Archive for category Movies
First up, my thanks to eBookSoda, who are featuring Mayday today. They’re a great little readers’ site like BookBub where they send you ebook recommendations tailored to your taste. www.ebooksoda.com. Check them out if you’re after some cheap books!
Now, onto my thoughts about Godzilla 2014. Minor spoilers ahead!
Oh man. It’s been a long time since there was a movie to split the kaiju fanbase like Godzilla 2014. For some people, it was the big budget version of the King of the Monsters they’d always wanted to see. For others, well…
Let me get this out of the way up front. I didn’t dislike Godzilla. It had a lot going for it. I was getting hyped just from the awesome credit sequence at the beginning. We’re treated to a montage of nuclear testing around Bikini Atoll, with the clear implication that they weren’t tests at all. The score is fantastic during this opening, really getting you in the mood for what promises to be a dark, ominous monster movie, a true successor to the original 1954 Gojira.
The first act follows Bryan Cranston’s character as the mystery is built and the tension rises. There’s something out there, something bad, and it’s not clear whether anyone is going to be able to stop it. Bryan Cranston’ acting is amazing as usual. As the mystery builds, it looks like Cranston is going to have to team up with Ken Watanabe’s character, a scientist dedicated to studying creatures like Godzilla, to uncover the truth behind the MUTOs, a pair of monsters from prehistoric times that feed on nuclear energy. I was pumped.
And then at the end of the first act, the movie dies. Bryan Cranston drops out of the story and we’re left following his son, Lieutenant Bland of the US Navy. All Lt Bland wants is to get back to Mrs (Dr) Bland and Little Boy Bland so they can reform their perfect nuclear family. But in the meantime, Lt Bland stumbles around, somehow falling into every military operation that has anything to do with the monsters because apparently no one else in the entire US military knows anything about the nukes they’ve decided to deploy against the MUTOs.
Occasionally the movie flicks back to Ken Watanabe, who it turns out only exists to tearfully deliver lines of exposition and wisdom that aren’t nearly as profound as the movie seems to think they are. Other times, we go to Mrs and Little Boy Bland as they sit there wringing their hands, asking “Where’s Lt Bland? Why isn’t he here yet?”
And it goes on like that for almost the entire second act. An hour where these characters are not developed at all, an hour where we’re expected to care about these characters when the film has done nothing to earn it.
But what about the monsters? So what if the human characters are dull. This is a Godzilla movie, goddamnit! Where does the King come into it? Don’t we get to see the monsters? Don’t we get to see Godzilla duking it out with his foes? Don’t we get to watch buildings topple around the puny humans?
Sure. Sometimes. For a few seconds. Before the camera cuts away to Mrs and Little Boy Bland watching TV. Not just once, but again and again. For most of the movie, it just teases us, giving us a glimpse of the monsters before cutting away again.
And therein lies the movie’s problem. I totally get what they were trying to do. A slow build to a final, massive reveal is a great way to build tension. If it’s done right. If we become invested in the human characters. If we’re not dragged away from the interesting parts to focus on characters who have no character traits except “wife” or “soldier man”.
The original 1954 Gojira did a fantastic job of this. Godzilla only appears for a relatively short period of the film’s total running time. But his shadow hangs over the whole movie. The human characters are actually interesting. Consider Dr Serizawa, a scientist who has developed a weapon that might be Japan’s only defence against Godzilla, but who fears that weapon might be even more devastating than the atomic bomb if the world learns of its existence. That’s a character I can get behind.
And the most frustrating thing is that Godzilla 2014 nearly had that. Bryan Cranston’s character, an obsessive, guilt-ridden truth-searcher, was interesting. He had a clear arc. He had perfectly valid reasons to become involved with the monsters and let us share in both the human drama and the monster action. He should have been the main character. By teaming him up with Watanabe’s character, we could have a couple of truly great actors in truly great roles to make a truly great movie.
But instead, Cranston’s character is tossed aside and barely mentioned again after the first act. All we’re left with is Lt Bland, who along with his military chums manages to achieve almost nothing of value in the entire movie. I’m not kidding about that. We spend all this time following the military as they make dumb decision after dumb decision, none of which have any effect whatsoever on the film’s conclusion. Lieutenant Bland spends most of the second half of the movie trying to clean up the military’s mistakes while they sit around twiddling their thumbs, waiting for Godzilla to show up and save them. Godzilla becomes relegated to little more than a convenient deus ex machina who exists only to beat up the MUTOs at the end.
Even Godzilla seems to know that. After the humans fail to do anything once again, Godzilla finally sighs, drags himself out of the ocean, and solves the problem that the humans were too inept to deal with. But it takes so long to get there that by the time we actually see the monster action in the last ten minutes or so of the film, the movie had nearly lost me. And that’s a shame, because that last action is very good. It’s everything a Godzilla fan could want out of a final battle (as brief as it was). But I don’t know that it’s enough to save the movie.
I know it sounds like I’m being really harsh. But I didn’t hate this movie. I just feel like it was so close to being so much better. I know a lot of people enjoyed it, and more power to them. I’m just disappointed that I wasn’t able to love it as much as I hoped I would.
I sincerely hope the movie does well enough that a sequel is made. I love that kaiju are finally making their way back into the public consciousness of the West. I just hope that they can take a few lessons from Godzilla 2014 and deliver an even better sequel, one that understands what it’s trying to do, one that doesn’t cave to the pressure to have Mr Generic Military Man and his nuclear family as the main characters, one that strives to create characters we can be interested in.
I have a soft spot for kaiju (giant monster) movies. You know, those Japanese ones with the guys stomping around model Tokyo in a rubber suit? Ever since the original Gojira (Godzilla) was released in 1954, Toho’s Godzilla series has been the most popular kaiju films both in Japan and internationally. Everyone in the world knows who Godzilla is.
Now, Godzilla’s pretty cool, but he’s not my favorite kaiju . Ever since I saw some of his films on old MST3K episodes, my heart has always belonged to one monster. The Guardian of the Universe, Friend to all Children. Yes, the giant flying turtle extraordinaire, Gamera!
So you can imagine my excitement when this box arrived for me in the mail.
Yes. Flush with the recent cheque I received for my book sales, I decided to splurge on one of the beautifully crafted Gamera figures from the Sci-Fi Revoltech line. These figures are made in Japan and are highly posable, and they’re not cheap. Basically, they’re toys for nerds. The sort of thing you snatch away from the grubby hands of small children to play with yourself.
This particular figure is from Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion, part of the Gamera reboot trilogy from the ’90s. (Some of the best kaiju movies in existence. Seriously, check them out. You can grab the whole trilogy on Blu-Ray from Amazon for ridiculously cheap.)
I’ll spare you the details of the childlike squeal of glee I uttered when I opened the box and pulled out my new Gamera toy. He was beautiful. Gloriously detailed. And he has barely left my side since I got him. Dear readers, I want to introduce you all to my pal Gamera.
Isn’t he wonderful? I realize many of you will be shaking your heads right now, wondering what I’m so excited about. But screw you, Gamera is awesome. Don’t judge me!
Ahem. Like I said, Gamera is a giant turtle. And you know what turtles have? Shells.
Look at that detail. A lot of care went into sculpting Gamera. But he doesn’t just look pretty. Gamera is a hell of a character. Check out the other antics Gamera gets up to when I’m trying to write:
Gamera using his fireball attack to defend my desk against the Legion hordes.
Gamera reading some quality literature.
Gamera reading some better literature.
Gamera sneaking up on his old rival, Mobile Suit Gundam RX-78-2.
Gamera meeting a strange new creature.
Gamera making friends with the strange new creature.
Gamera contemplating what it really means to be a giant, flying, fire-breathing turtle in a world that just doesn’t accept him.
Um, yeah. I blame all of you for these shenanigans. By buying my books, you support this nonsense.
Seriously, I have actually been writing. The next Miles Franco urban fantasy book and an unrelated noir crime novel are both with the editor at the moment. In the meantime, I’m hard at work on another superhero novel set in the Don’t Be a Hero Atomverse, tentatively titled Heroes Die First. I just passed 30,000 words the other day (Don’t Be a Hero was around 120,000 words total) so I’m making good headway. Especially now I have Gamera by my side to inspire me.
Stay classy, everyone. Say goodbye, Gamera!
Yep, pretty much. Still undeniably awesome though.
These blog posts are getting so far apart you could sail the Titanic between them. One of these days I’ll get a decent posting schedule going. At the moment I’m chest-deep in edits for Don’t Be a Hero, so between that, uni work, seeing The Avengers, and being lazy, blogging has once again fallen by the wayside.
But that’s not why I’ve gathered you all here today. Lately I’ve been watching a lot of B movies from the ‘50s and ‘60s, and I’ve been thinking about the decline and resurrection of low-budget films and books. From about the 1920s to the 1980s, the public consumed this sort of stuff by the crate-load. Sure, a lot of it was low quality, but there was a special kind of rough-and-tumble magic in these cheaply-produced and cheaply-sold works. Often these works were lurid, touching topics deemed inappropriate or distasteful by the more prestigious producers, but they were gobbled up by the public. For novels and short stories, this was the domain of the pulps and the dime novels. It was the birthing ground of many of today’s staple genre tropes, including hardboiled private eyes, intrepid space explorers, and prototype superheroes. These cheaply-produced books and magazines made the careers of many writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Raymond Chandler, and readers devoured them. Not only that, but early lesbian pulp novels were some of the first books to explore lesbian characters and relationships (even if many of them were little more than soft porn written by heterosexual men) since the pulps were not respected enough to bother censoring. These books became highly important in the lives of many lesbians in a time when coming out was almost impossible in many communities.
Lagging a decade or two behind, the film industry started doing the same thing. In the 1940s came the rise of the B movies, and later the exploitation films, the drive-ins and the grindhouse theatres. These movies covered a broad range of genres, but violence, sex, and giant man-eating blobs were never far away. While Hollywood was the major force in cinema, many international filmmakers were cutting their teeth on B movies. In Japan, actors in Godzilla costumes rampaged through models of Tokyo, and giant space turtles with rockets for legs became friends with Japanese children. And in Italy, cannibals and zombies broke open skulls and devoured brains that looked suspiciously like spaghetti. Like with lesbian pulp fiction, these films were considered to be of low importance, so they often managed to skirt the edges of the Hayes Code that was effectively censoring Hollywood through the middle of the twentieth century. Like the pulps, many filmmakers started out making such fare, producing pictures with little financial risk. And audiences revelled in their schlocky goodness.
But through the 70s and 80s, these forms of entertainment began to decline. Small studios and publishers got bought up by larger ones, and those ones were bought by even larger corporations. It became more difficult for smaller studios and publishers to gain enough distribution to turn a profit. Budgets for producing books and movies began to increase, and as more money was sunk into their creation, these stories had to have broader and broader appeal to cover their costs. And without a doubt, some incredible books and films were made during this period, fully making use of their huge budgets to get the best people and equipment money could buy. But something was lost, as well. Many gems surely went uncreated as the old millennium turned into the new one and B movies and pulp magazines were pushed to the wayside.
But the times, they are a’changing. With the move to digital distribution, projects that might be too niche to justify large-scale physical distribution can still attract an audience. We have web-based shows and movies emerging, such as The Mercury Men and the fantastic Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Books that might never get published by a large publisher can now be produced independently or by a small house at a fraction of the cost. Creators of these low-budget films and books can afford to do unusual things and reach small niches without risking the tens of millions that might be spent by a large studio.
I don’t think we’ll see the disappearance of big publishers and Hollywood studios. There will always be profit in providing stories that appeal to large portions of the public, if the company can operate effectively and efficiently. And I think this is a good thing. Some of my favorite books and movies are very popular. But I also predict that in the next 10 years we will see an even greater rise in the prominence of independently-produced books and movies. I expect movies to lag behind ebooks a little, as the costs of entry for producing a movie, no matter how low-budget, will always be lower than writing a book. But technology has advanced and become cheaper, and now almost everyone has a computer capable of acting as a basic film editing studio. And with services like Netflix, paid digital distribution of movies will become commonplace, eliminating many of the distribution difficulties faced by small studios.
And as these new and different books and movies start becoming more widely available, I think we will also see topics that were once niche becoming mainstream. Look at the box office right now. At the top of the charts we have a continuity-driven movie about superheroes—something that has long been the realm of geeks and nerds—that was written and directed by Joss Whedon, a man that has a significant cult following but never quite broke into the mainstream. Now The Avengers is poised to gross ONE BILLION DOLLARS (read that in a Dr. Evil voice). And it deserves it, too. 10 years ago, who would’ve figured this would be happening today?
So I’m excited. The world is changing fast. There are more opportunities out there for creators than ever before. And I want another Gamera movie.
So the official “The Dark Knight Rises” trailer has been released. Can’t say that it’s blown me away, but see what you think.
And yes, Bane really is that difficult to understand. It took me a few seconds after he spoke to translate it into actual human speech. I have a feeling we’ll need subtitles.