Gojira (Godzilla #1)

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The 1954 horror-science fiction classic Gojira, aka Godzilla, is the original film that launched a film franchise longer than any other in the history of cinema as well as spawning numerous spinoffs around the globe, particularly the United States.  The film directed by legendary filmmaker Ishiro Honda, written by Honda, Takeo Murata, and Shigeru Kayama was released during the “golden age” of Japanese cinema after the Post-WWII Occupation which along with the atomic bomb plays a background theme of the theme.

Japanese cargo ships and fishing boats begin disappearing around Odo Island, for the locals it is the return of an ancient sea creature “Godzilla”.  Because of the mystery around the waters of Odo, reporters arrive and begin interviewing people as well as learn about the local beliefs about what’s happening.  Then that night, a huge storm arrives as well as something else that demolishes and consumes parts of the village.  The resulting coverage and demand to relief results in the government sending an investigative team lead by paleontologist Dr. Yamane, who is on the island when the creature is seen for the first time in daylight proving it to be a living dinosaur affected by the testing of atomic and nuclear bombs.  Though the Japanese government attempts to keep their findings secret even as they attempt to kill the monster and more ships go missing, when Godzilla appears in Tokyo Bay and does some damage on both land and sea.  With the secret out the Japanese Defense Forces attempt to kill Godzilla, but only make the creature angrier which results in Tokyo getting devastated.  During all of this Yamane begs that Godzilla be studied not only because of his uniqueness but his resistance to radiation even while his daughter is in the midst of a love triangle that will result in finding out the method in killing Godzilla by her former fiancé, Serizama.  Using his Oxygen Destroyer, Serizama kills not only Godzilla and himself to prevent his discovery from becoming a weapon though Yamane is fearful that more nuclear testing will result in another Godzilla.

This brief synopsis of the nearly 100-minute film, gives a faint hint at all the nuance that is within the picture.  The slow build up at the beginning of the film of Godzilla’s actions, though the monster is unseen, and the grief-stricken and stressed reactions of the survivors of sailors lost at sea by unknown means hearkened back to World War II and the loss of soldiers and sailors during the war.  Godzilla’s rampaging through Tokyo several times causing massive damage is a painful reminder of the American bombing campaign during the war.  Then there is Godzilla himself, brought to the surface because of underwater nuclear bomb tests in the film but obviously a stand-in to the long-lasting effects of radiation from the atomic bombs that were just then being understood.

Yet not everyone wants to go really in-depth the meaning of some films, so what of the face value of the film itself?  Gojira isn’t perfect especially when it comes to the human-centered story and the characters themselves.  Of the all the named characters with significant time, only Dr. Yamane and Serizama are the best fleshed out and only the latter shows any character development from when we first meet him in the film to his decision to die so his superweapon won’t be replicated.  The reason this film has become a classic is the special effects.  Using techniques the Japanese cinema had honed for decades under state control wanting war films, the industry learned to recreate real-life locations in miniature and editing techniques to make things look as realistic as a film in the 1950s could.

While subsequent ToHo films featuring Godzilla are not as high quality as the first, they do not take away anything from Gojira.  This horror-science fiction classic’s use of symbolism to express the underlying currents of Japanese society and culture a decade after the end of the World War II still speaks to those viewers today that look for it.  And for those who do not, the first and original film to feature Godzilla is a recommended must see given the worldwide culture impact the character has had.


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Film)

A Major Stumble for the Film Franchise

The film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth in the franchise, follows the lead of the titular installment in the Potter book series by focusing not on Harry’s academic life but on his nonacademic pursuits yet fail to convey the importance of items and set the stage for franchise’s final installments as well as add and remove too much.

Though those in charge of production and direction claim “Half-Blood Prince” was boiled down to the essential plot and foreshadowing elements needed for future films likes its three predecessors it is untrue. Throughout the film, as well as in the books, there are two main subplots the revelations of the Voldemort’s Horcruxes and Draco Malfoy’s mission and while the latter was handled perfectly the former was botched with missing scenes that impact future installments. The addition of Jim Broadbent to the cast as Professor Horace Slughorn was a brilliant selection and the Slughorn secondary plot was handled properly in context to the overall Horcrux discovery. The climactic scene in the Astronomy Tower between Dumbledore, Draco, and Snape with Harry watching was brilliantly acted and portrayed making it one of the few highlights of the overall film.

Aside from the edition of Broadbent there were no other major cast additions, the younger cast members performed admirably with the material they were given which is not a slight on them but of the script. Of the older returning cast members of the cast both Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore and Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape were excellent given either their primary or major impactful roles in this particular film.

The sixth installment of the Harry Potter franchise is an uneven film, and in my opinion worse than “Goblet of Fire”. My assessment of this film for a non-book reader is that they would find the film incomprehensible as to everything going on, while book readers would question why important scenes were ignored in the Horcrux subplot that would be relevant in the “Deathly Hallows” along with the inclusion of new scenes that did nothing but try to be different from the book. In all honestly, I would rate this film 2 ½ stars instead of 3 if I had the option.

Back to the Future Part II

It’s Hard to Follow Up A Classic

It took four years before audiences were able to see “Back to the Future Part II”, however it took me almost 20 years to fully appreciate how Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis were able to return to the original film but seeing it in another angle while going to the future and an alternate universe all the result of time travel.

The clamor of fans, as well as a bottom-line driven film studio, brought about sequel to the 1985 classic that began just where its predecessor left off with Marty, Doc, and Jennifer in the flying DeLorean headed to 2015. In the future, Marty must save his kids from ruining their lives but in exploring Hill Valley of 2015 he gets the attention of old Biff who realizes that Doc invented a time machine. Marty and Doc rescue Jennifer from the future McFly home during which old Biff steals the DeLorean and changes history, which Marty and Doc realize when they return to a dystopian 1985 Hill Valley. The duo travel back to 1955 to undo the damage old Biff had done. The electrifying ending sets up the trilogy’s final installment to perfection.
When I first watched “Back to the Future Part II” in the early 90s, I only so-so liked it because unlike the original and the final films it was so dark. Even with the cool future predicted in the film with hoverboards and hover-converted cars, the dystopia 1985 and it’s shadow over the rest of the film was a downer for my middle school self. However now that I’ve grown up and have a better appreciation of narrative flow that Gale and Zemeckis created in this middle installment and reinforce the dangers of time travel.
If you were like and felt that Part II was always the weakest of the trilogy, look again and appreciate what was accomplished in this film.

Back to the Future

Just A Great Film

What is to be said that hasn’t already been said about “Back to the Future”, the 1985 time-travel classic that made Michael J. Fox a breakout film star, well not that much and so I’ll be brief with this review.

Marty McFly, a skateboarding underachieving guitar-playing high school student, helps Emmett “Doc” Brown with an experiment in which Doc’s DeLorean travels in time. Before Doc can travel into the future, he is killed and as Marty drives for his life he travels back to 1955 and stops his parents from falling in love. As the 1955 Doc repairs the time machine, Marty races to get his parents to fall in love and prevent his erasure from history.

Starting at the top with Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, the casting is perfect and created perfect chemistry that make the film a classic. The setting of 1955 Hill Valley, CA was created perfectly and only added to making the film fantastic. The writing of Bob Gale and the direction of Robert Zemeckis were superb in seeing their dream film come to the screen.

Even though the film was released 30 years ago, it’s hasn’t aged and is still a great film to watch. I don’t know what more to say to make you watch it.


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Film)

 Slight Missteps Don’t Harm This Very Good Adaptation

The film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth in the franchise, brings darker themes to film that were prominent in the book to life both in and around Hogwarts as well as the wizarding world at large.
As with the last two films, “Order of the Phoenix” was boiled down to the essential plot and foreshadowing elements needed for future films. Unlike its immediate predecessor the film “Order of the Phoenix” was almost as well done as “Prisoner of Azkaban” with only minor transitions and plot tent poles either mishandled or poorly represented. The bureaucratic terror inflicted upon Hogwarts by Dolores Umbridge, brilliantly played by Imelda Staunton, is well handled as well as the subplot of Dumbledore’s Army along with its discovery. The climactic battle within the Ministry was a mixture of more good than bad, however there were elements that hurt the over presentation that hurt the overall product, namely how much weaker Dumbledore appeared during his duel with Voldemort.

Besides the brilliant work of Staunton, the rest of the main cast that has grown with the series did tremendous jobs though Emma Watson seemed to particularly stand out in every scene she was in. The older members of the cast, including those from previous films that returned in this film, did well as could be expected with the roles they were given in this particular film. Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore doesn’t look as impressive in action as the character is written in Rowling’s book, which I fault film’s writers and director instead of the actor. Gary Oldman’s Sirius Black hits all the right notes throughout the film so as to make his exit all the more impactful.

The fifth installment of the Harry Potter franchise is a pretty good film, although it stumbles here and there it is clearly a step above “Goblet of Fire”. The darker themes present in “Order of the Phoenix” herald the trouble ahead mirroring the book in a very good adaptation of the book making this film deserving of its 4-star rating.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Film)

Like the Book, a Good But Not Great Transitioning Film

The film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth in the franchise, had both the unenviable task of following the “Prisoner of Azkaban” as well as bring to film how the series transitions from the lightheartedness of the earlier series to the darker themes to come.

Like it’s predecessor, “Goblet of Fire” was boiled down to the essential plot and foreshadowing elements needed for future films, however until like it’s predecessor it wasn’t as well done given the amount of things that occurred in the book that related to one another. The decision to focus on action given the events of the Triwizard Tournament is not the problem, it was the amount and quality that was and that took away from the narrative especially when it came to Voldemort’s supporter within Hogwarts and the surrounding details connected to him. The memories of the Pensieve are better executed in the film than in the book, though the clues they provide could be lost if you aren’t paying attention. The main cast of the film continued to grow as actors and the inclusion of Ralph Fiennes (Lord Vordemort) and Brendan Gleeson (‘Mad Eye’ Alastor Moody) provide perfect actors to portray their characters.

The fourth installment of the Harry Potter franchise is a good film, but there were missteps that stopped if from equally the quality of it’s predecessor “Prisoner of Azkaban”. Even with these unfortunate mistakes, “Goblet of Fire” does succeed in bring to the forefront that the franchise is in for some dark times ahead.




3.0 out of 5 stars Action First, Story Third Undermine Film’s Potential
The action-thriller film by director/screenwriter Luc Besson has over-the-top action and thrills with chills, however actors Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman were given poorly used characters and with a nonsensical story that wasn’t helped by how the main and subplot were interwoven together throughout the film.
The film revolves around the titular character, Lucy (Johansson), receiving psychokinetic abilities due to a nootropic drug getting absorbed into her bloodstream. In and of itself, the plot is intriguing and gave Besson a lot play with as he wrote the script. However he cut down the potential of the film by multiplying the locations and the need to show overindulgent action sequences that were in direct opposition to the information that Professor Samuel Norman (Freeman) had relayed through exposition delivered in the lecture he was introduced in or just took up too much time like the Parisian car chase.
The introduction of Lucy at the beginning of the film in retrospect was a tell-tell sign of the problems the film would have as she is forced by her boyfriend to deliver a suitcase for him after it’s handcuffed to her, the biggest problem was that instead of delivering it she could have easily bashed it upside his head and gotten the handcuff cut off. Next was her interaction with the Korean mob, which need not have taken place at all since it would have been easy to take off the handcuff and x-ray the suitcase since it was clearly too lightweight to be lead-lined. And the interruptions of lions stalking gazelles while Lucy was in the lobby was needless over-the-top foreshadowing. In fact initial setting of Taiwan wasn’t really necessary with the film ending in Paris given the events taking place, it could have all taken place in Paris or ended in Seoul (or Tokyo). Without an uncomplicated process of going to one location to another, the character played by Amr Waked could played a larger part in the film as Lucy’s connection to human emotion as she continues to transcend humanity with the increase of her intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities. In fact, instead of using the “10% myth” Besson could have instead used the concept of brain efficiency along with internal genetic modification by the introduced drug to help explain Lucy’s changes.
Once the end credits begin, the biggest take away from Lucy is that the film could have been better given the great performances by Johansson and Freeman. But as I said at the beginning of this review, both characters were poorly used throughout a nonsensically plotted film. Instead of just a simple thriller, Besson could have created a high level psychological thriller with plenty of action but went action first and story third.