Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Guiltless Review: Godzilla Final Wars


I love Godzilla. Loved him ever since I started watching his movies as a 4 year old. I believe the first film I ever saw in a theatre was "Godzilla vs. The Cosmic Monster" (that would be the original "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla" to those of you who know the real titles). When I saw that movie years later, I realized I'd forgotten just about all of it. All of it, that is, except for the monster fights. Even 15 years later I knew exactly how those fights went down. I had no idea at the time these were men wrestling in rubber suits. They were simply enormous and fantastically powerful creatures who could shoot laser beams out of their mouths and level multiple city blocks in seconds. These kind of images leave an impression.

Well, by now I've seen many, many Godzilla movies. I've seen 16 of the 17 'original series' movies (all except for the annoyingly hard-to-find 'Godzilla Raids Again'), all 7 of the 1984-1995 VS. series (or 'Heisei' series named after the ruling Japanese emperor throughout most of its run; holy sweet nachos am I a geek!). Finally I've seen 3 of the 7 'Millenium' films that have come out since 1999.

Anyway, the point is that when I heard that the final millenium series film was going to be an all-out monster slugfest in the spirit of 'Destroy All Monsters', I was excited to say the least. Destroy all Monsters (1968) was always my favorite movie as a kid. Whereas the average Godzilla movie would feature 2, 3, or maybe 4 monsters if we were lucky, Destroy all Monsters featured no less than 11!!! This was simple math at the time: 11 monsters > 4 monsters, therefore Destroy all Monsters=greatest movie of all time.

Well, the 4-year old in me was blown away by the kaiju quantity present in 'Godzilla Final Wars': 15 monsters! Now THIS, I thought was a movie that had its priorities straight. How did the jaded 33 year old react? The guiltless review reveals all . . . .

Aliens invade earth using the might of an army of kaiju, Oh Noes!! Us pesky humans resist with the help of Godzilla. Who really cares about plot anyway?

Awe: 4
I start here cause this is what godzilla movies are supposed to be about. The best of the godzilla series are all about creative carnage. There are a ton of monster fights in this film, but unfortunatley most of them breeze by way too quickly. When there is much more care taken with human fight scenes than monster fight scenes in a godzilla movie, we got a problem. There is extensive use of what I'd call 'MTV editing'; rapid cuts that produce more confusion than anything else. The fights almost seem like a trailer for a real godzilla movie.

We all know that these are stuntmen in rubbber suits. Yet past godzilla films have created awe through creative lighting, high-speed cameras (giving the creatures the illusion of massive size and weight), and some truly spectacular miniatures. Most importantly, the really good fight scenes are presented in long cuts, with the camera pulled back as to better give a view of the surreal, oversized mayhem. The fight scenes in GFW ignore these principles and what we're left with is an episode of "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers" guest starring Godzilla. Total bummer.

Immersion: 0
The director was clearly more interested in remaking 'The Matrix' than in making a godzilla film. As such we are treated to endless derivative 'bullet-time' fights between the human-sized characters. Despite the impressive number of monsters on display, their actual onscreen time seems disproportionately small compared to the rather dull human cast. Also, Akira Ifukube's classic music is replaced by short bursts of techno and hard guitar riffs. Bottom line, I felt every second of the 125 min runtime and was frequently tempted to skip over the non-monster scenes.

Laughs: 3
I laughed exactly once, but it was a biggie. After a big build-up, Godzilla dispatches a monster with a striking resemblance to the American version of godzilla (from 1998's abysmal 'Godzilla') in about 5 seconds. Afterwards, we cut to the evil alien leader saying "I knew that tuna-eating monster was useless." Take it Roland Emmerich!

Investment: 1
The characters are dreary, not even in a fun way. Godzilla himself is the 'friend-of-mankind' version that is not my preference either.

Final Word:
Yikes, there goes my kaiju theory of relativity. I promise to review a godzilla film I actually liked next time I visit the genre.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Guiltless Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Body

I've really gotten into 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' these past few months. At its best the show is both hysterically funny and unbelievably tense. As a matter of fact I think the show's creators tried to push the tension a bit too much in the latter seasons of the show but thats a topic for another article. Today I wanted to write about "The Body", a very well known episode from season 5.

Now if you haven't seen Buffy yet . . .

First of all what are you waiting for? I readily admit I took entirely too long to give this show a shot. This is a very cool series, well worth the time and effort to watch the entire run. It is pretty addicting though, so be careful.

Second of all, I want to put out a very serious SPOILER WARNING. Don't read beneath this paragraph if you have any desire to see the show in the future. Unlike the case with my "Family Stone" review, the show is a good deal more entertaining than this review will be.

Ok, now that the niceties have been dealt with . . .

I've been wanting to write about this episode ever since I saw it about a month ago. It hasn't so much lingered in my head as it did smack me in the face to remind me of some harsh realities at the time. This episode features almost no plot or character development, just the raw emotions of a group of friends in a realistic situation none of them want to be a part of. Not the kind of entertainment I usually go for but it works here, it works big time.

Vampire slayer Buffy Summers comes home one day to find her mother's lifeless body lying on the couch. What follows are the mundane, arduous tasks that must be done following the death of a loved one. Paramedics are called, family and friends are notified. Just a lot of time is spent waiting, staring into space, and feeling like crap. Sounds fun doesn't it? It isn't, and this episode captures that perfectly.

Tears: 11
I didn't cry once during this episode. I was too distracted by my heart rubbing against the pit of my stomach and the overwhelming sense of numbness associated with that. It's the feeling I've felt too often these past few months as I've lost my father and my sister in-law. It wasn't usually about tears, it was more about fear, and regrets, and a general discomfort with myself; not knowing how to act. This is the only piece of 'entertainment' I've ever seen that captures that feeling. This is intended as praise, but I'm not particularly keen on experiencing such feelings again.

Bizareness: 7
The existence of this episode is bizarre all by itself. The fact that this is an episode of a network television show is incredibly weird.

Investment: 11
This is what TV has all over the movies. When a show is done well, as Buffy has been, it creates fuller, richer characters than movies ever could. I would probably never choose to watch a movie about nothing more than the excruciating hours following a character's death. But I'd sit through a TV episode about that if I was sufficiently invested in the characters. Fortunately 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' features some great characters, who had 80 or so episodes by this time to invest me in their lives and welfare. All of the Buffy regulars: Giles, Willow, Xander, Anya, and Tara are here performing scenes so realistically uncomfortable I couldn't help but feel for them.

Resonance: 11
This episode definitely meant something to me. The aforementioned smack in the face was the reality that most everyone has dealt with a situation like this one in their lives. I mean, heck they even made a Buffy episode about how much life sucks when you lose someone! It was oddly comforting.

Dread: 4
There is some dread here to be sure. However, once it's established that Buffy's mom is indeed dead, the dread kinda diminishes and turns to the overwhelming sadness and discomfort I've described above. There is even a vampire that appears late in the episode but he's treated as an afterthought and produces no dread.

Immersion: 9
I felt a part of this world. The pacing is painfully slow, allowing the discomfort to permeate completely. The dialogue was not particularly snappy or well timed, adding to the bleak realism.

Final word:
An incredibly effective episode (three 11's!!!!!) I'm not sure I ever need to see again. Sad, disturbing, and uncomfortable, don't say I didn't warn you.