Picking up right where 2011's superior The Muppets left off, with "The End," The Muppets notice that the cameras are still rolling, which they quickly realize must mean they're making another movie, which leads to the song and dance number, and various pitches for what to do in the next movie (The Swedish Chef's suggestion for a Muppet remake of Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal was sadly ignored).
Cute fourth wall-breaking gag aside, writer/director James Bobin and co-writer Nichols Stoller similarly seem to be making the movie because they had to make another movie, and are similarly casting about for a plot on which to hang a movie. Given that the previous film was one completely devoted to rebooting The Muppets, within the film as much as within the real world, they don't have quite an obvious direction to go in, nor one as completely centered around the concept and characters in the same way the previous film was. If The Muppets was a Muppet movie about The Muppets, Muppets Most Wanted is, like so many of the post-Henson films (for big screen or small) simply a movie, with the Muppets in it.
Jason Segal and Amy Adams' unbridled but innocent "aw shucks" enthusiasm is rather sorely missed, with Kermit The Frog reclaiming star and main protagonists status. The humans he and his troupe share screen time with consist mostly of Ricky Gervais, as bad guy-posing-as-their-world-tour-manager Dominic Badguy; Modern Family's Ty Burrell with a little mustache and an Inspector Clouseau impression, as an Interpol agent teamed with CIA agent Sam The Eagle to investigate the heists going on adjacent to each stop on the Muppet Show's tour of Europe; and Tina Fey as the iron-fisted, gold-hearted warden of a gulag left over from the Soviet Union.
As for the plot, master criminal Constantine, "The World's Most Dangerous Frog," who looks exactly like Kermit save for a mole on his felt face, has escaped from Fey's gulag, slapped a fake mole on Kermit, and switched places with him. While Kermit is rotting away in Siberia, Constantine and Gervais' Badguy are committing a series of break-ins at European art museums, collecting National Treasure-style clues that will help them steal the crown jewels of England; to cover for that heist, Constantine will be marrying Miss Piggy (I think there's supposed to be a point in here about the importance of impulse-control, as the Muppets so willingly accept the obviously-not-Kermit Constantine as Kermit because he lets them do whatever they want, whereas Kermit was always ready to shoot down their dumbest and most dangerous ideas (Six words: "Gonzo's indoor running of the bulls").
None of the songs stuck with me the way some of the better numbers in the previous film ("Life's a Happy Song," "Man or Muppet" most especially, although the previous film also boasted the sad-ass "Pictures In My Head" and new versions of classics "Rainbow Connection" and "Mahna Mahna"), and many of the cameos were on the pointless side. Excellent use was made of Usher and, especially, Celine Dion, whose presence was actually justified by jokes, but I was more bewildered than bemused to see James McAvoy playing the UPS guy or Rob Cordry as an assistant director with one line. Christoph Waltz and Selina Dion play themselves as special guest-stars when the show plays Berlin and Madrid, respectively; Zach Galifianakis reprises his hobo role, and the gulag's prisoners include Jemaine Clement, Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo (Playing "Danny Trejo").
I suppose what disappointed me most is something that is more or less endemic to the film outtings: There's just never gonna be enough room to get everyone's favorites adequate screen time (Rizzo actually takes the opportunity to make a joke about new Muppet Walter eating up screen time that would otherwise go to beloved, older characters, ending his comment with "Come on, Robin," as he and Kermit's nephew walk off the screen). Swedish Chef, Statler and Waldorf, Beaker, Pepe—I could have done with more of all of 'em. Other Muppets had no more time than James McAvoy: I think Uncle Deadly and that bear from Muppets Tonight appeared for about a split-second, just to remind me that I hadn't seen that bear at all, Pepe gets one line I think and Walter's fellow new Muppet, Eighties Robot, appears in the background twice or so, but doesn't have any lines. (I think the lack of screen time given certain Muppets probably seems particularly odd simply because prior to the reboot, characters like Gonzo, Rizzo and Pepe were among the most prominently featured in the ensembles, so their diminished, sometimes to the point of being barely there, roles are more noticeable).
Muppets Most Wanted still had plenty of moments, but that's all it had to offer, whereas the previous film was actually a pretty good film.
I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but the resulting movie is something of a mess, an often inspired, intense and beautiful mess, but a mess nonetheless. One thing it always is, however, is surprising, and that's something of an accomplishment, given how well known the story is, and the creative shackles that typically come with such big budget studio movies.
Among the surprises? Well, there's the strange, antediluvian, post-apocalyptic setting of the film, in which we learn that the ever-growing cities of man are ruining and spoiling the world.
There's the rather remarkable fidelity to the source material, in which Aronofsky and co-screenwriter Ari Handel don't subtract anything from Genesis, only add to it, and generally in ways that don't expressly contradict the text (The Bible, for example, doesn't say there was a badguy stowaway on the arc, but it doesn't say there wasn't either, did it?).
There's the focus on Noah as not only the shepherd of the innocent, but as God's appointed judge of mankind, which leaves Crowe's character struggling to understand and follow the words of The Creator (I should note that God is never called anything but "The Creator," which I imagine will be one of many things that might annoy fundamentalist Christians about the film), words that don't appear as words at all, but as sometimes cryptic images in Noah's dreams and visions. Even that far back in time, when the stars in the sky still looked big and young, God apparently moved in mysterious ways.
There's the relatively large and important role afforded the Nephilim or Sons of God, here called "The Watchers." I didn't really care for their designs—shambling, multi-limbed rock giants with glowing eyes that speak through effects pedals—but their forms make sense given their origins (Beings of light cast out of heaven like meteors, encased and imprisoned in molten Earth, symbolizing their decision to forsake the orders of Heaven to help the men of Earth). Not sure how on Earth they could have intermarried with human women, though.
The two most surprising aspects of the film, for me at least, were that Aronofsky went to such great lengths to try and explain some of the hard questions about how such a fantastic story could have really happened, and that he made such a long, such an expensive movie about the time of Noah, and eschewed the expected, readymade visuals, and the prompts and imagination catapults built right into the source material.
As for the former, the building of the titanic arc is accomplished with the help of a small army of giant Watchers, and the many animals are kept in close quarters together and maintained by putting them into some sort of prehistoric, herbal-induced suspended animation thanks to some plant-based incense that Noah and wife Jennifer Connelly create (Amusingly, Connelly also concocts a prehistoric pregnancy test, involving water, a leaf and a wooden bowl). So that takes care of how they built an ark big enough, and how they kept so many animals in such close quarters and how they fed 'em.
As for the latter, well, it's a curious choice. As I said, there is a lot of money on display in the film, but its put to strange purposes, like a Lord of The Rings style battle scene in which much of the rest of humanity try to force their way into the ark, while The Watchers beat them away (and our bad-ass Noah kills them left and right as they climb up his arc. This Noah is such an American action hero figure that I was actually a little surprised there was no Air Force One riff of "Get off my ark.")
These cities full of vice and sin are never actually glimpsed (save symbolically from space); we only see a makeshift refuggee camp in the woods near Noah's ark construction sit. The animals are a barely-there presences. They arrive in three waves—birds, bugs and reptiles and amphibians, and then mammals—but they are merely crowds of CGI effects, all blending together in a brown and grey mess and viewed from afar, offering little or no opportunity to identify individual species (I've read that Aronofsky said they weren't meant to represent real animals, which is kind of weird, but tweaked versions of real animals; perhaps that's why we so few in close-up, at least until the flood recedes, and we see recognizable images of recognizable animal mothers with their young).
(I looked very, very closely for dinosaurs, both in the crowds of animals allowed into the ark, and left outside to drown. No dice. The only prehistoric creatures are shown during Noah's recounting of the creation story in Genesis to his family, which uses the six days construction, but billions of years passing during the "days," which are taken as metaphors...at other points, though, the Noah story seems to be taken more literally, as when we see Earth from space during the flood, the entire planet covered in hurricane-like storm systems)
The flood itself is also barely seen. There's no real storm, and only a few glimpses of people drowning; again, we see no cities drowning, we see none of the animals left behind drowning, we don't even see or hear thunder and lightning. The climax of the Biblical story seems somewhat glossed over, the horrible decision that weighs so heavily on Noah and his family—leaving so many to die while they have the ability to save at least some of them—isn't shared visually with the audience. Rather, we just hear some wailing and screaming from inside the arc, and there's a quick, long shot of people climbing upon a rock in an attempt to escape the flood waters.
The climax of this film is Noah getting
I picked it up because I saw the name Jet Li. I saw an image of Li, looking pretty cool and adjusting his cufflinks, which assured me that it was indeed the Jet Li I was thinking of when I saw that name. I saw another Asian dude's name and image, which assured it me it was a Chinese movie, and wouldn't be one of those generally bad and sad attempts to cross Li over into Hollywood action films. And I saw an explosion. Sure looks like an action movie, right?
The tagline is almost identical to that of 2012 rom com This Means War ("Two spies. One girl. No rules"), which is sorta weird. But the text synopsis on the back cover of the DVD sounds like that of a serious action movie: Li's a grizzled veteran with a hot-headed rookie under his wing, and they are in pursuit of a killer.
What isn't apparent, or mentioned anywhere at all, is that while there is some action in the movie, and some of it actually quite good, even great, it's also a comedy. A very, very broad comedy. Like, Stephen Chow broad. Cartoon sound effects broad.
Li does indeed play a veteran police officer, who bristles at being referred to as "grizzled," and he is indeed teamed with young hot head Wen Zhang (who played his acolyte in The Sorcerer and The White Snake, which I saw, and was also in Li's Ocean Heaven, which I did not). They work under Michelle Yen. When we first meet them, they are undercover and about to make a big bust at a Scottish-themed party; Li is disguised as a chef, Zhang as a dancer, although for a kilt he's wearing his boss' old mini-skirt, which shows off his underpants during action scenes.
The killer the back of the DVD refers to is someone committing spectacular, unsolvable murders: Young, handsome men suddenly start smiling, and then drop dead. They all have one thing in common, though. They all previously dated an aspiring film star played by Liu Shishi, they all dumped her for her curvy older sister played by Ada Liu, and they all bought big insurance policies and made Liu's character their beneficiary before dying.
As I said, there are some pretty great action scenes in it. The opening sequence's bust goes bust when Zhang's character notices another wanted criminal who coincidentally happens to be at the party, and Li's character chases him down for a pretty awesome kung fu battle in a stairwell. There's another good fight involving Zhang, Li and maybe the best marital artist in the film in an apartment; their combatant is an insurance agent who, this being Hong Kong, happens to be a master marital artist. The final battle, between Li and the killer, isn't bad either, and there's a pretty swell fight scene that ends up just being a fantasy sequence.
Much of that action though is sarcastic action, of the Chow variety, as in a car chase in which Zhang's character gives chase to a car on a bicycle. The credit sequence shows the entire cast, each labeled with their name, being fired like bullets out of a gun. So, you know, it's that kind of a movie.
I liked it quite a bit, and it was certainly a treat to see Li doing comedy, and in particular this sort of buddy cop comedy. Maybe there was even a bit of a meta joke in there referring to his appearance in Lethal Weapon 4—Here, Li would be the Danny Glover character, and not the Jet Li character—but I'm probably stretching, and if that gag's there, it's maybe only there because I'm looking for it. But there are some meta jokes, as when agents appear at the police station seeking cooperation in an online piracy case, and Li's character is uninterested until they start rattling off the titles of Jet Li movies.
|Here's the Chinese poster. Note the slightly different tone.|
Not a remake of the 1972 film of the same name with Ethan Hawke in the Steve McQueen role, as interesting as that might have been, this movie is of greatest interest for the way in which it trims out almost everything that isn't a car chase. I didn't watch with a stopwatch, and I'm lousy at math, so I can't say with any great certainty, but I'm pretty sure the film is somewhere between 95 and 98% car chase.
Hawke plays a washed-up American race car driver with a shady past who has moved to Bulgaria to start a new life with his wife Rebecca Budig. He's forced behind the wheel of a very fast car again when his wife is kidnapped, and his cellphone rings: It's Jon Voight, credited only as "The Voice," who tells him that if he wants to see his wife alive again, he must do exactly as instructed. Hawke's character must steal a heavily modified Shelby Mustang from a parking garage, and spend the rest of the movie driving around at high speeds until he can find and rekindle his romance with Julie Delpy. No wait; different movie. Hawke's character must drive around fast and recklellsly in the the car, which has been tricked-out with cameras and other monitoring equipment, spending the rest of the movie in the driver's seat, carrying out seemingly random or pointless "missions" for The
The criminal mastermind's master plan is a little on the silly side, but it basically boils down to having police spend most of the film chasing a maniac in a Mustang all over town while a big bank robbery of sorts is being committed, and engineering spectacular car crashes hither and yon so as to shut down several major intersections, leaving a single open route available for the villain to make his getaway (Get it? That's why they called the movie The Getaway!).
Along the way, Hawke's character picks up Selina Gomez (note her butt being used as a selling point on the DVD cover, even though she spends the majority of the movie sitting on it in the passenger seat of the car). She doesn't get a name either, unless you count "The Kid," and is mainly there as a plot contrivance: She gives Hawke someone to talk to, and she comes with computer skills, vehicular know-how and personal connections to the bank being robbed all standard, the better to move the plot along.
Director Courtney Solomon can stage a fine car chase, which is good, given how damn many of them there are, and the film is at its best when Hawke is careening through crowds trying desperately not to run any innocent pedestrians over, or showing him doing something pretty disbelief suspension-threatening. Much of each action scene, and thus the majority of the film, is shown from the point of view of various cameras mounted all over the car, so we see close-ups of Hawke's face while he drives as if we were standing on the hood of the car, or hanging from the door-mounted rearview mirrors.
It can be a bit repetitive, and if you were looking for almost anything other than an 85-minute car chase, you're likely to be sorely disappointed here. Hawke gets little to do but pretend to drive, Gomez gets little to do but be bratty, and Voight quite literally phones in most of his performance; Solomon never even shows the actor's face, just occasional extreme close-ups of his hand our mouth or eyebrow.
There's one really rather awesome scene near the end, which consists of almost a full-minute of film from the point-of-view of Hawke as he drives. It's as if the viewer is finally in the passenger seat, seeing the action from the point-of-view of the protagonists, rather than the fractured, spy-cam P.O.V. of the voyeuristic villain. With his wife and The Kid finally safe, Hawke's character takes off after the escaping bad guy, and there's one great, long, continuous shot as we watch through the windshield as he races to catch up with him.
This movie's got a pretty lousy reputation, but as a high-concept action movie that is all high-concept and action, I thought it was decent enough. I probably should note that I spent the entirety of the run-time erasing pencil marks from a comic book I'm working on, though, so I didn't devote 100% of my eye contact or attention to it, so perhaps that accounts for why I didn't hate it as much as so many critics seemed to hate it.
One word: Suitmation. That's the technique of creating giant monsters by sticking actors in suits and setting them on miniaturized sets; it's how Toho created Godzilla and the many other monsters in their many other monster movies, and it's how they opted to portray King Kong during the brief time they had the rights to make King Kong movies. That they rendered Kong, one of the most life-like special effects monsters in the history of film, as a guy in a particularly terrible gorilla outfit, even by the standards of gorilla costumes of the early 1960s, helped sink the film almost as much as its wretched plot and overall cheap-looking quality (This is the third of the Godzilla films, and it looks particularly terrible when compared either to the preceding Godzilla Raids Again/Gojira no Gyakushu or the succeeding Mothra Vs. Godzilla/Mosaru tai Gojira).
The attempts to Americanize the 1962 Japanese film for its U.S. release the following year sure don't help matters, and it seems quite perplexing to "reboot" King Kong completely, divorcing the historic monster from his own past to reintroduce a new version of him, and Godzilla's "continuity" is a little wonky in the American version as well. Godzilla's discovered encased in a giant iceberg, which he breaks free of (Recall that in the climax of ...Raids Again, he was defeated by being buried under an avalanche of snow and ice), and he is immediately recognized, the first character to see him shouting, "Godzilla!" But the Western news man who more-or-less narrates the English version talks about Godzilla as if this is his first appearance.
That newsman is Eric Carter (Michael Keith), who works for the U.N.'s television news department, which looks a bit like a cable access show. He informs the viewer of goings-on in Japan and around the world, checking in with correspondents in similarly chintzy newsrooms, and once the monsters arrive, he calls in the head of the museum of natural history in New York City to offer expert opinions on the origins and motivations of the monsters.
These are particularly crazy bullshit Tohology theories filtered through the generally more careless Americanization process, like the fact that Godzilla is half Tyrannosaurus and half Stegosaurus, and creatures like him were once native to Japan, which is why he is instinctively headed there, and that giant gorillas and Godzillas are natural enemies, and will seek one another out to destroy each other (Especially since King Kong is apparently also a mutant gorilla, grown to incredible size thanks to the red berries with extraordinary health benefits grown on his native Faro Island...the same berries that grow on Mothra's Infant Island).
But back to the monsters. Godzilla emerges with radioactive breath and screams from an iceberg prison, destroys a submarine, and heads toward Japan. King Kong, meanwhile, is discovered by a pair of employees of Pacific Pharmaceuticals who journey to the island where the berries are grown at the behest of their comedy relief boss, Mr. Tako. The rumors of a monster worshipped as a god there not only fail to discourage Mr. Tako, thy increases his enthusiasm: If they can find and film the monster, it should boost the ratings of Tako's television shows.
Faro Island, unlike King Kong's Skull Island, is devoid of dinosaur life; theres apparently just the one monster, who lives atop a mountain surrounded at all times by thunderstorms. Oh, and there is a giant octopus, which apparently slithers onto land to attack the villagers and get at their magic red berries. Unlike the cool octopus prop in Frankenstein Conquers... and War of the Gargantuans, this is an actual octopus, rather cleverly (but, I assume, cruelly for the marine animal) integrated into the miniature sets. With relatively little fanfare—at least compared to the original King Kong or the Peter Jackson remake, the gorilla god appears peeking over the shoddily made gate meant to keep him away from the coastal village.
He fights and defeats the octopus, but is then put to sleep by doing shots of red berry juice. Somehow, the pair of Japanese guys manage to convince the Faro Islanders to let the take Kong back to Japan with them—their boss thinks a monstrous gorilla might be a good promotion for his company. For some reason. (That's one of several ways this Kong movie prefigures the 1976 remake of the original King Kong; in addition to the man-in-a-suit Kong and the inclusion of a scene showing Kong's journey from his home to the modern world).
The Japanese government isn't exactly eager to allow a second monster into the country, whether he's tranquilized by berry juice and in chains or not, and refuse Mr. Tako and his giant gorilla cargo entry. Kong is still close enough, however, that when he inevitably wakes and breaks free, he can swim to Japan.
As if they didn't have enough to deal with, already. The Japanese military tries a pretty dumb plan to stop Godzilla, by erecting a moat of flame—if his insides are strong enough to breathe fire, how vulnerable do you guys thinks his outside is to fire?—before settling on electricity, which the museum head thinks should hurt Godzilla, but not Kong, seeing as how gorillas are well known to not only be invulnerable to electricity, but empowered by it (I guess?).
That turns out to be the case; the one million-volt electric fence erected around Tokyo is enough to drive Godzilla off towards Mount Fuji, whereas Kong tears right through it, apparently getting stronger (I think this might have been meant to have something to do with his status as some sort of storm god on Mount Faro, living among the constant lightning of his mountain, but it's never explained...at least, not in the English dub. The DVD I watched lacked the Japanese original version).
Kong proves easier to subdue than Godzilla, and after some minor mayhem, he's subdued by missiles tipped with berry juice, which produce a red berry sleep gas, and some tribal drumming lullabies.
The unconscious Kong is then floated via balloons to Mount Fuji, where the humans hope the two monsters will hopefully kill one another...or at least cut the number of giant monsters in Japane by 50%.
Now, if you've seen King Kong or any Godzilla movies before seeing this, then you know Kong shouldn't fare any better than a division of toy tanks against Godzilla; Kong was only about 25-feet tall, and Godzilla was originally about 160-feet tall, although Godzilla's size would increase and decrease over the years, the changes mostly dictated the the changing Japanese skyline, and how big or small he would need to be to destroy various landmarks. Either way, if Kong had trouble with a T-Rex, he wouldn't stand a chance against a giant T-Rex that also breathed radioactive fire, would he?
Toho solved that problem by simply increasing the size of Kong, so that the monsters are about the same size (which kinda disappointed me, as I would like to see how a fight between the original Kong and original Godzilla might have gone; I imagine a quicker, more agile Kong scrambling up Godzilla's back spines to get at his eyes, and ambushing him from building tops. Godzilla should and likely would win, but maybe Kong is aided by the humans, with whom he has more kinship than the monster dinosaur thing? Maybe he gives his life mortally wounding Godzilla, and the humans finish Godzilla off? So Kong once again dies tragically? I don't know; I think about Godzilla and King Kong fighting a lot, I guess).
And as for Godzilla's breath weapon advantage? Well, they solve that via Kong's lightning powers. When Godzilla has Kong on the ropes, a fortuitous bolt of lightning revives Kong, and gives him super-electric punches, with his fists crackling with visible lightning as he pounds on Godzilla.
The film end with the two plunging into the ocean, and only Kong shown surfacing, swimming off into the sunset. We don't know what happened underwater, exactly, but one imagines Kong used his theropod finishing move of snapping Godzilla's jaws...or maybe not, as Gozilla didn't stay gone for long. The U.N. newsman chimes in something along the lines o,f "Is this the last we've seen of Godzilla? Only time will tell."
It wasn't. Godzilla's next bout, with Mothra, was just around the corner. That was the last we saw of Toho's Kong though, with the exception of King Kong Escapes, which was kinda sorta based on the Rankin-Bass cartoon, rather than a sequel to this film. It is 1,000 times worse than this film.
Reeves' character delights in knocking Chen off the path of righteousness; having detected inner ambition, anger and arrogance in the fighter, he pulls him further and further down, the corruption of character adding drama to the TV show (In addition to all that fighting, of course).
And so much of the film consists of little more than one spectacular fight scene after another, generally pitting Chen's Tai Chi against fighters with similarly unique styles (there's an MMA guy, a Capoeira guy, a Tae Kwan Do guy, etc). It culminates with Chen finding himself forced into a position of kill or be killed in a fight to the death, and trying to find away out of it—ultimately having to fight Reeves' character.
As simple as much of the film's plot may seem, it's also an international film with multiple languages, and while action movies don't always seem that hard to plot, they're not easy to direct well, especially these sorts of old-school, highly-choreographed balletic fights.
Karen Mok plays a Hong Kong police officer on the trail of Reeve's eccentric villain. Yuen Woo-ping oversaw the fight choreography.
It's all rather awesome, moreso when you realize its the work of a first-time director...even if it's a first-time director who has surrounded himself with all sorts of talent, and given himself a role he's pretty ideally suited for (i.e. someone rich and powerful who is weird, quite and wooden; occasionally projecting inner strength or gangly menace).
Several elements seem more heavily inspired by King Kong than any of the other kaiju films I've seen (even the Toho-produced King Kong movies, King Kong Vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes), with a sympathetic monster—here, a noble, even heroic monster, whose path destruction through the human world is more a byproduct of people getting in his way than anything else—taken (or, here, summoned) from his island as a result of Western greed, and fighting to to reclaim a woman. Well, women. Or tiny women...fairy...things. Whatever.
It's almost a shame about the title; I wonder how big a surprise it would have been when the gigantic armored caterpillar monster emerged as a brilliantly bright colored giant moth if the title didn't already telegraph the nature of the creature...?
As in King Kong, an expedition explores a mysterious, dangerous island and find something fantastic. Here, the expedition is launched to explore Infant Island, which was supposedly uninhabited and highly irradiated—in fact, it was being used for bombing tests—but Japanese sailors stranded there for a time are rescued and found to be in perfect health. What was up with that, exactly? Hence, the expedition. The dangers aren't as cool as stop-motion dinosaurs, unfortunately, but consist mainly of natives who worship an ancient monster god. And there's a blood-sucking vine thing.
That blood-sucking vine thing is sung into submission by two tiny, doll-sized identical native women, who are soon captured by bad guy Westerner Clark Nelson, hailing from the fictional, but American-esque, country of Rolisica (The country's flag looks vaguely Islmaic and vaguely Soviet, and their military uniforms are Russian in appearance, but their "New Kirk City" looks even more like a toy New York City than it sounds). Nelson puts the little women, who our hero, the chubby Japanese newspaperman "Snapping Turtle" Zenchiro (Frankie Sakai), dubs "The Tiny Beauties," in a stage show entitled "The Secret Fairies Show," where they sing in a variety of costumes.
Meanwhile, the Infant Islanders pray to a giant egg, which cracks open to reveal the caterpillar version of Mothra, which follows the Beauties' song. Despite stern, in-stereo warnings of what will happen if they are not freed, Nelson refuses to listen to the Beauties, even when Mothra starts destroying its way into Tokyo, and bending the Tokyo Tower in half. There, it weaves a cocoon, just as Nelson smuggles the Beauties back to his home country.
When Mothra emerges, looking more like a Mothra then a Caterpillara, she flies to New Kirk City and buzzes its buildings and empty streets with winds of incredible force, Rodan-style (See below; I am, as always, reviewing these alphabetically by title, and not in the order they were produced). The 30 people who live in the city gather near a church, where Zenchiro and company see the sun shining on a cross and have a brilliant idea involving church bells and a giant symbol painted on the runway of the airport (The Nazca Lines weren't messages or runways for ancient aliens or astronauts; they were Mothra landing strips, I bet). That causes Mothra to cease her flapping rampage and land, and there she is given the fairies, who were taken from Nelson by an angry mob. Mothra and her charges fly back home, making for a monster movie with an honest-to-God happy ending...even for the monster!
While many of the Toho monster movies I've seen so far have included dubious science, they were nevertheless rooted in science and set in the real world, apparently aiming for either the horror or science-fiction genre of film. Mothra, by contrast, was the first that seemed wholly rooted in fantasy, with a fictional country, a fictional island, a fictional native population of that island, fairies, a moth god, telepathy and, depending on how you want to read it, even a little literal deus ex machinanear the end.
I know aliens and hidden civilizations will play more and more prominent roles as the Godzilla franchise continues, and the franchise eventually envelopes Mothra and Rodan, but this is the first of the studio's films I've been able to get my hands on and watch to start leaning in that direction.
It is also maybe the best of the sequels to the original 1954 Godzilla film, in terms of story and, especially, special effects.
The DVD I found had both the Japanese and U.S. versions included, but I could only get the U.S. version to play (it was a library-borrowed DVD, and was thus pretty scratched and banged-up from countless viewings by countless other patrons). The U.S. version is called Godzilla Vs. The Thing, which was likely a marketing tactic, but, from a cynical, modern sensibility, seems like it could have been an attempt to hide the fact that Godzilla's opponent sounds kind of silly when compared to a giant, radioactive fire-breathing dinosaur monster: A gigantic moth**). The twin fairies of Infant Island and the other characters refer to Mothra as "Mothra" and "The Thing" rather interchangeably throughout the film; beyond the title, and who gets top billing, the main difference between the two versions was apparently a scene in which the U.S. Navy attacks Godzilla with "frontier missiles;" that makes it into the U.S. version, but didn't appear in the Japanese.
As in the original Mothra, the (human) heroes consist of a tenacious newspaper reporter—here the more suave, handsome Akira Takarada instead of "Snapping Turtle" and a young, female photographer, here played by Yuriko Hoshi. They eventually pick up a scientist friend as well, in the form of Hiroshi Koizumi.
The film opens with a rather accomplished typhoon scene and Akira Ifukube's always portentous score. After the storm, our newspaper heroes are doing a story when they find something strange having washed up: A large, iridescent something-or-other that is later determined to be highly radioactive (a scale from Godzilla, I guess; remember, when we last saw Godzilla he had tumbled into the sea with Kong, and only Kong was seen after a bubbly, off-screen underwater fight...Godzilla was MIA, and presumed KIA at the time).
Something else washes up in the storm at a different location: A gigantic Easter egg. A pair of oily businessmen buy the egg and shoo off the scientists studying it and attempt to turn it into a touris attraction. For a small fee, people can come look at the egg. Later, they build a gigantic incubator around it, in a rather ill-considered plan to hatch it, I suppose.
The fairies of Infant Island—Emi Ito and Yumi Ito, reprising their roles from the original Mothra film—appear in smart, mod outfits to convince the businessmen to give them back their egg, but the bad guys refuse, and even try to take the fairies hostage. They next appeal to our trio of heroes, but they are stumped on how to go about getting the egg themselves. Defeated, the fairies return to the waiting Mothra/Thing, who flies them back home (Why Mothra didn't just pick up the egg and fly it home, or at least push it into the sea herself, I don't know; as we'll see later, the giant moth is quite powerful, strong enough to blow back a struggling, enraged Godzilla with the wind created by her wings, and strong enough to grab Godzilla by his tail and drag him. A round, unfighting egg oughta be a lot easier to move).
About a half hour into the film, Godzilla appears and goes to work on Japan, here emerging from underground in an area affected by the typhoon. The U.S. and Japanese forces fight him as best they can, with tanks, ship-launched frontier missiles (most of which, I noted, completely missed Godzilla; apparently the U.S. Navy had really poor aim), napalm and, in their most effective attack, "artificial lightning" (electricity?), fired from a pair of towers and given extra punch through a couple of highly-conductive metal nets helicopters drop on Godzilla.
Despite their more effective than usual attacks—they even get Godzilla on his back a few times—the human armies can't stop Godzilla, so our trio of heroes journey to Infant Island to beg Mothra to save them. The Infant Island in this film is quite different from the lush, green jungle of Mothra. Here, the nuclear weapon tests have devastated the island, and turned it into a mostly lifeless wasteland; upon landing, our heroes walk by a couple of large skeletons of some form of animal, one of which seems to nod its skull in the wind, but there's no comment on what these were before they were skeletons.
The Infant Islanders and the fairies are reluctant to send Motrha to help the outsiders, since all they ever got from the outside world were bombs, radiation and a refusal to return the egg of their god, but the reporters' earnest appeal wins over the dying Mothra herself, and she flies to the rescue...just as Godzilla is about to smash the giant egg.
While Godzilla is unquestionably the bad guy of the two monsters in this film—he wakes up, dusts himself off and starts screaming and wrecking shit, while the dying Mothra devotes the last of her life energy in trying to rescue a nation of ingrates that never gave his people anything but grief—it's worth noting that he seems less malevolent than just plain clumsy in this film. When he destroys a TV station, it's after the tip of his tail gets caught in their tower, and he has to yank himself free, knocking over the tower and sending him tumbling into buildings that he then knocks down. When he destroys Nagoya Castle, he does so by tripping and falling into it. Given the fact that when we first see him, he's standing up and covered in sand and dirt, and given how much time he spends on his back in this film, flailing around, I imagine that Godzilla was just extremely drunk in this film. It all makes a certain amount of sense if you watch this and imagine Godzilla having gone on a bender after his humiliating defeat by King Kong in the last film, and then waking up, still drunk, and just sort of stumbling and flailing through the second half of this movie.
As silly as giant, radioactive fire-breathing dinosaur monster vs. giant moth might sound, the battle is actually pretty good. It helps that Mothra is fucking huge now, her body as big as Godzilla's, and the model's head and limbs are all automated, so every bit of it seems to be moving as it engages Godzilla: Blowing him back and down with the wind of her huge wings, buzzing his head, showering him with some kind of yellow, powdery poison ("Mothra's final weapon," the fairies explain in unison). After getting his ass pretty thoroughly kicked, Godzilla eventually lands a blast of radioactive fire on Mothra's wing, and the monstrous flies off to drape herself over the egg, dying.
Has Godzilla won? Temporarily. More singing and praying, and the egg eventually hatches, and out emerges not one but two Mothra larva. They eventually catch up with Godzilla on a neighboring island, and an intense kaiju shoot-out ensues, with the Mothras taking turns popping up from behind rocks to blast Godzilla with their webbing, then ducking as Godzilla breathes fire their way or kicks boulders at them.
Eventually, they've pretty much completely cocooned their foe, and he once more falls over a cliff to disappear beneath the waves, apparently killed in action again. It's safe to assume that not only did Godzilla not drown, but also that he did not emerge from his Mothra-spun cocoon as a colorful, winged version of himself. But I don't know for sure yet, as I haven't seen the next Godzilla film, in which both he and Mothra (or will there still be Mothras?) appear...
I suppose one could do a Lord of the Rings-like cycle of films, or one very long film either full of narration, or one even longer very long film in which a talented filmmaker and cast attempt to do with images what Kerouac did with words, or hell, maybe a television series would work, particularly now in our current era of "TV is the new film," when star-studded Hollywood casts at least as big as this one could be assembled for a season or four on a premium cable channel, where all the nudity, sex and drugs that keep this take spicy, even as all the mysticism and mythology it;s drained from source could still be allowed.
Working with a run time of just over two hours, the Motorcycle Diaries team of director Walter Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera opeted to focus on the events of On The Road more than the language, the observations and the stories within the story, and in an attempt to get it all in, those events are extremely truncated, scrambled up and served out of order. They take the road out of On The Road, so that young Sal Paradise's first attempt to leave his home in New Jersey for Denver takes him directly from New York to Nebraska, with nothing in between; two hitch-hiked rides are all it takes. His time with Remy in San Francisco is excised (though the character of Remy is still present at the climax), his life with the Mexican girl Terry is only a few minutes long and, perhaps most surprising, the epic journey to Mexico happens without context, with one less man, and minus all of the contrasts between the Mexican road and the American road; when Sal is abandoned in a hospital by Dean, it seems weirdly abrupt; though Dean does say the word "dysentery," and there's a rather goofy, very filmic hallucinatory fever dream, it really appears as if Sal just got sick from having a bad taco during their five-minute trip south of the border.
Fidelity to the text obviously wasn't too big a concern, of course, as the creators focused an enormous amount of time on Dean's relationship to two women—MaryLou and Camille—while subtracting the others, and making Sal a more or less celibate figure, one sex scene with MaryLou and one with Terry aside. There is also a ton of sex, much of which Kerouac merely talked around. As with the recent film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, this might have been due in part to the mores of the time in which the book was published, but it's also somewhat reductive—Dean and Carlo Marx's entire relationship seems to boil down to a love affair and occasional sex, rather than the mind-meld they were going for in the book. Drug usage is similarly upped, to the point where it seems every instance of the characters doing drugs is kept, but every instance of their discussing a dream or vision or philosophy is taken away.
The cast is fairly superb, perhaps most especially in the case of Tom Sturridge's boyish Carlo Marx, who resembles an intellectual Harry Potter when we first meet him, but leads Sam Riley (as Sal) and Garrett Hedlund (as Dean) are also pretty excellent; while Hedlund gets to say "Yes, yes, yes" a lot, and is allowed to embody the charming, roguish, omnisexual appetite and appeal of Dean Moriarity, he's never given much space to really explore the many fun, funny ticks of the character—there's no rambling conversation and manic energy, no shouting of orders and elaborate plans, no Groucho Marx walk, no damaged and bandaged thumb. One way to do an On The Road film, of course, would be to do an elaborate character sketch of Moriarity through Sal's eyes...but that doesn't really happen here, either; there's just no time for it, and no time made.
Which makes the decisions to alter and add somewhat perplexing. Tellingly, the actors are all credited not only with playing the characters from the book, but also the real people those characters are based on, so that Riley is Sal Paradise/Jack Kerouac in the credits, Hedlund is Dean Moriarity/Neal Cassaday and so on (Even Danny Morgan's Ed Dunkle, his role shrunken considerably, gets that sort of double-billing in the credits).
Sal's aunt isn't even his aunt, anymore, but his mother, and she's speaks French as the French-Canadian Kerouacs would have, not the Italian of Sal's aunt. Bigger, more flattering roles are given to almost all of the women who haven't been cut from the events, in particular Kristen Stewart's Marylou and Kirsten Dunst's Camille, both of whom seem perfectly cast and are portrayed much more sympathetically here than in the book—especially Marylou, who leaves Sal in San Francisco to go back to an old fiancee, and not to become a prostitute (And Kristen and Kirsten? Few pairings would more greatly impress upon me the power of this Moriarity's magnetism).
In perhaps the most irritating scene of the film, Riley's Sal gets a copy of a Marx collection of poetry in the mail, and then starts taping sheets of paper together to form a huge scroll, in which he pounds out On The Road in a few minutes, consulting the notes he took throughout the movie. The next time we see him, he's in a suit and tie, and unwilling or unable to spare a moment for Dean.
It's a version of the Kerouac legend that Kerouac himself promoted, but it still took three weeks...they don't even have the man change his shirt or get a second drink of whiskey before finishing, and man, is the writing of On The Road, which isn't even part of On The Road, really a more important part than all the important parts cut out? (Another weird addition is a scene in Old Bull Lee/William S. Burroughs' home, who is played with fun gusto by Viggo Moretnsen, in which Marylou and Dunkle's and Lee's wives talk about blowjobs while doing housework; it's only a minute or two, but it's a scene our narrator isn't privy to, and thus unable to include in his story).
As an adaptation, the film is an extremely lousy one, despite some strong efforts from a strong cast, and a few lively scenes of music and dancing at jazz clubs and an apartment party; it's a very shallow adaptation of some of the events of On The Road, which essentially reduces key members of the Beat Generation of writers and muses to sex and drug obsessed know-nothings unable to even synthesize anything of worth from their experiences (with the exception for the screenplay of this movie, the climax seems to imply). (I did rather like bits of the soundtrack though).
As a film unto itself, it's also not a very good one, although there are plenty of young, sexy people looking young and sexy, almost like a Gregg Araki period piece without any of that director's sense of irony or humor. And, again, a fun scene here or there.
As a companion to the book On The Road though, one particular riff of one way of reading some of the book's events? It works fine like that, I suppose, making for an interesting, occasionally fascinating disappointment—provided you know and like the book well enough to be at all interested in how some folks might dramatize it simply to see how they go about it.
It was originally entitled Sora no Daikaijū Radon ("Radon, Giant Monster of the Sky") and the monster got its name from an abbreviation of "Pteradon," which it was supposedly a gigantic relative of (Not that it looks a whole heck of a lot like a pterosaur of any kind). When the film was released in the US, it was originally entitled Rodan! The Flying Monster!, the "o" and "a" in Radon switched so no one would confuse the super-pterodactyl creature with the noble gas.
The film opens in a small mining town, where several miners are found dead in a recently flooded portion of the mine. They seem to be have been slashed with a sword of some kind, and a hot-headed miner seen fighting with one of the dead men is immediately suspected by everyone but his friend and co-worker Shigeru, and his sister Kiyo, who Shigeru is romantically involved with.
The two are discussing the matter when the real killer enters Kiyo's home: Some kind of big, crazy insectoid creature that looks a bit like a centipede costume draped over a couple of guys on their hands and knees, emitting a signature, tweeting, chirping noise.
This turns out to be a Meganulon, a larval form of prehistoric giant dragonfly nymph that a scientist character speculates must have been brought to life because the conditions were just right. Shigeru, mine security, local police and the army fight the nymph, chasing it back into the mine, where more are found. Shigeru disappears in a cave in...only to emerge from a gigantic sinkhole many miles away a few days later, stricken with amnesia.
The outsized bugs were a picnic compared to what happens next. A mysterious UFO of tremendous size and speed starts downing planes and generally wreaking havoc in the skies above and all-around Japan. Jet fighters give chase, but can barely keep up with the super-sonic object—which, oddly enough, leaves a thin, white cloud trail, like a jet does—and one jet is destroyed when the object spins on a dime and flies right in to him at super-sonic speed.
Impossible? No, Rodan!
The giant bird monster thing is portrayed in flight by what appears to be a stationary model of some kind, its horizontal body parallel to the ground, its wings never flapping. After some dog fights with jets and some mostly off-screen mayhem involving snatching up people and horses, it attacks the city of Fukuoka. First, Rodan merely buzzes it, but his size and speed are enough that the wind he creates by passing knocks over buildings and sends vehicles y flying. He stands around at one point—and then is played by a man in a suit, and looks like an entirely different monster than the one that was flying, and flaps his wings, which creatures hurricane-force winds that pretty much level the town (Following Tokyo in Godzilla and Osaka in Godzilla Raids Again, that's three Japanese cities down). The standard battalion of fire-cracker shooting tanks and trucks show up to bombard the monster, but to little effect.
All seems lost until the amnesiac Shigeru sees a bird egg, and then flashes back to his time in the cave-in, during which he witnessed the hatching of Rodan, who immediately began feeding on the Meganulon and then flew off. Memory, restored, he is able to lead the scientist and the military guys to Rodan's underground nest, at the base of the volcanic Mt. Aso.
They move all their toy trucks and missile-launchers into position and then proceed to bomb the living shit out of the mountain, for what I believe was a straight four-minute sequence of explosions. Eventually, the volcano goes off, and fly not one, but two Rodans—Rodan had a mate, which is why he was able to cause so much trouble in so many different places at the same time.
The death of the monsters is actually kind of affecting, as one of the winged creatures catches on fire and flight, and crashes to the ground, where the lava does it in. The other Rodan hovers pitifully around its fallen mate, unable or unwilling to leave it, until a bursh of lava hits it as well, and it crashes to the ground as well, the pair burning up like phoenixes. (And, like a phoenix, at least one of them will rise again in the future).
The U.S. cut, released by King Brothers, is not very good and, as with all the Toho movies I've watched recently, is far worse than the Japanese version.
It opens with a stock-footage, narration prologue of various nuclear weapon testing, once again literally and unequivocally linking the rise of a monster to the rise of apocalyptic weapons (In the Japanese version, a reporter or military guy is like, "Hey, Scientist Character! What do you think caused this Radon to awaken now?" And the Scientist Character is like, "I don't know? Nuclear bomb tests? There's no way to know for sure" and that's all that's really said on the subject).
As with Godzilla Raids Again, completely unnecessary narration by the main character is added throughout the film, and Shigeru therefore tends to talk over all of his own scenes. It's a bit like watching a movie while someone performs a radio drama based on that film in your ear. The second Rodan is also a bit more present in this film, and thus comes as less of a surprise near the end.
That's because the Frankensteins look nothing like the single Frankenstein in the original film, where he was basically just a very large man with a prosthetic forehead and teeth. Here, both Frankensteins/Gargantuas are very large humanoids, but they have broad, inhumanly proportioned shoulders, are covered in shaggy hair, and have longer ears and sharp teeth; they look a bit more like Bigfoots than men of any kind.
Additionally, the human protagonists have all changed around a bit, not only the actors playing them but the characters they play. The lead American doctor is now a Dr. Stewart instead of the original's Dr. Bowen (Russ Tamblyn instead of Nick Adams). His assistant/love interest is still played by Kumi Mizuno, but now her name is Akemi rather than Sueko. A third, male Japanese scientist is played by a different actor, although I didn't catch the character's name in either film.
They're also based in a different hospital in a different city.
The Japanese version does refer to the fact that these scientist tried to raise a Frankenstein/Gargantua that escaped (and there's a flashback recreating a scene similar to that of some in the original film, only nnow the Frankenstein creature isn't a slightly deformed human boy, but a hairy, monkey-child), and the word Frankenstein is used throughout: "That is...Frankenstein...!", "Gargantua looks like a Frankenstein," "Let's call Dr. Stewart, the expert on Frankenstein."
In the U.S. cut, all reference of the word "Frankenstein" is excised, replaced with the word "Gargantua," although it makes the film scan even more awkwardly, as it seems like the filmmakers simply neglected to explain the rather integral bit of the story, like what the fuck a Gargantua is, where it came from, how its undying cells can mutate into a clone of itself, why everyone thinks the escaped Gargantua is dead, and so on.
The film opens with a giant octopus about to devour a Japanese fisherman (Turnabout if fair play, after all), when suddenly the octopus retreats from the boat. Are they saved? Far from it! The giant octopus is fighting a giant man and, based on the foley work, the octopus seems to be slapping the giant man around.
This is a Frankenstein/Gargantua, later named Gaira. He's the evil, sea-based Gargantua, and the one that has developed a taste for human flesh. Making the kaiju so human-like is actually a really cool effect, as Gaira's movements—like those of his clone father/brother Sanda later on—are perfectly natural throughout (My favorite scenes are those when he flees the land to return to the sea, and looks like a little kid first arriving at the beach and running to jump in the water).
While the army plots ways to kill this guy, the scientist are baffled as to how their peaceful Franksenstein grew up to be such a dick, and how he adapted to live under water. We get the answer when Gaira is just about dead, having been bombarded with firecrackers from toy trucks, arcs of cartoon electricity from maser arrays and shocked by an electric current run into a river he's standing in.
Sanda, the bigger, brown Frankenstein bounds onto the scene and rescues his brother Gargantua (Sanda is named for his environment; he's the mountain Gargantua). They hang out together for a while, until Sanda realizes Gaira is eating people, an he's not down with that. There is a spectacular battle, which ranges from the mountains into the city of Tokyo, apparently put back together after Godzilla's rampage a little over a decade ago.
The battle eventually leads out to sea, whyere an underwater volcano conveniently erupts, not only killing them both, but incinerating their cells, so no new Frankensteins and/or Gargantuas are grown.
And I guess it took, because this was the end of the franchise at Toho.
Aside from the different terminology, the main difference between the Japanese and U.S. release seem to be that Tamblyn's character is present in more scenes in the U.S. version; they are the same scenes as in the Japanese version, he's just there in the versions of those scenes in the U.S. cut.
On The Road by Jack Kerouac: It would be difficult for me to overstate the impact and influence this book had on me and the direction of my life when I first encountered it as a teenager. I did not grow up to be much of anything like its protagonists Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarity, having always abstained from alcohol, nicotine and any and all recreational drug use (and rather than loving the road, I'm more-or-less terrified by it, to the point of agoraphobia). I did immediately admire the man who created it though, the way he communicated ideas and the way he made glorious, heroic saints out of the people in his regular, everyday life, be they roguish and colorful characters, intellectual types that would grow up to be other literary heroes of mine ("Carlo Marx") or just family members and/or random strangers.
I also loved the way Kerouac wrote sentences. I can think of few books I've enjoyed reading as much as this, simply for the craft and style of the writing.
It had been a long, long time since I had read or re-read On The Road (or any Kerouac, come to think of it), and wanted to refamiliarize myself with the book before I saw the movie, so as to be better positioned to be disappointed with the film adaptation, I guess. I tend to have a hard time finding time to read prose fiction though, and so I thought I'd try listening to the audiobook.
Now, I realize they didn't have CD players in car back when Kerouac was researching this book or writing it or when it was published, nor did they have CDs, but, as much as I loved reading the book, I think listening to an audiobook of it while driving on the highway? If that's not the ideal way to experience the book, its pretty damn close to ideal.
Will Patton read/performs the book, and he does a fine job of nailing the various voices, and of differentiating them. His reading of Sal's narration is a wonderful accompaniment on any car trip, and his Dean was amazing. I could listen to his Dean all day and all night in the car; it was better than music.
*Better lyrics from the same song? "The studio wants more/While they wait for Tom Hanks to make Toy Story 4" and "How hard can it be? We can't do any worse than The Godfather III."
**I noted in the Mothra review how surprising it might have been if the film's title didn't give away the fact that the big, armored larva monster would eventually spin a cocoon and emerge as a giant, colorful moth; by changing "Mothra" to "The Thing," the U.S. version withholds the monster's appearance until one gets inside the theater, but in this film, Mothra appears first in his moth-form, having already hatched from his cocoon in the previous film, and so there's not transformation sequence.
***By the way, this is the movie that Brad Pitt mentioned at the Oscars, if anyone was confused by the reference.