Monday, September 29, 2014

Kaiju Chronology: Gamera- Guardian of the Universe

Can you take something viewed as universally-silly and make it serious?  If you're Japan, you are sure as hell going to try!  That leads us into today's movie- Gamera: Guardian of the Universe.  As a refresher course, the Eras of Toho films are separated and named.  In the mid-90s, there was an attempt to revive Franchises not named Godzilla in what is known as the Heisei Era.  This led to the creation of Trilogies for two perennial players- Gamera and Mothra.  Since the Mothra Trilogy is finally available in full in the United States, I got em!  Before I dive something brand new (to me), let me go back to one I know.  A long time ago, I got the Gamera Trilogy on Blu-Ray for a real steal.  I watched them all, but I thought that I should again.  After all, what's the point in buying a film if you never watch it more than once?  The first film came out in 1995 and had to follow a half-dozen super-goofy and over-the-top films in the 1960s and 70s.  The fact that almost all of them were featured in the early days of MST3K is a good sign of that.  This film acts as a Reboot, which is probably the simplest option.  It wouldn't be until 2006 that there would be a real Sequel, but that's a different film altogether.  When mysterious creatures appear, another one does too.  Is it friend or foe?  To find out, read on...
Two different things are happening in Japan that are mysterious and scary.

1. A small island is wrecked and its residents killed.
2. A floating atoll is drifting towards the country.  It is big!
The cause of the first one is the mysterious Gyaos, who are hyper-evolved creatures that live to eat.
They love to eat.  What do they eat, you ask?

Us, of course!
The other thing is, as you probably guessed, Gamera!

In this film, he was created by a long-dead civilization to keep the Gyaos under control.  When the world's environment no longer suited them, they went into hibernation- and so did he.
The problem: Gamera is a giant, angry-looking turtle who will smash up the city to destroy the creatures.  He's not one for subtlety.
The Military, as they do, considers Gamera to be a bigger threat, despite the fact that the Gyaos eat us.

Priorities, folks!
As the military attacks our hero, only a girl with an inexplicable (it has to do with a talisman) psychic link to Gamera can help.
As the creatures battle (shown here in Comic Book form), the city is in trouble.  The Universe is at risk!
In the End (shown here in the form of the Gamera 2000 game for Playstation 1), Gamera wins and the day is saved.  The creature leaves, but will he return when we need him?  The End.

While it is not the greatest thing out there, it is better than it has any right to be.  Seriously, they made a serious Gamera film.  Mind you, the original films weren't actually Comedies, but they got to be just so damn goofy.  At its heart, Gamera himself can be pretty silly.  He's a giant turtle that battles monsters and flies via rocket jets in its shell.  It makes no sense at face value.  This film kind of makes it work.  While Gamera never really emotes (as he is just a big, rubber-type suit), but it looks as real as could be done.  The Gyaos are also much cooler than the original ones were as well.  People don't give Toho enough credit for making monsters like Godzilla, Gamera and Mothra look good through continued design improvements.  They also stuck to their guns with the formula and just improved the technology that accents the suits.  I'm sure that someone wanted them to switch to all digital monsters.  Let's be honest- they would have looked terrible!  As late as their last Godzilla film in 2004, Big G and company (with one exception) were still men in suits.  It is that commitment to their principles that has made Toho such an interesting company.  I got off-topic, didn't I?  While it is nothing more than a good Kaiju film, it is a good Kaiju film.  Did I mention that it got a Comic?  Thanks, Dark Horse!
Next up, the Sequel that ups the ante.  For once, there's a non-religious-themed film that lets me say 'I am Legion!'  Stay tuned...

Sunday, September 28, 2014

WTF Asia?!?: Wicked City (1993)

Okay, this is an odd one just to even explain!  Today's film is Wicked City aka The Wicked City- the 1992/3 Live-Action Version of the Anime Film (which itself is based on a Book).  Confused yet?  Well, there's more.  The film was Produced ostensibly in Japan (where the Story is set), but it was filmed in Cantonese (which the Cast is) and Produced by Tsui Hark (who is Vietnamese).  I'm not sure what Country to praise/blame for this one, hence the more vague Preface I gave the Review.  The Story is initially the same- two groups try to exist in a City, but violence ensues-, but there are many changes.  The crux of the Story- our hero trying to merge the two groups through a treaty- is gone and replaced with other things.  Now, I should note that I have NOT read the Book, so I have no other idea whether the Anime changed things (a la Oldboy) or if this new Version is just making shit up (a la 1984's Children of the Corn).  All I can speak to is what I know, so feel free to leave me an angry 'You don't know anything!' message in the Comments- I can take it!  There are some obvious changes that had to occur going from Anime (where blood and boobs are prevalent) to this film (where Nudity is apparently a no-no).  Is it better or worse?  To find out, read on...
Instead of meeting up with his girlfriend, our hero is picking up a Prostitute.  As a bonus, her name allows for a cheap plug for fancy Water...
She still turns into a Spider-monster-thing, but it is before they have sex.  In addition, he knows in advance of her form and tries to kill her.

Unlike the Anime, he does, but only with the help of his...male partner.  Okay.
We get what is ostensibly a Plot Device in the form of Demon/Monster Blood used as an energy drink.  Sorry, Frostbitten and Lost Boys: The Thirst, you got beat to it apparently!

Of course, this barely matters in the Story, so...okay.
The big change: his Partner is a guy who is half-human/half-monster.  So is this a Sequel?
Meanwhile, our hero is involved in an on-again/off-again affair with this lady monster (who is the daughter of a monster mob boss.  It's off-again when the film starts and it makes things awkward.
I could fill up half a review with shots of the weird and crazy Effects of the monsters' powers.  Instead, here's a summary of some of the weirder ones, including day-glo cords, laser claws, 'clock projection' and body merging.
We do get an interesting version of the 'display the monster lady in captivity' bit from the Anime, only with no Nudity.

Don't get me wrong- I don't *want* Nudity, but it is weird to see it absent contrasted to the Anime.
The climax involves the evil son (who looks like Wishmaster), the half-human/half-monster fighting for his identity and the dad fighting to restore the delicate balance.
Instead of ending on vague hope, this one ends darkly with the dad dying (since his power is used up) and our heroine crying.  Weird.  The End.
This one was certainly weird in its own way.  The Story goes through many changes (which, again, could be more in line with the Book) and it feels different.  It is a good thing to me, since I didn't just feel like I was watching the same thing again.  The trade-off is that I kind of liked the overall Story in the Anime a bit better.  As I said in that Review, the film is basically Scene-Fight-Scene, but I still liked it.  This one gets a bit murky with monster blood as a drug, the mobster son trying to take over and about six other random sub-plots.  It is not a bad Story, but it is played a bit melodramatically for my taste.  That is a cultural thing, I know.  Not to overly-generalize, but Chinese Films tend to be a bit more melodramatic and can occasionally be a bit over-the-top that way.  I don't mind- it's just pretty true.  It is kind of like comparing an English version of something to an Indian version of something- there are just going to be more songs in the latter!  I will say that the Effects are better than I expected, even if some notable cheats have to be used.  There is plenty of creativity in the designs and they are used in pretty neat ways.  So here's the big question: which is better?  That's a tough one.  If you want a more visceral and stream-lined version, go with the Anime.  If you like a more Soap Opera-style Story and less gore, go with the Live-Action one.  There's not a bad one and a good one- just two very different versions.  With so much crazy (you can't even imagine what I didn't use here), I can't decide on my Stinger.  So, I'm going with a combination of awkward imagery (8 years later) and the randomness of a Lounge Singer performing 'The Way It Is' (in English) in a Hong Kong Bar...
Next up, I stay in familiar territory with a multi-part look at two '90s Toho Trilogies.  First up, another look at how you can make a film about a flying turtle work in a serious film.  Stay tuned...

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Zoned Out: Button, Button

A new Segment- I know that you've been waiting!

Awhile ago, I reviewed The Box (which will appear at some point on Maynard's site) and learned that the same Story (originally published in 1970) appeared on The Twilight Zone during its 1980 Revival.  I finally got around to seeing it and found more than I was looking for.
So I'll feature that Segment now and more in the future.  You'll get ghosts, ghouls and even a Leprechaun.  Push it...
Our young couple (Brad Davis and Mare Winningham) are living in a not-so-nice neighborhood and working way too hard for it.  They need a break!
Maybe this mysterious Box will be the answer...
A mysterious man (Basil Hoffman, who would appear in The Box) shows up and explains the rules.

If you push the button, someone you don't know will die.  As a result, you will get $200,000.
Can they do it?  Is it worth it to get the money?
Can they live with the guilt?  Can they do it?
Yes, yes they can.
The next day, the man arrives with the money and takes the Box.  It sure was easy!
However, he tells them that the Box will be re-programmed and that they will get the same deal.  The next people: someone they don't even know.  Dun dun dun!
Damn- this is so much better!  I should note that this version of the Story does change the ending (which is why Matheson's Teleplay is Credited under a Pseudonym) and isn't 'perfect.'  With that said, it has none of the alien crap, the weird water portals and the mysterious man having a giant hole in his cheek!  I don't hate The Box, but it is not nearly as good of a version of this story.  In fairness, this Segment is about 20 minutes, while the film is around 90 minutes.  Obviously you have to do some things differently.  You can't do 90 minutes of people getting the box/button, deciding what to do and just dealing with direct consequences of it, can you?  We just saw 90-odd minutes of Robert Redford stuck on a boat and not saying a word, so why not?  The strength of this Segment lies in the realistic interaction of the two Leads and how their situation might lead them to strongly-consider pushing it.  After all, people die every day!  They make you feel for them and how hard their struggle is.  This stands in contrast to The Box, where one of them works for NASA and the other has a messed-up foot.  That is far less anyone except Richard Kelly, who just took those from his real-life parents.  Seriously, Richard?!?  While I wish that the show was more remembered, it is available on DVD and one Disc alone is going to get me like 6 Updates.  Take us away, Credit for a man who didn't like the final product...
Next up, let's start hanging out, hanging out with our family.  However, it is less exciting with Grandma might be worshipping Cthulhu!  Stay tuned...

Thursday, September 25, 2014

WTF Japan (Animated)?!?: Wicked City

For once, I'm watching an Anime not picked out by me OR Bob.  Like I mentioned in my previous Review, I get weird stuff all the time, since I...well, like weird stuff.  This film (or OVA) was given to me by my brother, so it should be interesting.  I've gotten recent stuff like The Devils and Meet The Hollowheads from him, so the bar is pretty high.  Made in 1987, this film has quite a few parallels to stuff that would follow it.  The story involves our hero working to keep the peace between the world we know and the world that exists in the shadows.  Sound familiar?  Yeah, it is a bit like Men in Black (created as a Comic in 1990) and Hellblazer's John Constantine (who first appeared in 1985 and in his own series in 1988).  When a long-term Peace Treaty is approaching fruition, our hero must team with an unlikely partner to keep one person alive to make it to the Signing.  The other worldly creatures (who are basically Demons) are on the attack, however, and time is not on their side (one time in a more literal sense!).  Can our duo save the day and make peace?  To find out, read on...
Our hero has a big date in this big city, but it doesn't go the way he planned.  You see...
She has a freaky-spider-mutant thing switch places with her and it tries to kill him.  It is polite enough to do it after they have sex.

Wait- is that a positive?!?
After the odd introduction, our hero is teamed up with a lady-demon-thing (who isn't a spider) to protect an important person.  You see, a 500-year Peace Treaty between both groups hinges upon him.
The problem: he's an annoying, perverted asshole.  Oh and he has the Tri-Force on his Track Suit.
The trio get targeted by a number of freaky Demon things including this early prototype of Quicksilver and...
...whatever the hell this is.

Oh and meet the most famous part about this movie.  It's hard not to see why, huh?
The sort-of-nice Demon Girl is captured and our hero risks everything to rescue her.  He succeeds, even if it costs him job.
In a neat twist, we learn that the mysterious man was actually there to protect THEM, as the plan is for them to have a half-human/half-demon baby to broker peace.

While not quite tentacles, you still can't be surprised to see a sight like this.
In the End, the main Demon is killed and our heroes apparently are going to have a baby.  The future sure looks bright...although I don't know if this actually has a sequel or follow-up.  The End.
It is easy to see why this one is remembered by many, even if it is for just being kind of freaky.  The Story is a pretty simple, but does at least have one twist working for it.  Other than that, it is a series of Scenes involving people being attacked by monsters.  Really, this is just Story, Monster Attack and more Story- repeat.  At one point, there MAY have been two non-attack Scenes in a row, but I can't confirm that.  With that said, the attack scenes are pretty good and visually-dynamic.  My problem is that the whole 'Demons are really powerful' thing is a bit overdone.  Our hero narrowly escapes death once, has to be saved a second time and only wins the third time since the Demon knocked him out and assumed he'd be knocked out forever (or something).  This issue with power is what makes me question how good this MiB-style Agency really is.  Their best guy has to be saved when facing down two low-level guys and another (his other Partner) has his one good move stopped & gets killed.  Fun Fact: Demons can do sonic screams that can knock off one of your arms (but just one).  In fact, our hero shoots a Demon's arm off later, so that must have just been 'a cool animation trope' at the time or something.  I know that Ninja Scroll is chock full of body mutilation, so that could be it.  Of course, the guy behind this apparently also worked on said film/show, so...maybe not?  Either way, the film lives up to its bizarre reputation- for better and for worse.  The salacious content will scare many away, but there are (and will be) plenty of fans out there for it still.  If nothing else, it lets us know what happened to the famous head-crab monster from The Thing...
Next up, I found out that there is a live-action Version of this film too.  If all goes well, I will just go ahead and cover that one too!  Stay tuned...

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hilariously-Misleading Poster Art: Super Mario Bros

Okay, after this one I'm done- honest!

This is another one I found online that is so weird, random and misleading that I had to feature it!  Behold...
So...yeah, that's quite a lie.

1. Take a random Scene set in a tunnel.
2. Add Luigi (Mario).
3. Remove Tunnel.
4., fire, I think.
5. Randomly insert the face of Koopa as he appears in perhaps the last 10 minutes.

This. is. random!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Gamer Goodness?: Halo 4- Forward Unto Dawn

I do eventually watch every movie I buy, but it does sometimes take me a while.  Back when the last of the local Blockbuster Video Stores closed, I bought this film for $1.  I took it home and, since it had no sleeve, put it in a DVD Binder and sat there.  It wasn't that I didn't care, it's just that...well, let me put it to you this way.  When you're a kid and you collect Baseball Cards, you tend to get them for every occasion and you end up with 1,000,000,000 of them.  That's pretty much what happens to me with DVDs, which is part of why I have so damn many!  Anyhow, that all leads into today's movie Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn.  First off, it is actually a collection of Episodes strung together (seamlessly) into a film.  I've reviewed unsold TV Pilots as films, so that's no biggie.  Let's address the odd title, shall we?  This was made to help promote the then-upcoming Halo 4 game, which is why it is in the title.  It seems like you could have just said Halo: Forward Unto Dawn, but whatever.  The film is a Prequel of sorts (further muddying the issue) that tells the story of one Soldier's rise to prominence (well, sort of).  It wouldn't be Halo without Master Chief (unless it is Halo: ODST), so he's here too.  I will try to avoid SPOILERS here since this is a 2012 'film' and I'm cool like that.  To find out why all Boot Camps need R. Lee Ermey, read on...
To open things up, we get Interviews with the Recruits as they explain why they are there and give us their key Character Traits.  This is the only part like this, but...whatever.
We get a quick glimpse of an older General with the same last name as one of the Recruits.  I guess that's a SPOILER...but it happens before we even get the Opening Credits, so bite me.
One of the Recruits finds some Classified Footage that he works to decode it completely.  More on that later.
Meanwhile, our hero is going through some issues with following orders and leading his team to victory in Combat Exercises.  He gets worse news (which I won't SPOIL) too...
However, that all comes to a head when the Academy learns what was really in the Footage.  Since this is Halo, I think you can guess what this is...
Our heroes are trapped and shit is getting really real (for real).  Who will live?  Who will die?
Fun Fact: the guy playing 'Master Chief' in his suit is Daniel Cudmore, the guy who played 'Colossus' in the X-Men movies.

He was discovered in a Gym by Bryan Singer and I totally won't imply anything from the first half of this sentence.  After all, I can't afford a Lawsuit.
This scene is dramatic, but all I can do is go 'Ooh, a Warthog- those were fun to drive!'
In all seriousness, we get some nice Action and Drama in the latter half and it feels as real as Aliens with Laser Swords fighting Space Marines can.  Check it out.  The End.
Damn- this one was a legitimate surprise.  Don't get me wrong- the Halo franchise has always been good.  The thing is this: as a First-Person Shooter, the Story has never been the Series' strong suit.  I don't mean to insult anyone who loved the Space Drama, Action Set-Pieces or Will They/Can They 'Romance' of Cortana and Master Chief.  The fact remains that the Story is a bigger thing in RPGs, whether it is good or bad.  I did like the one Halo game (I think it is Reach) where the Characters all engage in a 'Who Can Have the Most Heroic Death' Contest though.  This 'film' does a good job of giving us many interesting, if basic, Characters to get attached to before all hell breaks loose.  Since not all of them are going to live (this is Halo, after all), it adds some nice Drama.  The other nice thing is that none of the Cast are that famous, so it is a bit more immersive.  I was sad to learn that the 'Tom Green' in the Cast was our lead (above) and not the Canadian Comedian.  There's always Uncharted, Tom!  Joking aside, this is actually well-made and totally more interesting than I thought it would be.  If you look at it as a Science-Fiction Character Drama separate from Halo, it still works.  In fact, it is so good that it didn't make me miss the continued adventures of wacky Spartan 1337...
Next up, I continue to dig into my Personal Stash for some new material.  It could be anything, so enjoy the mystery!  Stay tuned...