster tropes closer than they follow the plot of Gorgo. This time an egg hatches as adventurers are looking for animals to exhibit in a theme park. they take it back but pretty soon its parents are flying to Japan looking for it and no building will stop stop them. In the end they all fly off, back to island they came from, one assumes. Though nothing amazing, it's not a bad giant mosnter flick with the sort of effects expected for a 60s Japanese film. 




Saturday, February 6, 2021

Twilight Zone season 2 - Showrunner Jordan Peele

 


I did like the first season of the Jordon Peele reboot of the Twilight Zone. That first season was fairly intense and made pretty strong political and social statements. This second season is less intense, more fun but still interesting and though provoking. From dead daughter's being replaced by alien invaders to killer intelligent octopus the season runs the gambit from silly to serious and keeps the variety we should expect from a twilight Zone season intact. 

Jordon Peele seems much more present as the Narrator and I really love how he inserts the character into the openings of the episodes. His delivery seems more confident. There are less references and Easter eggs to find which I think is a good road to travel. there is enough of that in genre TV and film these days - it's gotten out of hand, I think, so pushing that back a little makes the shows stand more on their own. 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Wonder woman 84 (2020) directed by Patty Jenkins

 


I really did love most of the 2017 Wonder Woman film, everything except the useless CGI battle with the useless villain at the end. The no man's land sequence alone makes it one of the great super hero movies. This sequel, sadly comes nowhere near the first movie. At 2 ½ hours it is an hour overlong and while all the performances are good, the motivations of the characters, especially the villains are muddy at best and unconvincing at worst. There is simply too little Wonder Woman in it as well. I don't count the opening Diana as a child warrior sequences as seeing Wonder Woman. They have little to do with the plot and I swear it seemed to go on for days to make a point that could have been madd before the credits started. The weird return of Steve Trevor makes little sense... there is a magic element to the plot that takes away from the depth the first story had by being set in WW1. The whole thing reads like a mediocre TV episode. That is not to say there is no fun in watching it, there is some of that but it drags out everything from the action shots to the poignant moments. Despite making an effort to set it in the 80s, it really could have happened at any time, including yesterday. The 80s conceit is simply to avoid conflicts in the DC Universe timeline and doesn't add anything. 

I would not spend too much money on seeing this and was glad I didn't have to. I haven't given up on Patty Jenkins, I think she has more awesome Wonder Woman ideas in her but I will be much more cautious in my enthusiasm for a third film. 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Gamera the Brave (2006) directed by Ryuta Tasaki


 I admit I have soft spot for Gamera, the giant flying turtle, as it is my mom's favourite kanji. Why my mom has a favourite kanji is another story. Gamera has always been a softer, maybe more kid friendly than some of the Godzilla films and with even smaller budgets. 

This film has some interesting elements. A man who was saved by Gamera as a boy and has a young son with psychological problems after his mother died. He finds a weird egg that hatches into  turtle that exhibits all sorts of intelligence and powers... much like Gamera, who had sacrificed himself when he saved the man. The son and the turtle grow a bond as the animal grows to gigantic size just in time fight the newly emerged monster Zedus. With the help of the young boy and his friends, the new Gamera is given extra power by a magic stone that was found at the same time the boy found the egg.  An epic battlic ensues and the new Gamera wins the day while the children cheer him on. 

This film is fairly fun though pretty dumb in many respects.  It has the problem most Gamera films do, one or more annoying child actors that really get on your nerves. It does have a really cool monster in Zedus, maybe one of the best giant monster designed out there. The effects are better than you might expect but Gamera has the look of kid's plush toy with giant eyes and baby like features that just do not work. It's hard to recommend this as children's film - Zedus is blown to pieces at the end which is gross but before that we see him eating hapless like chicken nuggets people multiple times throughout the film! 

Following the current trend for Japanese monster films to have better effects and more complicated storylines that may or may not work, this movie hits enough marks to be an enjoyable watch as long as you remember that it's a film about a giant flying turtle who is "the friend of the children".