Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

I'm not going to discuss the 1939 short story by James Thurber or the 1948 version with Danny Kaye, but as a movie that received less attention than other November/December releases, I'd like to share my opinion that The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was both refreshing and engaging.  Directed by and starring Ben Stiller, the film falls between genres stemming from that indie-lifequest type and standard romantic-comedy, with a few brief action sequences thrown in.  The romance is secondary to the plot which in my opinion makes its presence more interesting as a desirable outcome is not guaranteed.  The comedy is subtle half of the time and forward the other half, and the varying surreality of Walter's daydreams cleverly adds to the context of his experiences.  A couple unadvertised roles starring major and minor celebrity actors add to the mix.  I thought some of the other characters were overwritten, but these were forgivable as they only slightly detracted from the story's flow.  To say anything else would go against my delight in the unexpected, but suffice it to say that I enjoyed the film and would recommend it.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Monster House (2006), Part 1

At about 3pm on Saturday I turned on the TV, and before pulling up the DVR's list of recorded programs something caught my attention: an animated film on a local network.  It looked kind of familiar, some CGI kids movie I remembered seeing trailers for a few years back.  It was Monster House, that odd movie where the neighborhood kids are afraid of going near this one spooky house on the block because they think it's alive.  Back in 2006, this movie looked really dumb.  I was 15 at the time, seeing dumb movies like Talladega Nights and Lady in the Water, but I thought Monster House looked really fucking stupid.  Now I think otherwise.  I only watched about one or one and a half minutes before starting another program with my dad, but it really intrigued me and got me wanting to see the full movie.

The animation is what initially caught my eye.  They use a very stylized CGI that reminds me of some of the more realistic claymation where everything is so detailed that you can see the intentional imperfections in the character's faces and skin.  That's what this CGI is like.  I saw two characters up close, an old man and maybe a 10 year old boy, and they both looked ugly, not in a cartoony way but in a realistic way.  The animation is carefully rendered, much more so than the smooth, homogeneous character models seen in the likes of Disney's Tangled (2010), and yet the artist's aim is not to create something aesthetically pleasing but something crude and jarring.  The animation is unattractive, yet I could immediately appreciate its style, and I found this artistic dualism fascinating.

Then there's the whole thing with this "monster-house."  In the brief scene I saw, an old man is approaching the doorstep of this house as the ugly kid and a few others watch from around a bush.  At this point, we see the supposed "monster-house" personified as a character as its windows shift like eyelids and the porch forms the shape of a menacing smile.  The kids are nervous, and the ugly one steps out and tries to warn the old man to retreat, that he is in some form of peril, but as the man disinterestedly turns to look at the annoyance he is consumed by an opening front door and a red carpet tongue that rolls out to wrap him up and retracts to gather the aloof victim into the mouth/entryway of the titular Monster House.  Then the kids scream and run away, and the fucking house gets up and chases them down the street.  It actually had some kind of legs and bounded down the street like Clifford the Big Red Dog in pursuit of the children.  That's all I saw, and I can't stop thinking about it.  Like, in this movie the house is really supposed to be alive?  Is it just a dream or somehow the kid's imagination or something?  If this house is really a monster what are the implications in the story?  Is that old neighbor dead now?  How did this house become a monster?  Is it haunted, cursed, alien, demonic, truly a breed of living creature?  Does it actually need to eat people in order to survive?  I'm lost in the surreality.  I don't even know if this scene took place in the beginning, middle, or end of the movie.  Maybe it's suspected for a long time and then revealed at the end of the film that the house is really a monster, or maybe it's just taken at face value from the very beginning.

I have no fucking idea what happens in this movie or if the house is really a monster or what the fuck is going on, but my curiosity is peaked.  I never thought that I would ever have any interest in this movie, but sometimes I get a new perspective on things.  I gotta see Monster House now.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966)

When it comes to Kaiju films (movies featuring giant monsters), Godzilla is king.  Between 1954 and 2004, Japanese studio Toho Productions made 28 movies with the famous Godzilla, starting with Gojira (or Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the slightly reworked 1956 American version), a 1950s science-fiction film that stands among one of the best in the genre of its time.  Although the original movie follows the '50s sci-fi flick standard of containing a serious tone, intense focus on morality, and light yet pivotal romance all revolving around something of an atomic or cosmic nature, the Godzilla sequels quickly devolved into something of a less grand scale.  I use the term devolution as Godzilla movies aren't typically films of high cinematic caliber (for multiple reasons), but through great costume and miniature effects they deliver some pretty cool looking monsters that beat each other up and ravage Tokyo and other earthly locations.  One has to love the Godzilla movies for doing simply that.

Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster is one of the more underwhelming entries in the early Godzilla series, so let's talk about it.  Right off the bat, you notice the English dubbing is really bad (with voices reminiscent of The Three Stooges), but it's not just how the lines are read in English because the writing is just poor to begin with.  The phrase "use your brain", which is frequently iterated by the island-stranded human characters, has never sounded so trite.  What really bothers me about the script though is that it largely fails to identify appropriate timing of humor and seriousness.  In one scene there's Beach Boys-esque, '60s beach music playing while Godzilla knocks fighter jets out of the air, resulting upon immediate explosion and certain death for their pilots.  That's later on though; for most of the first hour you see a crappy cast of two dance contest losers, a purported thief, and a man in search of his lost at sea brother mistakenly set sail for open water, get lost and later shipwrecked by a mysterious sea monster, find a secret organization enslaving native villagers on an island, discover the sea monster is being used by the military group, and plan to awaken Godzilla in order to cause a diversion and escape the island.  All of this happens without any monsters fighting each other.

So that's the shit you have to deal with before and between fight scenes with the Kaiju.  Is the majority of the 87 minute duration of Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster worth it to see the monsters duke it out?  Not really, but I decided to stick it out anyway.  The sea monster is a giant lobster/crab-like crustacean known as Ebirah that shipwrecks Japanese boats and eats people after snatching them out of the ocean with its giant pincers.  There's nothing very graphic shown on screen, but I will say that the suggested gore in this particular entry is higher than usual.  Godzilla is awoken at about the hour mark of the film, which is fifty-five minutes too late in my opinion, but at least the movie gets speed from there.  Godzilla and Ebirah throw boulders at each other for a while before engaging in sea combat.  Godzilla rips off Ebirah's claws with ease, clearly irritated he had to get wet in order to cause this ugly arthropod to retreat.  There's also a giant condor that Godzilla fights for a few seconds, and then of course Mothra shows up.  For a giant butterfly, Mothra is actual quite rad and is always among the most well-designed monsters in the many Godzilla movies it appears in.  The problem with Mothra though is that you can never just have Mothra; throughout the course of the movie you gotta sit through at least fifteen minutes of the pygmy Japanese twins, the Infant Island villagers, and the God-awful tribal/summoning songs.  It's a real downside of the sub-plot of Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster just for deus ex mothra in the last ten minutes of the movie.  Mothra doesn't fight or do anything in this one except serve as the getaway for the ill-developed human characters you don't give a shit about.

Oh, well. If you're watching a Toho Godzilla movie, particularly one from the Showa era, you know what you're getting yourself into.  As far as this series of the first fifteen movies goes, I'd recommend Ghidrah (1964), Destroy All Monsters (1968), or Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) if you're interested in seeing what these movies have to offer and want to choose one that has more action and monsters and sucks less.  Don't forget the original Gojira or Godzilla: King of the Monsters if you happen to like the previously mentioned style of self-important 1950s romantic sci-fi.