Starring Rando Yaguchi, Hideki Akasaka, Satoshi Ishihara, Ren Ohsugi, Pierre Taki
Directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi
As Godzilla fans, we’ve seen a lot over the course of 60+ years and 30+ films. We’ve seen Godzilla portrayed as the nightmarish manifestation of mankind’s atomic meddling. We’ve seen Godzilla envisioned as an undersea monster god from the dawn of time. We’ve seen Godzilla reduced to nothing more than an easily defeated, radioactive, tuna-eating iguana. We’ve seen Godzilla as the super-sized, super-heroic savior of the earth, defending us all from dinosaurian goliaths, giant insects, colossal cyborgs of all sorts, shape-shifting sludge monsters, and a host of alien invaders, while still finding the time to be a good dad to a doe-eyed doughboy of an offspring. We’ve seen Godzilla do flying dropkicks, perform victory dances on alien planets, talk to other monster allies, work in conjunction with the military, befriend children, fed fruit hand-to-mouth by an island native, fly using his atomic breath as rocket power…
The point I’m making is if you’re a fan of Godzilla, you’ve seen it all, for better and worse.
Now comes Shin Godzilla from the creator of the landmark anime series “Neon Genesis Evangelion” that does something no Godzilla has successfully managed to do in a very long time: return the “King of the Monsters” to both his allegorical science fiction and, yes, his horror roots. This is not a reboot like we’ve come to expect from typical Hollywood reboots. This is an outright reinvention of Godzilla, a completely new beast for 21st century post-Fukushima Japan, yet one that still captures what it is we love about Godzilla. Unlike so many reboots that prey entirely upon your nostalgia, Shin Godzilla does it right by giving us a completely new take on Godzilla that still taps into what we love about Godzilla, from the uses of classic Akira Ifukube musical cues to a variety of recognizable Godzilla roars throughout the decades to good ol’ mass destruction.
While the movie has been a runaway smash hit in its home country, I suspect this Godzilla Resurgence will divide fans like almost no other film in the series before it. Not even the ’98 travesty, the 22 car pile-up that was Final Wars, or even Legendary Pictures’ big budget Hollywood relaunch from two years ago that got the awe-inspiring aspect right but kind of forgot to actually make a Godzilla movie about Godzilla.
I’m going to try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible because the less you know going into Shin Godzilla, the more surprising you’ll probably find it. Toho has definitely done a heck of a job keeping its mystery box closed on this one as the trailers we’ve seen thus far only reveal hints of what is to come.
While I strongly suspect a number of Godzilla fans, particularly younger ones, will complain Shin Godzilla doesn’t have nearly enough Godzilla action, unlike Gareth Edwards’ Cloverfield 2: Guest Starring Godzilla, Gojira still has plenty of screen time from almost the first scene on; and even when Big G isn’t on the screen, everything that happens, everything that’s discussed, everything that’s investigated, everything that’s researched, everything that’s planned, every bit of it revolves around Godzilla. What a novel concept.
Hideaki Anno’s reboot boasts some of the best Godzilla action ever put on screen. The sheer futility of man’s mightiest weapons against this natural disaster on the march has never been portrayed as vividly as it is here. Godzilla faintly glowing red as he stomps about the nighttime skyline of Tokyo with only the flames brought about by his path of destruction to help eerily illuminate the scene, all set to foreboding operatic music, makes for a scene of apocalyptic beauty. The cinematography is simply breathtaking from start to finish. Even the least convincing special effects shots appear more realistic than anything we’ve seen in any previous Toho installment. A Godzilla fan’s wet dream of epic annihilation occurs about mid-point that is arguably the single greatest sequence of kaiju city destruction ever put to film since the jaw-dropping Gamera/Gyaos city battle sequence in Gamera 3.
But there’s an awful lot of time in between Godzilla’s skulking rampages where the monster is more the focal point of discussion rather than the centerpiece of the action. This Godzilla is as much about the current state of Japan as it is the monster itself, and that may prove a turn-off to fans that just want epic non-stop destruction and rock ’em, sock ’em monster fights.
Anno has more or less crafted a remake of the 1954 masterpiece reimagined for today’s Japan as much a political thriller and satire about how the Japanese government, military, and scientists would react to the very real threat of a giant thermonuclear monster arriving on their shores and potentially threatening not just their country, but quite possibly all life on earth as we know it. I’m sure if I were Japanese or lived in Japan, some of the bureaucratic wrangling that encompasses the bulk of the film would be even more meaningful or humorous; yet, as a gaijin, I still found myself surprisingly engaged by the political machinations and bemused by the absurdities of red tape getting in the way of common sense.
Traditionally in Godzilla flicks the moment a monster appears in a major metropolitan area, the military is already engaging it with tanks, fighter jets, rocket launchers, laser tanks, Super X’s, etc. In Shin Godzilla, as Godzilla first crushes civilians and topples buildings, the Japanese cabinet sits in conference trying to figure out what they are even legally permitted to do militarily to protect their own populace from such an unprecedented event.
You’ve never seen anything like this in a Godzilla movie, or, frankly, any daikaiju movie. The impotency of elected officials and military might makes for surprisingly effective drama and biting political commentary early on.
That is, until about two thirds of the way through, when even I found myself losing track of and my interest waning in the endless stream of politicians, scientists, military officials, conference meetings, foreign diplomats, research teams, and so forth so numerous they require constant on-screen graphics in order to help viewers keep up with who’s who and what’s what. At two hours in length, I’d argue there’s about ten minutes of excess chatter that could have been shaved off, preferably anything involving one character in particular: the very lovely but laughably miscast Satoshi Ishihara as American envoy Kayoco Ann Patterson. She’s supposed to be Japanese-American (more American than Japanese) and even talks of having aspirations to one day become President of the United States. Positively laughable given she speaks English in a tone about as natural sounding as Borat. It’s instantly apparent English is not her first language (both the actress and the character)m making her every moment speaking her obviously non-native tongue utterly unconvincing.
I’ve seen some stories in the American media already playing up that this movie has an anti-American edge to it. That not entirely untrue but nowhere near as dubious as when Godzillasaurus aided Japanese soldiers fighting Americans in the Pacific during World War II in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. No mistaking that Shin Godzilla is a pro-Japanese nationalistic film brimming with a certain degree of annoyance over their lack of sovereignty; outside forces, primarily American interventionism, play a big role in compounding Japan’s Godzilla problem. Since helpful US cooperation plays such a big part in the climax, calling this anti-American is suspect. Besides, no governing body gets skewered worse here than the Japanese government itself.
I also have to be honest and admit the climactic showdown with Godzilla boasts a plan that is almost too logistically wacky to believe might actually work, especially in a movie that strives to be the most realistic Godzilla movie ever made. On the other hand, “train bombs” are now one of the coolest new editions to the pantheon of Godzilla-fighting techniques. Still, the climactic battle feels dramatically abrupt compared to much of the action preceding it.
Getting back to the King himself, Godzilla’s new origin, new powers and abilities, and very physiology will assuredly be the source of much debate amongst hardcore fans. Much has been made of Godzilla’s design seen in early previews, most of all his nearly skeletal arms. That’s because (minor spoiler here) this Godzilla has been envisioned as a constantly evolving organism transforming throughout the film, each time becoming larger and more classically Godzilla in appearance.
If you’re one of those people that complain about how slow-moving Godzilla has been in recent films, then you’re really going to hate this take. This is the slowest moving Godzilla ever; he’s a living monolith that cannot be stopped, at times appearing as if he’s not even moving. At times he actually doesn’t move at all; he just stands there and lets the military do their thing to no effect and no reaction to the assault. Godzilla’s internal nuclear fission causes him to come to a screeching stop when he’s expended all of his energy and needs to recharge, which could lead to him just standing in place like a statue for hours, days, and even weeks. It’s odd. It’s unique. And much like his evolving appearance, it works within the context of the story.
As a somewhat cynical Godzilla fan, I’ve been ready for something new for some time now. Even with a few reservations, I came away pleased with this new incarnation of the King of the Monsters and look forward to seeing how I feel upon repeat viewings. Given what a monster hit Shin Godzilla has been in Japan (highest grossing live-action movie of the year), it seems a no-brainer Toho will want to make another sooner rather than later. For the life of me I cannot envision where they go from here. Will it be a direct sequel to this, of a similar ominous tone, with other monsters for total threat to mankind Godzilla to fight? In many regards Shin Godzilla feels meant to be a one-off because it’s hard to imagine following this up with something looser, more traditionally Godzilla beat-em up in nature.
Then again, the first sequel to the 1954 original had Godzilla grappling with a giant spikey dinosaur, and the next one after that was a camp classic in which he wrestled King Kong. It’s Godzilla. Anything’s possible.
Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
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