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Mosura tai Gojira

When I realized that there was a Mothra movie that predated her interactions with Godzilla, I came very close to falling into the Marvel trap. But since OG Mothra wasn’t available to stream anywhere, I narrowly sidestepped a grim fate. It is important I think to remind myself that I’m only trying to figure out what’s going on with Godzillas, and just how many of them there are. This is not a Toho deep dive.

It’s not, I said!

This brings us to Mothra vs. Godzilla. Last time, Godzilla was left to an uncertain underwater fate. Naturally, therefore, there are zero Godszilla for the entire first third of this movie. Instead, we are treated to a tsunami, and a giant floating egg in the nearby ocean, and tiny twin girls who want the egg back from greedy amusement park developers who bought the egg from local fishermen, and my point is, there’s a lot of things going on which would be familiar to people who watched Mothra and unfamiliar to people who watched Godzilla movies.

Later, it is implied but not outright stated that Godzilla washed ashore and was buried in mud by the same tsunami that brought the egg into the area, and therefore it is implied that this is still Godzilla #2. Which I’m good with. Later, the powers of journalism triumph over the powers of capitalism, and the powers of kaiju silkworms triumph over the powers of kaiju lizards, resulting in approximately the same ending as the last movie, except with more of a Spider-Man webshooters vibe. Also, they made sure to re-use the native villagers set, although then again how do I know the Mothra movie didn’t have it before the Kong movie?

I hope nobody cares how extremely filled with spoilers these reviews are.

Gojira no gyakushû

I couldn’t help it. I just had to know how Godzilla recovered from being reduced to his component molecules by the oxygen destroyer. So I went digging around and found the second Toho movie, Godzilla Raids Again.

This movie focuses on Japan’s fishing industry, albeit with nearly no fishing. Apparently they have spotters who fly around looking for fish to send the fishing boats to, and lady radio operators to convey messages back and forth between the pilots and the fleet. Which is all fine and good, until one of the spotters, er, notices Godzilla. This gives the writers a chance to correct the paleontologist from last movie. Now, Godzilla is from somewhere between 130 to 70 million years ago, “as everyone knows”. But no fear! there’s also a similarly proportioned ankylosaurus from the same time period also awakened by more atomic testing, who they started calling Anguirus for reasons that were not at all clear to me. And this is where the paleontologist got a bunk script again, because, okay, that guy is also nearly 200 feet tall (I suppose I know why they weren’t going to walk that part back), and he has spikes all over his back instead of only along the sides, and he’s a vicious carnivore.

People knew better in the 1950s, right? I mean, they must have. And yet.

Anyway, from there the movie proceeds about as you’d expect. Here come monsters to attack Osaka, but the Japanese have learned how to lure Godzilla away now. Which worked out great, up until a subplot with a prison transfer escape attempt ends up blowing up the waterfront fishing cannery, and suddenly Anguirus and Godzilla are locked in mortal combat, and also lots of familiar pilots are flying around in danger, with familiar radio operators swooning over them.

I want to watch the next movie and find out how Godzilla comes back next time, but it’s not available anywhere. …which reminds me, I never did tell you how he came back this time! …he didn’t. This is just a different Godzilla. How many of them are there?? But just remember anytime you are watching one of those old sequel movies, it’s not even the actual Godzilla.

I feel so betrayed.

Gojira

So this is super weird.

I know I’ve seen the Raymond Burr Godzilla (which is perversely difficult to find on streaming (not that I particularly wanted to), as compared to how easy it was to find on any given Saturday afternoon in my youth), and I would swear I’ve seen Gojira as well, or even if not, it’s the same movie minus inserted Raymond Burr footage, right?

But, because it has been a while, I figured to myself that I would watch the film in advance of the horror movie podcast episode about it, and it turns out that either they diverge wildly, or I just have not seen this movie after all. I remember the people running along trails to hilltops to see Godzilla approaching, and Burr giving close-up commentary on the moment, and I remember him (Godzilla, not Burr) smashing through buildings and elevated trains and such in Tokyo, but I had minimal to no memory of the family drama / romantic subplot between the paleontologist, his daughter, her scientist fiance, and her fisherman lover, and I had completely no memory of how the movie ended.

For example, and this is a spoiler for a seventy year-old movie, so with that said, did you know Godzilla dies at the end?? There are like ten or a dozen or more other Toho movies in this series, the vast majority of which he is alive in, and I have no idea how! It never crossed my mind that he could die, that was the one thing I was certain of!

Like, I used to be sure that (before he became a guardian instead), Gojira was a metaphor not only for the dangers of nuclear testing, but also for the learned hopelessness of the Japanese people a mere nine years past Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the nation of people in all the world’s history who were the most thoroughly crushed by opposing forces. But if they can just turn around and kill the supposedly undefeatable nuclear behemoth, that particular metaphor flies right out the window.

It’s like learning that Rosebud was his wife’s middle name, or that Rick and Elsa had never been to Paris. Everything I know is wrong, and what can I even do with this information now?

Barbie (2023)

Far, far later than intended, I finally saw Barbie. It’s always really annoying to see a cultural touchstone movie months after everyone else, because it means it was impossible for me to form my opinion in a vacuum as I prefer. Obviously it touched some nerves and was important, but it bugs me that now my review has to at least in part be about that, instead of solely about what I thought of the movie independently.

Oh well.

So it’s like this. A bunch of people named Barbie, a smaller but still significant number of people named Ken, a few people named Skipper, and one or two other folks all live in Barbieland, where Barbie is capable of doing anything and certainly does. But when generic Margot Robbie Barbie[1] starts to have weird feelings about death, she learns that the only way to keep her perfect life is to travel to The Real World[2] and meet up with the girl who owns her-as-a-doll to get that girl back into a good headspace. But when Ken[3] decides to tag along, the movie veers in wildly unpredictable directions, and soon the fates of both Barbieland and the real world are at stake.

Alright, I guess everything past here (and the footnotes I will leave above the break) are spoilers. Because you simply cannot talk about this movie without spoiling it. There would be no point.

[1] ie not an astronaut not a president not a McDonald’s employee, just Barbie
[2] There’s a map and everything. I remember people making a stink about the way the brief blip of a kid’s map of the earth was drawn because it betrayed some kind of woke agenda, and I just… I suppose I was going to have to deal with months of baggage about this movie in my review if I had watched it on opening day, wasn’t I?
[3] who the movie helpfully tells us in the first five minutes lives only for the brief moments when Barbie’s gaze falls upon him

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Nóz w wodzie

As you have perhaps guessed by the title, Mary and I finally watched another movie in the so-called “weekly” letterboxd dot com challenge, about which I’ve said more than enough previously. This, the seventh in the sequence and representing the beginning of November[1], was Polish Film School[2] week. I had (of course) already seen most of these, but the first film by newcomer Roman Polanski caught my eye, and we decided to give it a whirl.[3]

Knife in the Water is the beautifully shot story of a middle-aged married couple who pick up a young hitchhiker and invite him on their overnight sailboat trip, while all three constantly pick at each other. Also, the hitchhiker has a fancy(?) knife.

Okay, that was a little dismissive. It’s a three-person character study of clashing personalities in tight spaces, even though the cinematography is ironically full of open skies and broad vistas most of the time. It’s not clear why the husband dislikes the hitchhiker so much, their initial encounter notwithstanding, and it’s even less clear why he invited the youth onto the boat, nor yet why the hitchhiker accepted. Nevertheless, the premise leads to simmering emotional and eventually physical tension that both promise to boil over before the credits… well, okay, it’s 1962 and end credits weren’t a thing yet. Allow me to correct myself to “promise to boil over before the screen fades to black.”

Was it good? I believe it was. Was it in fact the first Roman Polanski movie I’ve ever seen? It was not, but only because of Rosemary’s Baby a short while back. …which, come to think of it, shares this movie’s paradoxical claustrophobia.

[1] sigh
[2] Polish Film Movement might have been more explanatory, week title deciders
[3] To translate, I was able to find exactly one of the movie options on a streaming service I have access to, and it happened to have name recognition as a bonus.

Miracolo a Milano

The theme for week three of the letterboxd dot com challenge was Italian Neorealism. For the uninitiated (which includes me, for example), that is a specific period in post-war Italian cinema that focuses on reality and daily life stories with no heroes. So from the list available, we picked Miracle in Milan, which is pretty much the opposite of those things? I may have done a bad job.

It is also worth noting that, wait, why is it so far past your week two review? The answer is, haha, we’ve been sick and got behind. Hoping to catch up over a few days? We’ll see!

So anyway, this movie is weird[1]. Like really weird. There’s this kid, Totò, who after experiencing a bizarre childhood punctuated by a cabbage patch adoption and multiplication tables, comes out of the orphanage as a relentlessly cheerful and giving adult who immediately finds himself in a homeless encampment[2], and proceeds to organize it into a pretty cozy and happy shantytown. (I haven’t yet gotten to where the movie is especially weird, to be clear, but saying more would go deep into spoiler towne, whose inhabitants are far less cheerful a bunch than these were.)

I guess the neorealism part is in the characters themselves rather than the plot, which shortly after I ended my synopsis above (about 15 minutes into a 90 minute movie) goes so far off the rails my metaphor is impossible to complete, but the words “wishing dove” and “timely to modern eyes class warfare” are involved, as are the words “ghostly top hat stampede”. But the characters, I was saying, the characters have a lot of daily life reality. There’s the rich family that has fallen on hard times but still has a nanny (also now homeless, natch), who spends most of their time in the shantytown trying to bilk lire from the populace. There’s the really grumpy outsider guy who keeps getting in fights with everyone else. There’s the black man and white women who arrived at the same time and are clearly mutually interested, but who keep staying away from each other because I guess Italy also had miscegenation laws?[3]

And there are more. What I guess I am impressed by, as an avowed watcher of movies that would not want to be called films, is how many of the characters in a cast of hundreds were, okay, not fully realized, but at least memorable. I’m not sure if that’s just difficult to accomplish in more plot-centric movies, or if we’ve lost something along the way, but I bet it’s some of both.

All the same, I’m glad my entry into this subgenre of film history was as plot-dense as it was, because I’m not sure how much I would have enjoyed something that was all aimless and bleak like the description of Italian neorealism reads to me. I know I said “entry”, and while I use the term advisedly, one of the other movies we contemplated, The Bicycle Thieves, is by the same writer and director, and I can’t help being a little curious. (I mean, it will not be capital-w weird, I already know that much. But still.)

[1] Also, I never saw Life is Beautiful, but I can tell you with high confidence that `the guy who made it has this movie as one of his major influences. Seriously, look it up later and prove me right.
[2] If you see the wry humor in that, trust me, so did the filmmakers.
[3] That plotline ends in a way that would be spectacularly cringey if I were to describe it, but in its own context was both progressive and earnedly hilarious.

Goodfellas

Last week on the letterboxd dot com weekly movie, the theme was Remembering Ray, as in Liotta, who died earlier this year. Since Goodfellas is a  film knowledge gap for both of us, it was a no-brainer for the week.

The movie is a mostly straightforward biography of Henry Hill[1], a mafia outsider (in that he was only half Sicilian, and therefore not eligible to be the real deal) who nevertheless lived a lavish, crime-filled life from his teens onward as (along with also not-Sicilian Robert DeNiro) a hanger-on to Paul Sorvino as a godfather type and Joe Pesci as an up and comer in the family.

Only, nobody uses the word godfather, or mafia, or even mob. “Family” comes up a fair bit, but not in the way that any of the characters are related or talked about being related, because it’s not that kind of family. All the same, comparisons to The Godfather are inevitable, because, well. What I will say is that this movie is almost certainly a better depiction of mob life in the ’60s and ’70s. I mean obviously, the guy who wrote the tell-all autobiography probably knows better than the guy who wrote a book that he basically made up from start to finish, but still, you can tell that a movie made up of a series of vignettes about life, love, laughter, and larceny is going to be more true than a movie with foreshadowing, visual themes, and a throughline about inevitability.

All of which to say, yeah, I think The Godfather tells a better story. But I’m glad I finally saw this one, because I should have had it in my repository long since. The only really sad thing is that I can’t hit up Jeff and talk about it now.

[1] In addition to Goodfellas being one of those movies that everyone has seen, Ray is also in the starring role, which made the choice even easier.

Hausu

Man. This was a ride.

You know all the stereotypes about Japanese schoolgirls you learned from anime? It turns out they also existed in 1977 in Japanese cinema. This particular set of schoolgirls, and let me see if I can get this right, consist of Fantasy (who has a vivid imagination), Mac (who likes to eat), Melody (who plays music you see), Sweet (who helps out, like with cleaning or whatever), Kung Fu (who… I mean, you can suss this one out), Professor[1] (she’s smart and wears glasses), and Gorgeous, who in addition to, one supposes, being pretty, also precipitates the main action of the film by being upset that her father has decided to remarry eight years after his wife’s death, so she refuses to take all her friends on summer vacation with him and his fiancee and instead takes them to visit her (maternal, natch) aunt’s House.

Between the melodrama of Japanese schoolgirls and the separate melodrama of the tragic tale of Gorgeous’s spinster aunt, dating back to the war[2], I really had no idea what to expect at this point, and while it perhaps would be better for the viewer to show up similarly uninformed, I gots to earn my money[3] somehow, so, stop here if you want to see the movie based on only the above description and my nod that yes, probably watch it.

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Old

I think the last M. Night Shyamalan movie I saw was Devil? It’s been a minute, is all I’m saying. Now that everyone knows what his schtick is, his strength lies not in tricking you into thinking the movie you’re watching is a straightforward drama when actually there’s a twist, but in giving you the twist early and leaving you to figure out what’s going on, if you can. (The Servant on AppleTV is also doing this, but it’s a multi-season TV show, not a movie.)

Old is about some people on (Mexican? Caribbean? Central American?) vacation who go to an isolated beach for the afternoon, only to discover that they are all aging at a fantastic rate, and also (predictably) that they cannot leave. After a few introductory scenes in which people talk about the importance of living in the moment, seizing the day, all that, just in case the plot was a little too subtle too stand alone, we’re off to the exact races I mentioned. Why is this happening? How can it be stopped? And of course: how would you spend your last day on earth? (Although that one maybe is a little subtle and keeps getting lost in the breakneck speed of the plot.)

Shyamalan will never, I think, top his first two movies. But for the first time in a generation, he’s released something [which I’ve seen] that I can recommend without reservation. It’s probably not great, but then again I think he’s only ever had one great movie. But it’s thoughtful, occasionally frightening, and always engaging. …okay, always after a pretty slow introductory act in which basically nothing happens, but which was probably necessary to the plot making a lick of sense, and for that matter, necessary to the themes working. So I’ll allow it.

Death on the Nile (2022)

I have never read an Agatha Christie novel. I do not think this counts as a moral failing. Particularly because I just haven’t read that much out of the mystery section in the first place, you know[1]? It is my understanding, however, that she is kind of a big deal.

So she has this one character, Hercule Poirot, who is a great detective. Possibly the second character ever to be bestowed with that title in the annals of fiction? And although I never thought about it[2] before Kenneth Branagh’s performance, I guess it must be true that all detectives in the Holmes / Poirot type, who can become (or possibly always are) hyperfocused on specific details and make deductive leaps based on the tiniest shreds of evidence, all such detectives fall somewhere pretty deep into the spectrum.

So, while not knowing the plot meant that I showed up for Death on the Nile to be interested in the details of the murder[s], who did what to whom and when and why, what I left with was a renewed respect for Branagh’s craft, portraying someone who felt very deeply while hating to feel anything at all. It was very subtle, and very moving because of how subtle it was, and I’m sad I missed his Murder on the Orient Express from a few years ago. I shall perhaps eventually do something about that.

[1] What does perhaps count as a moral failing is that what I have read is mostly chosen based on “I liked the TV show they made later.” …then again, if I started reading Christie, it would be because I liked this movie, so.
[2] at least in part because, how much have I thought about this character at all, sure