Mothra vs. Godzilla (Godzilla #4)

b00006fd9h.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Mothra vs. Godzilla
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

The 1964 film Mothra vs. Godzilla is the fourth film of the Godzilla franchise and second of the Mothra that were matched up after the success of King Kong vs. Godzilla two years before and the successful solo 1961 Mothra film.  The screenplay was written by Sinichi Sekizawa following up his work on the 1961 film while Ishiro Honda directed his fifth kaiju film.

A typhoon wrecks the coast of Japan and the aftermath is covered by reporter Ichiro Sakai and photographer Junko Nakanishi and unknowingly find a radioactive scale from Godzilla.  Later that day, a giant egg is discovered off shore and the duo go to investigate it, trying to interview Professor  Shunsuke Miura who is testing the egg when he is stopped by entrepreneur Kumayama who has bought the egg from local villagers to make it a tourist attraction.  Kumayama is the front man for Jiro Torahata of Happy Enterprises and during a meeting they are confronted by a tiny pair of twins who want the egg released, but they try to grab the girls.  Sakai, Nakanishi, and Miura are meet in the same hotel when they come across the twins and agree to help them, but their efforts come to naught and the twins leave with Mothra to Infant Island.  The Godzilla emerges from under typhoon debris then begins ravaging the countryside, killing Torahata after he kills Kumayama after the two have a falling out, even though the Japanese and American militaries attempt to stop it.  Sakai, Nakanishi, and Miura go to Infant Island to ask Mothra for help though they have to convince the atomically assaulted natives and the twins to allow them to speak to the native kaiju.  Mothra agrees knowing it’ll soon die and battles Godzilla to protect its egg but can’t last, but Godzilla loses interest in the egg when the military reappears.  The egg hatches and two larvae emerge and battle Godzilla, forcing it to retreat to the sea before heading to Infant Island.

With a runtime of 88 minutes, the film is an attempt by Honda to be a message of warning for the consequences of atomic warfare however unlike the original film that message is undermined.  Without a doubt the best features of this film are the top-notch special effects and the kaiju battle in the last third of the picture.  Unfortunately, the lead up to the kaiju showdown was underwhelming as the human subplots were well written either because they didn’t make sense, meandered, or had no point other than just taking up screen time to get to the kaiju battle.  The Kumayama/Torahata subplot was a total waste of time as it added nothing to the overall film though sent the other human subplots on tangents that hurt those subplots.

Mothra vs. Godzilla is built on the kaiju battle and delivers, however the road to get there meandered in sense or had no point that it frustrates the viewer that just wants to see Mothra and Godzilla go at it.  Given that these two kaiju are probably the two most popular in the genre that this film is so poor is disappointing but if you can make it through the first two-thirds of the film the battle delivers.

Godzilla

Godzilla Raids Again (Godzilla #2)

Godzilla Raids AgainGodzilla Raids Again
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

The 1955 film Godzilla Raids Again, is the second installment in the kaiju franchise following up the hugely successful first film just the year before. Takeo Murata and Shigeru Kayama once again wrote the screenplay and story along with Shigeaki Hidaki thus giving continuity to this Motoyoshi Oda directed film.

The film begins with two pilots, Shoichi Tsukioka and Koji Kobayashi, employed by an Osaka based fish cannery hunting schools of fish for the company’s fleet. Kobayashi’s plane experiences a malfunction forcing him to land near Iwato Island, Tsukioka looks for his friend and finds him safe only for the two men to be confronted by strange sounds then discover two monsters fighting. Tsukioka instantly identifies Godzilla before the two monsters crash into the sea. When meeting with government officials and scientists in Osaka, Kobayashi identifies the other as Anguirus. Amongst the group is Dr. Yamane who states that the two monsters were probably awakened by the hydrogen bomb testing that woke the first Godzilla, but unlike before they do not have the Oxygen Destroyer and must find another means of saving the country. Based on a recommendation by Yamane, the city is blacked out and the military uses flares out at sea that get Godzilla’s attention and moves him away from shore. Unfortunately a group of criminals breaks out of their transport and begin racing around the city, one of the chases leads to a fiery crash at industrial building that causes a larger fire getting Godzilla’s attention. Godzilla heads into Osaka when Anguirus emerges from the sea to attack him, they battle throughout the city before Godzilla kills his rival in the rumble of Osaka’s iconic castle. With their cannery destroyed, Kobayashi heads to their Hokkaido cannery where he is joined by Tsukioka a few months later when news breaks that Godzilla has been sighted again. The two pilots join the search, Kobayashi in his company plane while Tsukioka has been called up to the military. Godzilla’s atomic breathe disable Kobayashi’s plane and he crashed into snow covered mountain, but a sadden Tsukioka realizes they can shoot missiles at the mountain and cover Godzilla with an avalanche. It takes two waves of planes to complete the task and many pilot lives, but Godzilla is buried thus saving Japan.

Running almost 20 minutes less than the original, the film takes a completely different approach from the start. The introduction to the films main protagonists and the monsters is within the first ten minutes and letting the story flow from there. The use of clips from the original film and the reappearance of Dr. Yamane gave continuality from the previous installment while also giving information that this was a different individual Godzilla not the previous one come back to life. Like the first film, the special effects are top notch and essentially make this film live up to the original in that aspect. However, like the previous film there wasn’t much in character development through there was an attempt to give one to Kobayashi to make his death more meaningful. Yet the overall story felt off because after Godzilla had killed Anguirus and the characters vowed to rebuild, it felt like the film was over only for the setting to suddenly shift to Hokkaido.

Even though it is not as symbolic or high quality as its predecessor, Godzilla Raids Again was a good sequel that essentially made the franchise possible. The inclusion of two of the original writers provided for continuity from the first but keeping this film distinct. Although the story isn’t prefect, the special effects more than make up for it thus making for a fun watch.

Godzilla

Godzilla: King of the Monsters! (Godzilla #1.5)

GodzillaGodzilla: King of Monsters!
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

The 1956 film Godzilla: King of the Monsters!, is the Americanized version of the original 1954 film that introduced the character not only to the United States but a worldwide audience.  The film’s English dubbing and insertion of Raymond Burr as the star of the film took away many of the political, societal, and anti-nuclear themes of the original.  However, it’s portrayal of the Japanese as both heroic protagonists and sympathetic victims that deal with the destruction wrought by the titular character were a first after World War II in the United States.

The film begins with American reporter Steve Martin being taken to a hospital with other victims of Godzilla’s devastation of Tokyo.  Through flashbacks Martin relates the events leading up that moment beginning with 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 awakened by atomic and nuclear testing.  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.  Yamane’s daughter, Emiko goes to her former fiancé Serizama and convinces him to use his scientific discovery to kill Godzilla.  Using his Oxygen Destroyer, Serizama kills not only Godzilla and himself to prevent his discovery from becoming a weapon.  A recovering Martin observes a hopeful conclusion at the end of the film after the monster’s death.

The Americanized edit transformed the film into a documentary style film taking away some of the dramatic effect, but was actually easy because of original director Ishiro Hondo’s original story had been told in somewhat a documentary tone.  Spliced throughout the film were scenes featuring Burr meeting stand-ins for the Japanese characters—seen only from behind—thus inserting him into the narrative easily but keeping a but 16 minutes of the original film in this edit.  These 16 minutes covers the love triangle of the original film that was not the best story arc of the film, but also cut a lot of “fleshing” out of Serizama.  Also among that missing footage is the truly anti-nuclear language, which the American audience would not have liked but there was enough nuclear elements that audiences would think it related to other atomic-mutation B-movie monsters.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters! while not as high quality as Gojira, yet the meddling of American and Japanese film created film monster legend in the United States that most likely made the Godzilla franchise what it is today.  Though my personal preference for the original film overshadows this Americanized version, I won’t deny its importance for the character and the franchise as a whole.

Godzilla

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (James Bond #6)

OHMSSOn Her Majesty’s Secret Service
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The dual announcements that Sean Connery would retire from the role of James Bond and that the franchise would continue brought speculation as to who would play 007 in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  The film based on the tenth novel written by Ian Fleming, the most faithful of any adaptation in the franchise, is George Lazerby’s sole outing as the famous British agent.

James Bond saves a woman, later identified as Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo, from committing suicide by drowning off the coast of Portugal then later meets in a casino. Through a series of fights and kidnappings with bodyguards sent by her father, Bond learns Tracy is the only daughter of Marc-Ange Draco head of a European crime syndicate. In exchange for romancing Tracy, Bond asks Draco to find out where Ernst Stavro Blofeld is. After returning to London and having an argument with M, Bond travels to Portugal and romances Tracy then later learns through Draco to investigate a law firm in Bern, Switzerland. Bond finds out that Blofeld is looking to claim a noble title and corresponding with a member of the College of Arms, Sir Hilary Bray. Posing as Bray, Bond infiltrates Blofeld allergy research clinic in Switzerland where he is brainwashing young woman to be bacteriological warfare carries throughout the world. Bond, as Bray, attempts to persuade Blofeld to leave the country only to be discovered as an imposter which results in a ski chase and leading to Bond finding Tracy. After a car chase results in a few hours respite, Bond proposes to Tracy who accepts. The next morning as the chase ensues once again on skis; Blofeld sets off an avalanche and captures Tracy while Bond is briefly buried. Hearing from London, Bond learns that Blofeld is prepared to hold the world ransom and that it would be paid and directly orders him not to interfere. Bond then enlists his future father-in-law to mount a rescue attempt of Tracy and destroy Blofeld’s facility. After successfully rescuing Tracy, Bond chases Blofeld via bobsleigh until the SPECTRE mastermind is snared in a tree branch injuring his next. The film ends with the new Mr. and Mrs. Bond leaving their wedding and while stopped on the side of the road to remove flowers from their car, Blofeld drive by and kill Tracy in a hail of bullets with the film ending with a distraught Bond cradling Tracy in his arms.

From the beginning of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service there were two arcs of the plot, Bond romancing Tracy and Bond continuing his pursuit of Blofeld from You Only Live Twice, which were both independent and interwoven creating well-crafted story. With a new actor playing the main, producers wanted a film with plot over gadgetry to highlight this was the same character even with a new face. However this created a plot hole with the Bond-as-Bray infiltration of Blofeld’s clinic as while Blofeld had had plastic surgery, the film had gone to great lengths with references early in the film that the James Bond on screen was also the same in the previous five films which meant Blofeld should have instantly recognized Bond. Along with a new face as Bond and a return to plot, the stale formulas were either scrapped or toned down even in an attempt to let the new main man show his chops. George Lazerby’s sole outing as James Bond is very good, his portrayal was not perfect by any means especially in some of the more action and confrontational scenes but when it came to the love story with Tracy and the emotional ending he was excellent and better than Connery would have been. Diana Rigg’s Tracy is one of—if not—the best women in the franchise given the era when the film was produced and the actress portraying her. Telly Savalas’ Blofeld was a major improvement from the portrayal by Donald Pleasence in the previous film and frankly the Savalas Blofeld is to me is one of the best Bond villains.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the best film in the Bond franchise, while Goldfinger might be more iconic, Lazerby’s sole installment is slightly better. While it would have been interesting to see Lazerby’s continued portrayal of James Bond, his dissatisfaction over the film and later pay would result in the return for one last go around for the man who made the character famous.

James Bond

You Only Live Twice (James Bond #5)

YOLTYou Only Live Twice
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

After four consecutive films in as many years, there was a two year wait before You Only Live Twice arrived in theaters. While sharing the title with the eleventh novel written by Ian Fleming, this film was the first to diverge completely from the written material mainly because one of the main storylines of the book could not be covered because it had not occurred in any previous film.

An American spacecraft is hijacked from orbit by a SPECTRE spacecraft resulting in the United States accusing the Soviets, who deny it. The British suspect Japanese involvement since the unidentified craft landed in the Sea of Japan. Upon faking his death, James arrives in Japan to investigate meeting with Aki, the MI6 station chief, and then Aki’s boss Japanese secret service chief Tiger Tanaka. Bond identifies Osato Chemicals as being a part of the plot, meeting with Mr. Osato and his security Helga Brandt, and identifying a suspicious cargo ship owned by Osato. After a failed investigation of the cargo ship, Bond almost killed by Brandt but is able to escapes death but results in Brandt being killed by the head of SPECTRE who orders Osato to kill Bond. Then SPECTRE hijacks a Soviet spacecraft resulting in the Soviet Union to blame the Americans as tensions rise. While investigating an island the cargo ship had passed, Bond battles helicopters confirming the island’s importance. Tanaka develops a plan to crash train Bond as a ninja, disguise him as a Japanese fisherman to be married to a local woman, and search for the base so Tanaka can attack with a force of 100 ninjas. During the process, an Osato henchman kills Aki making things personal for Bond. Bond proceeds with Tanaka’s plan and with his “wife” Kissy discover the SPECTRE base, Kissy goes to inform Tanaka while Bond infiltrates the base. Discovering the missing Astronaut and Cosmonauts, Bond attempts to get on board the SPECTRE spacecraft but is spotted by SPECTRE’s mastermind Ernst Stavro Blofeld. While meeting Blofeld, Tanaka’s forces attack the base and a timely intervention by Bond allows some into the base. Blofeld retreats killing Osato and orders a henchman to kill Bond. Bond defeats the henchman and is able to destroy the SPECTRE spacecraft before it can hijack another American spacecraft. Blofeld’s sets off the base’s self-destruct forcing Bond and Tanaka’s forces to escape through a former lava tunnel to be rescued by Japanese and British maritime units.

Unlike the previous installment, You Only Live Twice set a narrative pace that was steady throughout the film keeping the viewer engaged in the film. Setting the film nearly all the scenes in and around Japan was a departure from previous Bond films, however it helped keep the film focused while still giving spectacular background visuals throughout the film. Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay with collaboration from director Lewis Gilbert, resulting in a singular vision of the film that helped the overall product. Yet the film isn’t without some flaws, some unfortunate and others detrimental. The most unfortunate is the running time, which could have been cut in several places including some action sequences that ran just a tad too long. The other was the reliance an formulas, some of which Dahl commented on in later interviews that he was told to include while being given free rein over the rest of the story, that over the course of five films were getting stale. But the biggest flaw was Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who made his debut as a little, scarred, bald man played by Donald Pleasence. With three of the previous four Bond films having involved SPECTRE, the reveal of Blofeld is somewhat of a letdown considering that both Dr. No and Emilio Largo were both more intimidating and overall more impressive antagonists for Bond to faceoff with. What does not help is that Pleasence’s Blofeld is the go to megalomaniacal villain that parodies of all Bond and spy genre films go for.

You Only Live Twice is a fun, good paced film but when compared to the previous four films of the Connery era there are problems that an observant viewer can pick out. Although this was meant to be Connery’s swansong as the titular character, he didn’t call-in his performance but there are issues that hurt the overall product that were out of his control. Overall it’s a nice film, nothing better or worse.

James Bond Film Page

Thunderball (James Bond #4)

ThunderballThunderball
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Coming off the huge success of Goldfinger, the fourth Bond film had the unenviable task of following it a year later with high expectations.  Based upon the eighth Bond novel by Ian Fleming which was itself a novelization of a unfilmed screenplay, Thunderball was a mixture quality action sequences and slow pacing that created just a bit of a letdown from the franchise’s previous installment.

After killing a high ranking SPECTRE operative, James Bond is recuperating at sanitarium where he unknowingly interactions with SPECTRE agents that are beginning the organization’s latest project of stealing two atomic bombs and ransoming NATO.  After the successful theft of the bombs, Bond is called to London for an emergency 00 conference and after looking at the dossier, convinces M to send him to Nassau.  Soon after his arrival, Bond meets SPECTRE’s Number Two Emilio Largo who masterminded the operation and arouses Bond’s suspicions.  Bond joined by Felix Leiter and MI6 agents in the Bahamas begins searching for the missing NATO plane while also playing a cat-and-mouse game with Largo and various SPECTRE agents.  Upon finding the missing plane and confirming Largo has them, Bond along with U.S. Coast Guard divers battle SPECTRE off the shore of Miami to secure one bomb.  Then infiltrating Largo’s ship, Bond is able to stop the man’s attempt to get away with the last bomb.

While Thunderball was the most financially successful Bond film until Live and Let Die, comparing it to earlier films and looking at it critically there were significant issues that affected the overall presentation.  The first and most importantly was the pacing at the beginning of the film, especially when Bond was in the sanitarium.  The slow beginning could have been tightened in numerous ways while not losing important plot developments.  The second were the numerous underwater sequences, save the battle off Miami, which simply took too much time each without equal story development.  Connery’s performances was once again top notch, Adolfo Celi’s Emilio Largo was an impressive villain, and Luciana Paluzzi’s femme fatale Fiona Volpe were stand out performances throughout the film.  But the highlight and most memorable part of the film was the climatic underwater battle, which was skillfully choreographed.

Thunderball, while not close to mediocre, doesn’t not compare to its predecessor.  While unfortunately dragged down by a slow beginning, the great acting and a fantastic climactic battle makes this a solidly good film.

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Goldfinger (James Bond #3)

GoldfingerGoldfinger
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Goldfinger, the third film of the Sean Connery era truly changed the James Bond franchise.  Based on the seventh novel by Ian Fleming of the same name, this film built up on the momentum of the previous two and added the final motifs related to the franchise in becoming the quintessential James Bond film.

James Bond begins an investigation of bullion dealer Auric Goldfinger in Miami, at first observing and then upsetting his cheating scheme at a game of gin rummy which has deadly consequences for a recently met love interest.  Back in London, Bond learns that Goldfinger is suspected of smuggling gold internationally and is task to figure out how he does it.  After playing (and defeating) Goldfinger in a game of golf, Bond follows Goldfinger and his henchman Oddjob to Switzerland where he discovers how Goldfinger smuggles his gold as well as a meeting with a Chinese agent.  However, Bond is captured and set up to be cut in half by a industrial laser but saves himself by lying about MI6 knowing about his plan with the Chinese agent.  Goldfinger brings Bond to Kentucky, where on the surface he is setting up an operation to steal all the gold in Fort Knox but in fact it is to make it radioactive by setting off a dirty bomb.  Bond “persuades” Goldfinger’s personal pilot, Pussy Galore, to notify the FBI and Army about the attack and interrupt it through Bond is locked in the vault with the bomb and Oddjob.  Bond is able to electrocute Oddjob then struggled to disarm the bomb only for a nuclear specialist to arrive and turn it off.  The film ends with Bond on a flight to Washington when Goldfinger comes out of the cockpit, but the resulting gun battle sees Goldfinger sucked out of plane due to explosive decompression while Bond and Pussy parachute safety to some secluded woods.

Though my synopsis of the plot is pretty basic, Goldfinger’s was clearly the best of these early Bond films.  With a mix of action, espionage, and various locations, the plot was tight allowing both Connery and Gert Frobe (playing the titular Goldfinger) to deliver great performances with the latter’s becoming the standard future Bond villains would be measured.  This film completed the motifs that would define the franchise: the Bond theme songs introduced over the title sequence began with the classic “Goldfinger” sung by Shirley Bassey, the Bond quote “Shaken, not stirred” was first spoken in this film, and Bond’s heavy reliance on technology.

Goldfinger is considered the classic installment of the franchise, in fact because of its huge success in 1964 that its script would be the template for films to come as well the reliance on technology that would be overused in installments to come.  However, neither of those factors takes away the luster of his film which is always in discussion for the best in the entire franchise even 50+ years later.

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