Sunday, November 26, 2017

Review Hub - Alice in Wonderland


Since its original publication in 1865, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by author Lewis Carroll has gone on to be considered a beloved classic. Its sequel, "Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There", has achieved a similar status, to the point where the two books are usually reprinted together in some form. These stories, both in the public domain, have since provided the basis for countless adaptations and re-imaginings, including its two most well-known versions: a classic (animated) Disney movie and a darker take on the story by game developer American McGee. While there is simply a lot to offer when it comes to Alice, we at this blog will provide reviews of whatever Alice media we can cover, assuming we feel it's deemed worth our time and/or our opinion is worth sharing.

Below is a list of every Alice-related review on this blog, organized into categories and by order of release.


Non-Disney Films



Disney Films


Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Alice Through the Looking Glass

American McGee Games


American McGee's Alice
Alice: Madness Returns

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Stubs - 36 Hours


36 Hours (1965) Starring James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Rod Taylor, Werner Peters, John Banner, Russell Thorson, Alan Napier Directed by George Seaton. Screenplay by George Seaton.  Based on the short story "Beware of the Dog" by Roald Dahl in Harper's (Oct 1944). Produced by William Perlberg. Runtime: 115 minutes. USA War, Drama, World War II, Suspense

Roald Dahl is not a name you usually associate with war and suspense, but World War II affected everyone, Dahl included. His short story “Beware of the Dog”, originally published in Harper’s Magazine in 1944, tells the story of an RAF pilot, Peter Williamson, who gets shot down over Vichy France, but wakes up in a hospital bed in Brighton, or so he thinks. He becomes suspicious of his surroundings, finally figuring out that he is still in Vichy France and that his English caregivers are actually Germans in disguise.

Dahl is best known for his children’s books Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches and James and the Giant Peach, all of which were also made into successful movies, some more than once. But he was actually in the RAF during the war. After he was injured on duty, he was transferred to Washington D.C. in 1942, where he worked as an Air attaché and began his writing career recounting his War experiences.

James Garner was a television star first. After leaving the US Army in 1952, he began acting. He played a non-speaking role in the Broadway stage version of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, letting him observe Henry Fonda on a daily basis. After that, he moved to television. According to his autobiography, Garner claims that he was almost the lead in the TV series Cheyenne, but when the casting director couldn’t reach him in time, the role went to Clint Walker.

After a couple of years, Garner landed his own starring role on TV in Maverick (1957-1960) but left after three seasons. He appeared in the film Darby’s Rangers (1958) after Charlton Heston turned down the lead. He was subsequently hired by Warner Bros. to appear in such films as Up Periscope (1959) and Cash McCall (1960). After leaving Warner Bros. he starred in such films as The Children’s Hour (1962) opposite Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine; Boy’s Night Out (1962) with Kim Novak and Tony Randall; and Move Over Darling (1963) a remake of My Favorite Wife (1940), playing the role created by Cary Grant, an actor to which Garner is often compared. Other roles in such films as The Great Escape (1963) and The Americanization of Emily (1964) followed.

By 1965, Garner had formed his own production company, Cherokee Productions, and one of the movies that company made was the adaptation of the Dahl short story, now called 36 Hours. With George Seaton writing the screenplay and directing, the film was shot on location in Portugal, Germany and Yosemite National Park, where most of the film was shot. Exterior shots were filmed at the Wawona Hotel near the entrance of Yosemite.

The Wawona Hotel in Yosemite doubles for the U.S. Army hospital in 36 Hours.

A few days before D-Day, with the plans finalized for the invasion at Normandy, Allied troops are concerned that the Germans might be onto their plan, even though Nazi troops are currently concentrated at Pas de Calais, where they anticipate the invasion will take place.

In order to check that out, his commanding officer, General Allison (Russell Thorson), and British Colonel Peter MacLean (Alan Napier) decide to send U.S. Army Major Jeff Pike (James Garner) to Lisbon on June 1st, 1944 to meet with an informant in the German consulate there. This is a contact that Pike has developed over the years and one only he knows how to read. Pike has been in on General Eisenhower's final briefing on the landings, but has been trained to withstand torture. Before he leaves, he suffers a papercut when he touches the edge of one of the maps hanging on the wall.

Pike is sent over on the midnight flight, which has been delayed an hour so that Pike can be on it. His departure is witnessed by an informant, who notifies another agent, an elderly British woman, who goes into Pike’s apartment and steals some personal items as well as hair from his brush.

When he lands in Portugal, Pike makes sure that his presence is known and that the German informant is notified. But at the rendezvous, which takes place at a café, Pike is drugged and while making his way to the meeting, becomes disoriented and eventually passes out on the street. However, the Germans abduct him and, putting him in a coffin, manage to fly him back to Germany.

The Nazis under the supervision of Dr. Walter Gerber (Rod Taylor) and with the help of nurse Anna
 Hedler (Eva Marie Saint) alter 
U.S. Army Major Jeff Pike's (James Garner) appearance.

While they keep Pike sedated, they “age” him, dying his hair with gray highlights and giving him drops to temporarily make his eyesight bad to the point where he needs to wear glasses to read. It is obvious that they know a lot about him.

Pike is helped back to bed by Dr. Gerber and nurse Hedler.

When Pike wakes up it is what looks like a U.S. Army hospital. He is told it is May 1950 and he is in post-war Occupied Germany. Psychiatrist Major Walter Gerber (Rod Taylor) explains that Pike has been having episodes of memory loss ever since he was tortured by the Nazis in Lisbon. He advises Pike that his blocked memories have always resurfaced, helped along by a therapy of remembering events prior to Lisbon and then pushing forward into the blank period.

Dr. Gerber explains to Pike the issues he's having with amnesia and how he can help him.

Various props including captured U.S. Army jeeps and uniforms, soldiers playing baseball, fake letters from Pike’s father, made up newspapers and fake radio broadcasts, are used to carefully convince Pike that the year is 1950 and that he is among fellow Americans. He is cared for by Anna Hedler (Eva Marie Saint), a nurse the Nazis have temporarily saved from a concentration camp.

Pike comes to believe that Anna is not only his nurse, but is also his wife.

Pike is completely taken in by the deception, even believing that Anna is his wife. She’s wearing an engagement ring that is, in fact, a family heirloom. Gerber, who pretends to be a close friend, even introduces Pike to SS agent Schack (Werner Peters), who he’s told runs a restaurant in a nearby village that Pike and Anna frequent. Pike apologies for not knowing him. As part of his "therapy", he recounts the critical details of the invasion plans, including the location and the date, June 5, to his eager listeners.

Pike starts to figure out the ruse when he realizes he has a paper cut he suffered a few days before.

While cleaning up from dinner, Pike gets salt in a nearly invisible paper cut he got the day he left for Lisbon. He realizes then that it is all a hoax. He tries to escape by riding a bicycle out the front gate. When the guard stops him, Pike confirms it by tricking him into reflexively snapping to attention in the German manner. He violently confronts Anna, who admits, with her neck in his grip, that the date is indeed June 2, 1944. She was recruited from a concentration camp because she was a nurse and spoke English. When pushed, she promises to help him.

Pike instructs Anna to run and tell Gerber that he was onto the plot, while he makes a feeble attempt to escape to sell it. Quickly recaptured, he states that he realized what was going soon after waking up due to his paper cut. Gerber does not believe him. After two days of interrogation, however, Pike and Anna convince SS agent Schack, who never believed the hoax would work. Pike pretends that the invasion will be at Pas de Calais and provides detailed plans, including code names. This information confirms what Schack and German high command believe, which is corroborated by counter-intelligence misinformation that has been fed to Nazi undercover agents by the British.

Pike is interrogated for two days by a German SS officer.

Gerber, however, sets the clock forward in Pike and Anna's room so when they wake, they think it is the morning of June 5. Gerber tells them that the Germans have been surprised at Normandy. Pike lets his guard down and confirms that the plan worked. Gerber comes clean about what he’s done and then tells Pike that there has been no invasion, most likely because of the rain that is taking place all over Europe. Gerber then tells Pike what he has to do and sends an emergency dispatch to Wehrmacht authorities, but since that doesn’t agree with the high command, Pike’s message is discarded. By midday June 5, Gerber has been discredited and Schack orders his arrest.

Gerber knows that when the Allies land at Normandy, Schack will kill them to cover his own blunder. Gerber, who feels like he knows Pike from his research, decides to help them escape. But he asks Pike to take his groundbreaking research on amnesiacs with him, hoping that he will live on through his work. When the Normandy landings begin on the morning of June 6, he laughs at Schack when he arrives, revealing that he has taken poison and pointing out that Schack will likely be liquidated.

Gerber helps Pike escape by giving him the key to his door.

Meanwhile, Pike and Anna make their escape, killing a guard on the way out. They find a place to hide nearby and after the location is searched, Anna tells Pike about how she doesn’t like being touched. She recounts her repeated rapes at the concentration camps and that she is cried out. Pike tells her that there is no love without tears.

Pike breaks the neck of one of the German guards so he and Anna can escape.

They take Gerber’s advice and head for a village on the border with Switzerland where they know a minister helps people to cross. The problem is that Schack knows that, too and pursues the escapees on his own, no time to wait for backup.

The minister's housekeeper, Elsa (Celia Lovsky), puts Pike and Anna in touch with Sgt. Ernst
(John Banner), who will sneak them over the border to Switzerland.

When Pike and Anna arrive, they are greeted by the minister’s housekeeper, Elsa (Celia Lovsky), who agrees to hide them. She introduces them to a jovially corrupt German border guard, Sgt. Ernst (John Banner). Ernst, who has been learning English since the war began, believes that the Nazis are eventually doomed. While he’s willing to help Pike and Anna, he requires payment. Ernst is only interested in gold, which is one thing the Nazis have taken away for the war effort. Anna, who is still wearing Pike’s engagement ring and another wedding band, has to give them to Ernst and Pike gives him his watch. Elsa is infatuated with the engagement ring and Ernst gives it to her.

Ernst demands gold jewelry to aid in their escape.

Schack shows up at the minister's after Ernst and the couple have left for the border, but he recognizes Anna's ring on Elsa’s finger and forces her to reveal their planned escape. Schack catches up at the border and has the drop on Pike and Anna, but before he can kill them Ernst shoots and kills him. He then, with Pike’s help, arranges Schack’s body to make it look as if he had been killed while trying to escape.

Pike and Anna head off to freedom in Switzerland.

Safely in Switzerland, Pike is to go to the U.S. Embassy and Anna to a refugee camp. Pike promises to look in on her before he returns to London. When they are placed in cars next to one another, Anna cries her first display of emotion in years.

Released in January 1965, in New York on January 28, the film went on to make $2.2 million in domestic box office and was enough of a success to cement Garner as a movie star. Clearly the star, Garner is a likable actor and his character is also likable. You find yourself rooting for him and Anna as well. Pike is such a good man that when he accidentally drops Gerber’s research as they’re trying to escape, that even though it might make them miss the rendezvous, he goes back to retrieve it. Truly a man of his word.

Eva Marie Saint began her career in television as an NBC page. She did get in front of the camera as early as 1946, appearing in Campus Hoopla on that network. She made her film debut in On The Waterfront (1954), which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Saint would appear in Raintree County (1957), Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest (1959), Exodus (1960) and All Fall Down (1962) before appearing in 36 Hours. An accomplished actress, Saint gives a believable performance as a concentration camp survivor who will do anything, even help the Nazis, to avoid that fate.

Rod Taylor had a very two-dimensional supporting role in this film. He is as likable as a Nazi has been depicted on film, but there is always the loyal soldier in the background. He might like who Pike is, but Pike is still the enemy. Even if no one will believe him, his Gerber character has to try until there is no hope. Gerber is as much of a realist as SS Agent Schack claims to be.

One of the added values of watching the film is to see future television stars who seem to be everywhere in this film. Not only had Garner been a TV star before getting into films, he will eventually go back to that medium and star in the long-running Private Investigator series, The Rockford Files (1974–1980). Alan Napier would go on to portray Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s butler in TV’s Batman (1966-1968), a role he would be known for to the Baby-Boomer generation. James Doohan who would go on to play Scott “Scotty” Montgomery on the original Star Trek series (1966-1969) as well as the films that would follow.

But of all of these actors, the one who went on to play a very similar character on TV was John Banner. Here he provides some comic relief as Sgt. Ernst, an out for himself German border guard. In some ways, this is a blueprint for his role as Sgt. Schultz on TV’s World War II inspired comedy, Hogan Heroes (1965-1971).

The film takes an interesting approach, letting the audience know what is happening to Pike when he doesn’t know. We see the Nazis’ scheming and planning and have to wait for him to catch on. It’s always the little things that come into play. If he hadn’t cut his finger on a map, then they may have well gotten away with their ruse. We wait for him to figure it out and how he can try to correct his mistake. It helps him that the Nazis don’t trust one another while trying to stay loyal to their mistaken high command. By this point in the war, the Nazi regime’s days were numbered, but they didn’t really know it quite yet, though some like Ernst were just waiting for the day to come. The film reminded me of the television series Mission Impossible (1966-1973), when the team led by Jim Phelps regularly pulled off the kind of ruse the Nazi’s are trying to do here.

One problem I have with the film, and it is only through analyzing it that I caught this, the hero doesn’t solve his own dilemma. When Pike and Anna are caught dead to rights by Schack, it is Ernst who saves them, rather than Pike or Anna figuring a way out of the life or death situation they find themselves in. Ernst kills Schack to save his own hide, figuring Schack would put an end to his smuggling operation and to Ernst himself. Pike and Anna are the beneficiaries of Ernst’s actions, but they don’t take action themselves.

That said, overall I liked the film and would recommend it. No film is perfect, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch them. 36 Hours may not have you on the edge of your seat, but it is well-acted and with a well thought out and unique storyline for the time it was made.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Review Hub - Pixar


Prior to the release of Toy Story in 1995, no one thought it would be possible to tell a feature-length story in CG, let alone one that could be fondly remembered. Once Toy Story proved that both were possible, the Disney-owned studio Pixar pioneered the rise in CG-animated movies, with the studio themselves being generally celebrated for their work and innovation. Though Cars 2 proved to be somewhat of a setback for the studio's track record, they still continue to push forward and persist in delivering the best quality movies they can (though some movies arguably do not quite match up to their output prior to Cars 2). Having followed the studio since the original Toy Story, we will continue to provide reviews of Pixar's work, assuming we believe it worth watching.

Below is a list of every Pixar review on this blog, organized by order of release. (Links to Second Opinions will be placed next to the original review in parentheses.)

Update (2/5/2018): Added Coco
Update (6/19/2018): Added Incredibles 2
Update (6/22/2019): Added Toy Story 4
Update (7/14/2019): Added A Bug's Life
Update (7/22/2019): Added Toy Story 2


Toy Story
A Bug's Life
Toy Story 2
Monsters, Inc.
Finding Nemo
The Incredibles (Second Opinion)
Cars 2
Brave
Monsters University
Inside Out
The Good Dinosaur
Finding Dory
Coco
Incredibles 2
Toy Story 4

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Stubs - Godzilla (2014)


Godzilla (2014) Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston. Directed by Gareth Edwards. Screenplay by Max Borenstein. Based on Godzilla aka Gojira (1954) by Toho. Produced by Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Brian Rogers. Run Time: 123 minutes. U.S.A. Color Monster, Horror, Science Fiction

Hollywood has a long history of remaking foreign films in their own image. The Magnificent Seven (1960) is a remake of Seven Samurai (七人の侍 Shichinin no Samurai) (1954); Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986) is a remake of the French film Boudu Saved from Drowning (Boudu sauvé des eaux) (1932) and so on and so on. No film is safe, including monster films, like Gojira (1954), a Japanese film better known in the U.S. as Godzilla. Even that first film was bastardized by Hollywood with the insertions of scenes with American actor Raymond Burr to make it more accessible for American audiences.

That trend continued with a full remake of Godzilla (1998) directed by Roland Emmerich and starring Matthew Broderick. Budgeted at $130 million, the film would underperform at the U.S. box office. Originally projected to make $90 million on its opening weekend, it only made $55.7 million. It would top out at $136 million domestically and make only $379,014,294. Considering its cost, that is not blockbuster numbers. That film received generally negative reviews and would win two Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Supporting Actress and Worst Remake Sequel.

Sony, which had dreams of a franchise, instead let their rights to the Toho property expire in 2003 and Legendary Pictures picked up the property. Legendary, in turn, brought in Warner Bros. as a co-financier and co-production company. Thomas Tull, chairman and CEO of Legendary Pictures, announced “Our plans are to produce the Godzilla that we, as fans, would want to see. We intend to do justice to those essential elements that have allowed this character to remain as pop-culturally relevant for as long as it has."

It is rumored that Guillermo del Toro was approached about directing, but turned it down. In January 2011, Gareth Edwards was announced as the director. Edwards had directed exactly one film up to that point, Monsters (2010), a film with a budget of $500,000. Godzilla would have a budget of $160 million.

David Callaham wrote the first draft, but as is the way with blockbusters in Hollywood, he would not be the only writer. David S. Goyer was hired to act like a script doctor before Max Borenstein was hired to continue the rewrites in November 2011. Drew Pearce was hired in October 2012 to do a polish, but it was Frank Darabont who did the final rewrite in January 2013.

Principal photography got underway in Vancouver on March 18, 2013. Location shooting in Hawaii took place in June and July and principal photography wrapped on July 13-14.

Warner Bros. handled distribution worldwide, excluding Japan, which was handled by Toho. The film opened in the U.S. on May 16, 2014.

The film starts in 1954 (the same year as the original film). Godzilla, an ancient alpha predator, is lured to an atoll in the Pacific in an attempt to kill it with a nuclear bomb. (Note: This is not the way the monster is killed in the original.)

Fast forward to 1999. A collapsed mine in the Philippines reveals a colossal skeleton underground and Monarch scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) are sent to investigate. In the cave, they find two giant spores; one dormant and one hatched with a trail that leads out of the cave to the sea.

One has hatched.

Meanwhile, in Japan, the Janjira Nuclear Power Plant experiences unusual seismic activity; Supervisor Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) sends his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche), a nuclear technician, and a team of other technicians into the reactor to investigate. However, another tremor breaches the reactor. Joe rushes to the blast door, but the team is too far in to make it out before Joe has to close it. Sandra and the team make it to the door, just long enough for Joe to feel awful about what he had to do. Following the breach, the plant collapses, because that is what nuclear plants do.

Fast forward 15 years ahead to 2014. Stateside, Joe’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a Navy explosive ordnance disposal officer, is just home in San Francisco from his latest tour of duty. He wants to spend time with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and their son Sam (Carson Bolde), but a phone call changes all that. Joe has been arrested, again, for trespassing in the Janjira quarantine zone. Ford flies to Japan to get his father out of jail. Joe is determined to return to the zone and persuades Ford to accompany him back to their old home.

When they get there, they find that the zone is not contaminated with radiation, which is the official story. Back in their old house, Joe finds the data he’d been looking for. Shortly thereafter, soldiers discover them and they are taken to a secret facility in the ruins that had once been the nuclear plant.

While they’re there, there is a series of power failures and the facility is ultimately destroyed by a giant winged creature. In the attack, Joe gets severely wounded and dies on the helicopter that is taking him and Ford to the U.S.S. Saratoga. The news reports the incident as an earthquake.

Serizawa, Graham, and Ford join a U.S. Navy task force led by Admiral William Stenz (David Strathairn) to search for the creature, called a "MUTO" (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) that attacked the plant.

Serizawa and Graham reveal to Ford that a 1954 deep sea expedition triggered the appearance of Godzilla and that the nuclear tests in the 1950s were cover stories for attempts to kill him. Project Monarch, of which Serizawa and Graham are a part, was established to secretly study Godzilla and other similar creatures such as the MUTO, which traveled from the Philippine mine to Janjira and caused the meltdown at the nuclear plant, killing his mother. Ford reveals that his father had monitored echolocation signals which seemed to indicate the MUTO was communicating with something.

Meanwhile, the MUTO attacks a Russian submarine and pulls it out of the ocean, dropping down on a Hawaiian island, so that it can digest the sub's nuclear material. Godzilla finally arrives, causing a tsunami in Honolulu and briefly battles the MUTO until the latter flees.

A second, larger, wingless MUTO, meanwhile, emerges from the other spore in Nevada and devastates Las Vegas. The scientists deduce that the second MUTO is a female and the one the other MUTO was communicating with. Based on their movements, they figure the two MUTOs will meet to breed in San Francisco.

Godzilla on the way to San Francisco.

Meanwhile, the Navy is following Godzilla to the mainland riding on the water right above him.
With all three in the Bay Area, Stenz approves a plan to use nuclear warheads to lure the monsters to the open ocean and destroy them. When the scientist objects and points out that this has been tried before, they are reminded that the nuclear weapons that we have now are much more powerful than the ones we had in 1954.

The Army greets Godzilla at the Golden Gate Bridge.

Ford, meanwhile, ends up joining the team delivering the warheads by train. His past experience as an explosive ordnance disposal officer is considered useful by the force making the delivery. But when the track comes to a narrow bridge, the female MUTO intercepts it and consumes most of the warheads.

The Army escorting the missiles on the way to San Francisco.

However, one remains and Ford is airlifted with it to San Francisco. After a confrontation with Godzilla at the Golden Gate Bridge, the weapon is activated. However, before it arrives at its destination, the male MUTO steals it and presents it to the female. She uses it to form a nest around it in Chinatown.

Mr. and Mrs. MUTO in Chinatown.

While Godzilla and the MUTOs do battle, a strike team, which of course includes Ford, enters the city via HALO jump to find and disarm the warhead in Chinatown. However, when they are unable to access the timer, the team takes the warhead to a boat for disposal at sea.

Ford and other troops HALO jump into Chinatown.

The MUTOs get the upper hand on Godzilla, but when Ford blows up the MUTO nest, burning all of the eggs, the MUTOs are distracted enough to allow Godzilla to emerge victoriously. He kills the male MUTO by slamming him with his tail into the side of an office building and the female by firing his atomic breath down her throat. Exhausted, Godzilla collapses on the city shore.

Godzilla kills the female MUTO with his atomic breath.

With the rest of his team killed, Ford uses his last bit of energy to maneuver the boat with the warhead on it out to sea. Rescued at the last moment before the warhead explodes, Ford is finally reunited with his family at the Oakland Coliseum emergency shelter the following morning.

Meanwhile, Godzilla awakens and rises from the destroyed San Francisco. After a final, victorious roar, the monster returns to sea while the local media hails Godzilla as "King of the Monsters - savior of our city?"

The film was released in the U.S. on May 16, 2014 and made $529.1 million worldwide, resulting ultimately in what is estimated to be about $52.5 million in profit after all distribution and marketing costs are figured in. That seems to be enough profit for Legendary to propose a sequel pitting Godzilla against King Kong, tentatively titled Godzilla vs. Kong, for 2020 release.

When you see highly touted actors like Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, and Juliette Binoche in relatively small roles, it makes you realize that even actors have mortgage payments to make. Why else would they be in a film like this? I doubt it was the acting challenge their roles presented them. Tentpole films are not generally known for winning acting awards.

The others in the cast, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins and David Strathairn are not bad, but Hawkins and Strathairn, in particular, seem wasted here. The acting may be the least of the film’s problems, but there are still many.

Primary among them is that in this retelling, the titular character, Godzilla, does not make an appearance until halfway through the film. The film’s somewhat plodding pacing makes it seem like it takes forever before we finally see the monster the story is supposed to be about. And then it’s a bit of a disappointment.

Does this look like a natural creature?

The creatures, Godzilla and Mr. and Mrs. MUTO, appear more mechanical than biological in appearance and don’t seem to have any evolutionary purpose. The eggs we are “treated” to in the female’s body seem to glow in an unnatural manner. I know it’s supposed to evoke radiation, but they don’t look natural. Not that I want to see it, but there never seems to be a time when Mr. MUTO fertilizes the eggs, which is still required in most biological reproduction. Perhaps the nuclear missile is a Freudian stand-in for the act, though the film leads us to believe the missile is just a missile.

Fertilized MUTO eggs wrapped around a nuclear missile.

The idea that they feed off of nuclear radiation makes the idea of killing them with a nuclear weapon seem sort of like trying to kill someone through making them overeat, perhaps hoping they would explode. Except for Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983), has that ever really worked? There is a lot of pseudo-science in Godzilla, the kind where if they talk fast and through in an explosion you’ll just have to accept.

Even for a science fiction fantasy, the film suffers from too much coincidence for me. Ford just happens to have the skill set necessary for the plot, even though one would have to imagine that there would be many currently in the military with the same skills. The fact that the military launched a plan without someone like him seems somewhat incredulous. Ford just happens to also be the son of the man and woman who ran the Japanese nuclear power plant that was attacked and he happens to live the same city where the action culminates. Was Ford born under a bad sign or what? But all too often, he just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And frankly, I'm not really sure what Godzilla's motivation is to kill the MUTOs. It is not for food, Godzilla doesn't attempt to eat them after killing them. It's not for sport, like the Predator. And it can't be to help mankind since the last thing we'd done to him was to try and kill him. But for some reason, Godzilla puts his life on the line to save us. Why? Because this film needs a big battle, that's why and that's not really a good reason.

We watched this film on the anniversary of the original Gojira’s Japanese release in 1954. It is a great reminder that sometimes simple is better and more effective. A man in a Godzilla suit is more realistic than a CGI one. So, if you’re itching to watch a Godzilla film, I would recommend watching Gojira over this reincarnation.

Be sure to check out other Horror films in our Horror Films Review Hub.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Second Look - Space Jam


Three years ago, I reviewed the Looney Tunes/Michael Jordan movie Space Jam, both to look at something I had seen as a kid and as a lead-in to the game Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden. In the years since the original post, I have come to realize that, among other things, my opinion on the movie may have been more influenced by an outside source than I had initially believed. So, in time for the movie’s 21st anniversary, I have decided to rewatch the movie and offer a re-review based on how I felt. Though some of my opinions stay the same, I have generally come to view Space Jam a little more positively, though still not entirely.

Based on a Nike Super Bowl commercial, the movie opens with a young Michael Jordan (Brandon Hammond) aspiring to become a professional basketball player, which the opening credits montage of NBA footage shows that he does. As he did in real life, the movie cuts to Jordan (played by himself) starting a professional baseball career to emulate his father. Over the course of the movie, he is dragged into an interstellar conflict in which he must help the Looney Tunes (who live in the center of the Earth) win a basketball game against a group of aliens called the Nerdlucks, who have absorbed the talents of professional NBA stars to become the Monstars. If the Looney Tunes lose, they will be forced to become the latest attraction of the space amusement park Six Flags Magic Mountain Moron Mountain, run by Mr. Swackhammer (Danny DeVito).

The crossover 63% of you asked for (from left: Bugs Bunny, Michael Jordan).

The story generally follows a consistent pace, managing to balance the two narratives of Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes to form a somewhat cohesive whole. There is, however, a plot point that seems to come out of nowhere, that being Bill Murray’s (playing himself) appearance in the final act, where he suddenly joins the Tune Squad to help defeat the Monstars in the big basketball game. His appearance is explained away by a meta joke (he was essentially able to walk onto the set), however it still seems like a deus ex machina since the only foreshadowing he gets is him discussing basketball, while playing golf, with Michael Jordan prior to Jordan getting taken to the Tunes’ world. In any case, as said in the preceding paragraph, it does accurately portray Michael Jordan’s professional sports career, since he went from the NBA to the MiLB before returning to the NBA, playing for the Chicago Bulls before and after baseball. Behind the scenes, production for Space Jam may have helped influence Jordan’s return to basketball, seen at the end of the movie, as the studio had constructed a full-size basketball court so he could practice and
 get back into the rhythm of playing.

The animation is actually pretty good, at least in regards to the Tunes and the aliens, and manages to hold up pretty well (although the general quality fluctuates a little during the climactic basketball game). The CG effects, on the other hand, are incredibly outdated by today’s standards, even with the context of the animated characters. When applied to humans especially, these effects can easily edge into nightmare fuel, among such moments a scene where Jordan is morphed into a basketball-like shape that the Monstars play around with to taunt the Tunes. In spite of this, viewers may enjoy seeing their favorite Looney Tunes characters on-screen, even some more obscure characters that appear in some crowd shots (including the recently-memetic Dover Boys, whose short is currently public domain). Though the Tunes themselves can be a little more mean-spirited than what you’d find in an old Looney Tunes short, one can view these versions of the Tunes as alternate counterparts to the ones featured in the shorts, partially due to this movie setting them up as living inside the Earth’s core.

Quick, before the copyright gets renewed!

As stated in my original review, a positive I would give the movie is its soundtrack, which features the memetic “Space Jam” by Quad City DJs, as well as the R. Kelly hit “I Believe I Can Fly” among other then-popular artists/songs that turn the 6x Platinum soundtrack into a ‘90s time capsule. Since my initial review, I have come to find more humor in the movie, including some visual gags and off-hand lines (including some of Bill Murray’s dialogue), however I still think it could have done without the occasional moments of toilet humor, at least one of which, where they literally spit-shine an old basketball court, was just a bit gross to see animated. The subplot of the now-talentless NBA stars is actually kind of funny, including a scene where it makes the plot of the movie sound even more ridiculous when put into spoken words. My opinion on the product placement remains the same, in that it can become a bit in-your-face; in one particular scene, the character of Stanley (Wayne Knight) rattles off a bunch of brands while telling Michael Jordan to get ready, with Jordan eating food from McDonald’s (who has actually sponsored him) on top of that.

In spite of the dubious quality of the movie, it does indeed have an enduring legacy, least of which is attaining a lasting cult following. Charles Barkley, one of the NBA stars featured in the movie as a victim of the Nerdlucks’ abilities, was made the main character of a (hilarious) fan-made RPG game, Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden (full name: Tales of Game’s Studios Presents Chef Boyardee’s Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, Chapter 1 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa), which actually features the story of Space Jam as part of the backstory as well as its own remix of the “Space Jam” theme. The game is set to get a Kickstarted sequel with original assets, Barkley 2 (full name: The Magical Realms of Tír na nÓg: Escape from Necron 7 – Revenge of Cuchulainn: The Official Game of the Movie – Chapter 2 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa), though it remains in development.

A more notable aspect of Space Jam’s legacy is that it features the first appearance of Lola Bunny; though she doesn’t have much character here (being introduced solely to give Bugs Bunny a love interest), she has since been given more development in following Looney Tunes offshoots, among them the Cartoon Network series The Looney Tunes Show, as well as having a descendent of hers starring in the Kids WB series Loonatics Unleashed. Talks of a sequel to Space Jam have also been going around for years, although so far nothing official has ever materialized for it.

Lola Bunny (right) didn't have much to go on in her first outing.

Upon giving it a second chance, Space Jam is, in my opinion, okay. There’s some legitimately funny moments in it and the traditional animation is a highlight (as is hearing the late June Foray actually voicing her regular characters), however it still doesn’t entirely appeal to me as a complete package. Regardless, it is rather easy to see why the movie has a cult following, especially when factoring in Lola Bunny’s debut in this movie as well as various memes and the aforementioned fan game starring Charles Barkley (plus I’m not one to judge unironic enjoyment of this particular movie since I unironically enjoy UHF). I wouldn’t entirely recommend Space Jam to Looney Tunes fans aside from its historical value for Lola, though it is overall somewhat enjoyable and is worth watching once to form your own opinion, especially if you’re a fan of Michael Jordan or are gearing up to play Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden.

Would you believe the official website is still active?