Godzilla: Final Wars (2004, Kitamura Ryuhei)

According to Toho, Final Wars is the Godzilla movie for at least ten years. They haven’t been doing to well at the box office. It’s also the 50th anniversary movie (it actually came out last year in Japan, only showing up now on DVD in the US). The film is definitely homage, but not the kind you’d think. Instead of being somber, like the original, or a serious attempt (like Shusuke Kaneko’s Giant Monster’s All-Out Attack–really, it’s a serious attempt), Final Wars is dedicated to the Godzilla movies most people saw on Saturday afternoon TV. It’s the goofy, wrestling Godzilla. There isn’t a serious moment in the whole movie–whether it’s Godzilla fighting his Hollywood incarnation or the American actor who apparently understands Japanese but can’t speak it, it’s all light.

I wasn’t expecting much, of course, but I did think there’d at least be some good Kitamura fight scenes. There are lots of fight scenes, but they’re short and there’s a lot of visible computer assistance. It’s Versus-lite. Kitamura can make a better movie and he has a good time with the straight (as straight as this movie gets with the evil aliens), but the giant monster scenes are sort of without imagination. I can’t tell if he even likes Godzilla movies.

Final Wars clocks in at two hours and two minutes, which probably makes it the longest Japanese Godzilla movie, but Godzilla doesn’t even show until after an hour into the film. The film’s a little bit a remake of Destroy All Monsters and it could have gone further–more Godzilla, less people. It didn’t even have to do it straight, it could still goof, just go further.

There aren’t very many good Godzilla movies–just one, probably (though there’s a slight chance the 1984 Godzilla is all right)–and Final Wars is one of the better ones. Its target audience is actually a lot bigger than any other recent Godzilla film, just because so many people did watch those Saturday afternoon movies….

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Kitamura Ryuhei; screenplay by Kiriyama Isao and Kitamura, based on a story by Mimura Wataru and Tomiyama Shogo; director of photography, Furuya Takumi; music by Keith Emerson, Morino Nobuhiko and Yano Daisuke; produced by Tomiyama; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Matsuoka Masahiro (Ôzaki Shin’ichi), Kikukawa Rei (Otonashi Miyuki), Kitamura Kazuki (The Controller of Planet X), Don Frye (Douglas Gordon), Takarada Akira (Daigo Naotarô), Mizuno Maki (Otonashi Anna), Nagasawa Masami and Ôtsuka Chihiro (The Twin Fairies), Sahara Kenji (Jingûji Hachirô), Mizuno Kumi (Namikawa Akiko), Funaki Masakatsu (Kumasaka), Ibu Masatô (The Xilian General) and Takashima Masanobu (Major Kita).


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Blind Horizon (2003, Michael Haussman)

Okay, here’s a hint: if your choice of titles are Blind Horizon and Black Point, go with Black Point. Black Point isn’t a good title for Blind Horizon, which might be an impossible-to-title film, actually, but Blind Horizon has nothing to do with the film. There are no poignant horizon shots and Val Kilmer isn’t blind in it (though I assumed he was).

Blind Horizon is a decent little film though. I had, of course, hoped–given Neve Campbell and Kilmer in the film–I’d get a family drama. Instead, Blind Horizon is an amnesia thriller. Since it was Val Kilmer and I rarely eighty-six a Val Kilmer movie (it’s happened, though, it’s called Hard Cash), I stuck with it. Certain aspects of the film are incredibly predictable–it’s a thriller, after all–but there are also some nice moments and some nice twists that I didn’t get until I sat to consider them.

Sam Shepherd’s in it and he’s good (but Shepherd’s always good, he just plays the same guy) and Amy Smart’s really good in it. Though I’ve seen a couple films she’s acted in, I try to avoid her films like the plague. But she’s good. Actually, Blind Horizon has a lot of nice performances, particularly Noble Willingham–who you’ve seen before, but never in a role like this one. Fortunately for the film–which makes no sense whatsoever–these strong performances carry everything through.

I still want a Kilmer/Campbell family drama. It’d be nice.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Haussman; written by F. Paul Benz and Steve Tomlin; director of photography, Max Malkin; edited by Quincy Z. Gunderson and Alain Jakubowicz; music by Machine Head; production design, Richard Hoover; produced by Tucker Tooley, Randall Emmett, George Furla, Heidi Jo Markel and Vincent Newman; distributed by Lionsgate Films.

Starring Val Kilmer (Frank), Neve Campbell (Chloe), Sam Shepard (Sheriff Kolb), Noble Willingham (Deputy Cash), Amy Smart (Liz), Gil Bellows (Dr. Conway), Giancarlo Esposito (J.C. Reynolds) and Faye Dunaway (Ms. K).


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The China Syndrome (1979, James Bridges)

Silly attempt at a Pakula-style paranoid thriller collapses under its own importance. Michael Douglas stars in the film–probably one of his first high profile roles–and produces it too. China Syndrome proves who’s responsible for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (if it wasn’t Kesey) and it isn’t Douglas. Syndrome doesn’t have a firm protagonist, it starts focused on Jane Fonda’s reporter (who exists in a situation not dissimilar to Anchorman, down to the parties) and then moves over to Jack Lemmon. Lemmon does a good job, but he’s hardly got anything to work with. He eats sandwiches a lot. At least Fonda has a pet turtle.

Since the film’s so heavy–and not even in a misdirected way, it’s all about the evils of big business–that it needs some humanity and doesn’t have any. Why bother saving Southern California from a nuclear disaster if it’s only filled with corporate heels and terrible Michael Douglas performances. I should have had some idea, of course, since I’ve seen Bridges’ most famous film, The Paper Chase. It too is full of shit, but almost nothing can describe how full of shit The China Syndrome truly gets. The end is laugh out loud funny.

However, Wilford Brimley shows up and does a great job. It’s his first movie, actually. Or one of them. Wow, poor guy. He was only fifty-one in Cocoon. Talk about getting type-cast early.

Oh, reading on IMDb. Richard Dreyfuss was originally going to be in it, then common sense intruded. The China Syndrome is really a case of too many writers being involved in a project and none of them being good. Bridges is a decent enough director, just can’t write compelling human conflicts.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by James Bridges; written by Mike Gray, T.S. Cook and Bridges; director of photography, James Crabe; edited by David Rawlins; production design, George Jenkins; produced by Michael Douglas; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jane Fonda (Kimberly Wells), Jack Lemmon (Jack Godell), Michael Douglas (Richard Adams), Scott Brady (Herman De Young), James Hampton (Bill Gibson), Peter Donat (Don Jacovich) and Wilford Brimley (Ted Spindler).


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Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World (2004, Yukisada Isao)

Boy meets girl, boy woos girl, boy gets girl, girl gets sick.

Crying Out Love has a frame too: boy never gets over it and still hasn’t, twenty years later, when he’s engaged to be married. The engagement actually doesn’t set off the story, some of the silly plot contrivances do, but it doesn’t really matter. Crying Out Love succeeds where most films of its sort fail–it creates a good teenage love story. It does it small and it does it with good acting. The kid in it, whose name you can find on IMDb if you care (he hasn’t been in anything else), is fantastic, so’s the girl. Even the acting in the modern day is good, it’s just that the character never worked himself out, so it’s sort of unbelievable that anyone would want to marry him. It’s adapted from a romance novel and I’ll bet the fiancée has a limp in it too–but I bet she isn’t supposed to be so good-looking.

Of course, the film falls apart once the girl gets sick, mostly because it’s no longer from the kid’s perspective. The perspective just loafs around after that point and there’s something at the very end that’s bad, but I don’t even remember what now and I just finished watching it five or six minutes ago. It’s also incredibly predictable.

The director is a complete champ, however, and that alone would make the film worth watching. But, it’s got the good acting to top it off.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Yukisada Isao; screenplay by Yukisada, Sakamoto Yuji and Itou Chihiro, based on a novel by Katayama Kyouichi; director of photography, Shinoda Noboru; edited by Imai Takeshi; music by Meyna Co.; produced by Haruna Kei and Ichikawa Minami; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Osawa Takao (Sakutaro), Nagasawa Masami (Aki), Moriyama Mirai (Teenage Sakutaro), Shibasaki Kou (Ritsuko), Yamazaki Tsutomu (Shigezou) and Takahashi Issei (Ryunosuke).


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